Signs touting the Grant Avenue Parkway project, like this one at the intersection of Grant Avenue and West Grand Street, can be found along a section of Grant Avenue subject to a study for future improvements and economic development. (Photo by Rance Burger)

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By Gregory Holman | KSMU

Originally published April 28, 2022

Grant Avenue in central Springfield is getting a $26 million makeover. City leaders held an open meeting at Parkview High School last week to showcase plans for the Grant Avenue Parkway. With construction set to start in May, KSMU’s Gregory Holman traveled the future path of the parkway to hear what neighborhood residents and city officials had to say about the project.

The parkway will run through two neighborhoods near the core of Springfield: West Central and Fassnight. Parts of them are really nice. Other parts are really rough. At the meeting, City Council member Mike Schilling said it was the first time the project was shared in person.

“It’ll be a beautification project, really, from Sunshine up to the downtown and gives sort of, hopefully, a quiet pathway, bike, pedestrian facilities at low speed,” Schilling said.

The $26 million city improvement is mostly funded by $22 million in federal money, part of a Trump-era plan to encourage development. The rest of the money is a local match. In 2019, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt said that the parkway would help jobs and the local economy, in part due to new businesses spurred to locate nearby.

Plans include business incentives, utility upgrades and a new 3-mile path for bicycles and pedestrians. The parkway runs from Mother’s Brewing to Bass Pro Shops, roughly speaking.

The afternoon before the town hall meeting, I traveled the parkway route north to south to hear thoughts and opinions from people in the neighborhood.

I started my afternoon trek at Mother’s Brewing Company, where I found Jasmin Adams working on her laptop while bartenders began slinging beers. Adams said she lives in West Central.

“I’m looking forward to the improvements that are coming,” Adams said. “I think it’ll be great for this community and just connecting the middle ground between the south side and the north side.”

Some residents haven’t yet heard of Grant Avenue Parkway

An architect’s rendering shows signage over Grant Avenue touting it as “Springfield’s Green Street.” The rendering also shows how a pedestrian corridor would run along Grant Avenue. (Photo: City of Springfield)

Crossing the street, I found a barbershop filled with customers. Not many of them had even heard of the parkway, including Springfield resident Lonnie Bollinger.

He said, “I have no idea what’s going on with Grant, but I’m interested in why the city is paying for that instead of fixing the roads in Springfield.”

At a laundromat three blocks away, Laura Gowen also said that the Grant Avenue Parkway was news to her.

“I’ve lived here eight years,” Gowen said. “It’s not that bad of a place to stay at. I’ve never heard about the parkway until you mentioned it.”

Then I met Barbara Strader, an unhoused resident. Strader was resting at a gas station near a busy intersection, using her smartphone.

She said, “I think they need to work on some of the things that need to be fixed and one of those things is, obviously, is dealing with the homeless. There’s more homeless out here every day, and it doesn’t seem like anybody wants to do anything about it.”

And further down the road I met homeowner Bob Carrow. He said he’s lived at his house—about a half-mile from what’s now Wonders of Wildlife—on and off since 1963. His block is full of trees, flowers…and traffic.

“I live on Grant street,” Carrow said. “I’m concerned about the traffic. They’re going to put a roundabout at Portland and Grant. I don’t like that idea because it’ll slow traffic down, and – I mean, I like the idea that it’ll slow traffic down, but I can’t get out of my driveway now. Traffic is real hazardous on this street. We’ve got people going up and down this street 60, 70 miles an hour, and it’s a residential area.”

Later that afternoon, about 50 people came to the city’s neighborhood meeting held at Parkview High. They shared a mix of hope and skepticism about the parkway.

I talked to Kathleen Cowens, a resident who’s involved with the West Central Neighborhood Alliance. She said she hopes the project will lead to improvements to a park located close to Grant Avenue.

“We have been very strong in requesting that some of the properties just west of Hawthorn Park at Madison be purchased and extend the park to the project,” she said.

Cowens added that she’s eager for upgrades that will make sidewalks usable for people with disabilities. Telephone poles stuck in the middle of the sidewalk make it really hard for folks who use wheelchairs to get around, she said.

“All the utilities will go underground, so there won’t be a problem, obviously, and they’re going to enlarge and make these sidewalks I’m sure up to code with the distance, but yeah, right now if you walk down Grant — if you’re in a wheelchair, you’ve got to go in the street.”

‘Something really creative’ coming soon?

Later at the meeting, West Central property owner Donna Alrutz engaged in a dialogue with Tim Rosenbury, Springfield’s director of quality of place initiatives. Rosenbury was appointed to the newly-created job right before the pandemic started.

In the meeting, Alrutz told Rosenbury that residents in the neighborhood submitted a lot of great ideas for the project to the city government, but she feels the parkway project looks like it’ll just basically be a sidewalk with a roundabout.

Rosenbury said residents might be surprised at how fast a $22 million grant can get spent on necessities like buying up properties and improving utilities. Putting in signage, monuments, or other new amenities would cost even more, he said.

“About $8 million of that is utility relocation,” Rosenbury explained. “About 5 percent of the $22 million is place-making.”

The day after the meeting, I got Alrutz on the phone. She said that she actually thought the city’s place-making czar answered her questions “beautifully.”

She had concerns about what the new business and development would look like, but she also thinks the city’s remake of Grant Avenue Parkway could spark new possibilities.

“There’s just not enough money,” Alrutz said. “I understand after thinking about it a lot since last night that it’s, it’s a beginning of hopefully something that will turn into something really creative, but as far as what’s on paper, it’s not that creative.”

The city says construction downtown will begin in early May, and utility improvements on Grant Avenue are going to start a couple of weeks after that. A kickoff event will be held sometime the week of May 16th.

This story is available as part of a collaboration between KSMU Public Radio and the Springfield Daily Citizen. To see the original content, click here.

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