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In Springfield Mayor Ken McClure’s 7th annual State of the City address, he highlighted “signs of progress,” recognized other community leaders, acknowledged ongoing problems that plague the city and emphasized the need to move forward.
McClure gave the State of the City speech on the campus of Evangel University June 1, as part of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce “Good Morning Springfield” event series.
The word “forward” was used throughout McClure’s speech, as he covered topics ranging from an ongoing housing study to increase the housing stock and help rehabilitate Springfield’s historic neighborhoods, the passage by voters of a $220 million school bond measure and room tax in the April election, and an influx of federal capital for infrastructure and other programs.
Amid the progress, McClure recognized areas where more needs to be made, as high rates of gun violence and sexual assault persist in Springfield, nuisance properties continue to be a problem and that more needs to be done to address the root causes of crime.
“Baseball is about celebrating the past, paying attention to detail, process and the small things, but working to get the next win and the next championship,” McClure said amid his praise for the city’s acquisition of Hammons Field to keep the Cardinals in Springfield. “We need to take the same approach to building and growing our community as we think bigger and we move forward.”
Mayor encourages public participation, collaboration amid Springfield’s growth
Citing warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General, McClure stressed the need to address loneliness and isolation, which can harm individual and community health, through social engagement and public participation.
“Like many cities in the country, we are experiencing a decline in all types of participation,” he said. “The churches, the civic clubs, the social engagements. Well, let’s turn that around.”
He identified existing opportunities in Clean Green Springfield, the Mayor’s Tree Lighting and the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in August.
Community participation can be made possible by a growing workforce and regional collaboration with Springfield and its surrounding communities. McClure said Springfield is a top city for businesses and young professionals and cited a recent Wall Street Journal project that dubbed Springfield as the No. 1 city for remote workers.
In addition to Springfield making itself an attractive place for workers, McClure praised the efforts of local educational institutions and programs that have expanded apprenticeships and workforce training in an effort to strengthen an already “diverse industry base.”
“Make no mistake,” he said. “Springfield and Greene County are significant talent hubs. Even during the worst economic effects of the pandemic era, businesses demonstrated an incredible ability to innovate. Our strong economy makes our region attractive for both new and existing businesses to expand. And I send this message far and wide – Springfield is open for business.”
In addition to “forward,” McClure used the term “collaboration” to describe multiple aspects of Springfield’s progress.
“It will allow us to celebrate and develop our unique identity of place and foster an experience economy that supports recreation, culture, and tourism,” he said.
In demonstrating the “unprecedented” collaborative spirit of Springfield, McClure referenced the work of the city’s Public Works Department on improving quality of place and outdoor public spaces, the Lake Springfield planning, the Restore SGF housing initiative and the work of Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, in the Missouri General Assembly, among other examples.
McClure also emphasized the need for Springfield to collaborate regionally in order to move the city and region forward, similarly to the collaboration of four cities in Northwest Arkansas.
“Our region should be a force with which to be reckoned, and not a best kept secret,” he said.
Sports tourism, outdoor amenities highlighted in State of the City
McClure pointed to, on multiple occasions throughout his speech, the investment in sports tourism in Springfield as an indicator of the city’s progress.
In addition to Springfield’s ability to retain the Double-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, he praised the investments in the Betty and Bobby Allison Sports Town and the Cooper Sports Complex.
McClure said Springfield is “blessed” with more than 100 parks and 100 miles of trails, and looks forward to the additional outdoor amenities that will come with the completion of the Chadwick Flyer trail, the naturalization of Fassnight Creek near the Springfield Art Museum and the Jordan Creek daylighting project.
McClure defends city staff, promotes code revisions
In his speech, the mayor touted some ongoing development projects in the area, such as the Moxy Hotel, the first Buc-ee’s in Missouri, and the extensions of Eastgate Avenue and Le Compte Road, which could facilitate the development of about 180 acres of land in northeast Springfield.
In order to establish “clear standards for desired growth,” he said Springfield must continue with revisions to the city code to avoid the “case-by-case conflicts that pit neighbor against neighbor.” Conflicts that have recently wrought division amongst Springfield citizens and council members include the Elevation Galloway Village development proposal and the ongoing University Heights rezoning case.
The mayor commended staff at both the city and Greene County, and defended City Manager Jason Gage, amid the second abrupt resignation of a department head in recent months under his leadership.
“I can assure you that he approaches his job in these often turbulent times with the highest ethics, accountability, transparency, respect, collaboration and discipline,” McClure said of Gage. “He is a true professional and public servant, and often unfairly criticized for doing his job and protecting the best interests of our city.”
In order to address challenges and maintain balance, McClure urges forward thinking
While McClure spent most of the speech recognizing what he sees as the leaders, initiatives and successes that have moved, and will continue to move Springfield forward, he acknowledged the areas that need to be addressed in the years ahead.
“We must continue to find workable solutions to address our nuisance property issue and hold those accountable for running our housing stock and neighborhoods deteriorate,” he said.
Despite the decrease across multiple categories of crime, gun violence and sexual assault remain a problem for the short-staffed Springfield Police Department. He also wants to see more done to address the “root causes of crime, including mental health and drug issues.”
Despite these issues, he remains optimistic in the efforts being made to address them.
Springfield was one of a select few municipalities to attend the Vacant Property Leadership Institute to equip city leaders with knowledge and skills to address nuisance property issues.
Backlogged sexual assault kits have been completed, SPD is collaborating with Burrell Behavioral Health on a mental health co-responder program and police recruitment efforts are beginning to yield some results.
McClure admitted that disagreements over various issues Springfield is faced with can make things seem “so divisive that our lights have dimmed,” but ultimately shared an optimistic message summed up in an Albert Einstein quote:
“Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you must keep moving forward,” McClure said, quoting a letter Einstein wrote to his son in 1930.