Springfield Engine Supply once called 425 West Commercial Street home. The property is now owned by OzMod 425, LLC, and will be redeveloped. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Developers have the go-ahead to put a new building on the western edge of Commercial Street, in a move supporters hope will help revitalize the neighborhood.

The Springfield City Council voted 8-0 on Oct. 3 to approve a conditional use permit for the development team from OzMod 425, LLC, to build a multi-use building with apartments and commercial space at the northwest corner of the intersection of Commercial Street and Lyon Avenue. More than 6,000 vehicles pass by the property each day.

The conditional use permit will allow the developer to build a commercial building larger than 10,000 square feet in size. The proposed building is a 37,533-square-foot, mixed-use new building. That’s the size of about six modern Kum & Go convenience stores put together.

“Our intent is to replace those buildings, those structures with a building that is in compliance with the design guidelines and is in compliance with the zoning ordinances as a way to sort of restore the corridor and restore the streetscape,” architect and developer Tyler Hellweg said.

Fencing keeps people from entering a piece of property soon to be under development on the north side of Commercial Street in Springfield. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Missouri Secretary of State’s Office records show Hellweg is part of a team along with Michael Hampton, Blaine Whisenhunt and Cody Danastasio, who are the organizers of OzMod 425. Hellweg is also an architect with a Springfield firm called Arkifex Architects.

The plan is to put the building on a piece of land where eight and a half original lots were replatted to make one large lot. Going by the old language from the original plat — which had lots that were 30 feet wide and 100 feet deep — Hellweg said the development group could push for up to 80,000 square feet of development, but has no desire to do that. While the 37,500-square foot building is large, Hellweg said it can also be designed to preserve the character of the surrounding Commercial Street properties.

“It’s a way for us to tuck parking behind the building and make a few other accommodations that I think allow for a better streetscape,” Hellweg said. “Many of the buildings in the area are in excess of 10,000 square feet and in excess of 30 feet wide.”

Design in the final stages

The project was the topic of discussion for about an hour during a Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Sept. 8, and it took about an hour

Neighboring property owners and planning and zoning commissioners were concerned that OzMod, and partnering agency Strong Capital V, LLC, had not completed designs for the building, and that their plans were preliminary. From a business perspective, Hellweg said it didn’t make sense for he and his partners to invest more time and money into design until they had the zoning changes needed to build a building larger than 10,000 square feet.

“Design is kind of frozen on it until some of these regulatory issues are figured out, and it becomes a project that is actually buildable and doable,” Hellweg said.

Springfield Planning and Development Director Susan Istenes told the City Council of the accountability measures that, by law, will prevent OzMod 425 from deviating too greatly from the original plans for the development.

“There are two different sets of review processes that this project will go for in terms of architectural design,” Istenes said.

Springfield Engine Supply once sat on the corner of Lyon Avenue and West Commercial Street. (Photo by Rance Burger)

The first review occurred when the Springfield Landmarks Board reviewed the project proposal. Because of the COM-1 zoning classification within Springfield’s special Commercial Street district, Istennes said the project designs will be submitted to staff members in the Springfield Department of Planning and Development for additional review.

“There is another set of design criteria that when the applicant applies for a building permit, they will be required to submit a site plan with full elevations,” Istenes said.

The staff members will review the site plan for accuracy and compliance with the previous plan submitted to the Landmarks Board, but also for compliance with design requirements for the Commercial Street district.

“There are different features of the facade that have to be compliant with that criteria, and that includes placement of windows, openings, the amount of facade that has a blank wall and fenestrations,” Istenes said.

City Council members voice support

A rendering shows the southeast corner of an early conception of a multipurpose commercial building at the corner of Lyon Avenue and Commercial Street. (Image from the Springfield Landmarks Board via Arkifex Architects)

General Councilman Richard Ollis is a lifelong Springfield resident who grew up about three blocks from Commercial Street, and his family’s business was located on C-Street for a number of years. He’s keenly aware of the history and the potential for development that Commercial Street holds.

“This is the first significant new development up on Commercial Street that we’ve had in years, if not decades,” Ollis said.

When it came time to vote on the conditional use permit, Ollis took some inspiration from northwest Arkansas. Ollis described a recent visit to Bentonville, and some observations he made on Bentonville’s town square that gave him hope for Commercial Street’s future.

“All around the square there are various types of architecture, everything from super modern to historic to in-between,” Ollis said. “There is development and redevelopment happening in that community, and the reason is because they encourage and they support investment in their community, and I believe that we as a community need to do a better job at encouraging and supporting investment in our community.”

Councilman Andy Lear joined Ollis in supporting the OzMod 425 project based upon its potential.

“I am a big fan of C-Street, in fact, I celebrated my birthday there last week,” Lear said. “This type of development will really enhance what is there and drive it to greater heights.”

Lear also thanked the developer and the neighboring property owners on Commercial Street for the discourse that led up to the vote on Oct. 3.

“I know there is some disagreement in terms of design and what this building ultimately looks like, but by all accounts, the discussions have been civil and meaningful, and both sides respected each other, and I think that is to be commended on both sides,” Lear said.

What opponents and skeptics said

A sign at the northwest corner of Commercial Street and Lyon Avenue welcomes visitors to a historic stretch of Springfield, Missouri. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Christine Schilling runs a business near the proposed development, and sees the OzMod 425 property as the western gateway with the Historic Commercial Street district.

Upon seeing an early rendering, Schilling compared the building to a bunker at a public hearing in September. She told the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission that the 236 feet of street frontage was much larger than any other surrounding building front on Commercial Street.

“That is dominating, and its forbidding, brutalist architecture style is not welcoming,” Schilling said. “I’m sorry, I feel like it is incompatible with the character of the neighborhood. We are rich, we are vibrant, we are colorful, we are very, very diverse, and the building that is proposed is none of those things.”

Schilling said she is excited about the number of apartments that would be included in the development, but said the facade that was proposed in the early rendering was the key reason for her opposition.

“You can do better, we deserve better,” Schilling said. “We want something fun, that’s who we are.”

Mary Collette, president of the Commercial Club of Springfield co-signed a letter to the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission with six club members

“Several of us spoke in support of the OzMod development at the recent Landmarks board after being reassured by Arkifex Architects that they would be happy to explore different facade patterning through color or materials that somehow reference the rhythm of the existing historic architecture in the district,” Collette wrote. “I believe the Landmarks Board approval was partly due to their expressed willingness to work informally with a small group of interested neighbors to address these concerns. “

Collette is concerned that the designs, especially the facade, were not rendered and shown to the City Council before the Monday night vote. 

“Naturally, this leaves us with no recourse once it has been passed,” Collette wrote.

The Midtown Neighborhood Association Board also sent a letter to the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission expressing concerns with the facade.

“This structure, at nearly 240 feet long, will have a significant visual impact on the overall appearance of the 6-block Commercial Street Historic District,” their letter states.

OzMod 425 will need to obtain a building permit from the city of Springfield before it can break ground on the building project, at which time, the city’s permitting department will review the project’s updated design and decide on approval.

Springfield Engine Supply once called 425 West Commercial Street home. The property is now owned by OzMod 425, LLC, and will be redeveloped. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger