In 2008, KLCC’s Angela Kellner reported on efforts to revitalize downtown Springfield. Business owners cited crime, parking and lighting as a few of the challenges impeding their success. Nine years later, Kellner follows up on efforts to fix those problems.
In 2008, Springfield had just embarked on a voter-approved urban renewal plan. Communications Director Niel Laudati says the 20-year strategy directs tax money to projects aimed at fixing up Glenwood and Downtown. It came at a crucial time – during the recession. Laudati: “If you look back at the businesses that are still here that were there when you did your story originally, there’s kind of a grittiness to some of those business owners where they were here when it was not the best place to be and now they’re reaping some of the benefits.” While the city worked to keep existing businesses open and encourage new ones, there were several establishments causing trouble. Police were frequently called to a bar and two strip clubs on Main Street. There was fighting, drugs and public intoxication. Laudati says people got fed up. Laudati: “They told us, you know, we don’t want this in our downtown core. All of these plans sound great, but until you remove this piece, I can’t take my daughter to tea if I have to walk past this particular block.”Springfield Police and City Council documented the crimes and gave it to the state. The liquor licenses were pulled and the bar and 2 strip clubs went out of business, the last one in 2012.
Pauline Hauder remembers how it was back then and says she played a role in cleaning up the area.
Hauder: “I did it, I did it. I was here and I said this is my corner now. I would go, ‘I got that!’”Hauder would snap a picture of suspected drug deals.Hauder: “They moved on. They didn’t feel comfortable. It wasn’t their scene anymore.”Hauder, a retired art teacher, opened her painting party business, Vino Vango, in 2010, the same year the city opened a jail a few blocks away. Between 2008 and 2014, calls for police dropped from more than 700 to fewer than 100 on the worst block.Hauder is proud of sticking with it when times were tough.
Outside her brightly decorated storefront, Hauder looks down the street toward other successful businesses, including the Washburne Café and Planktown. She loves her location and that it’s close to the bus station. When I ask her about parking, she notices the marks on her tire.Hauder: “Our parking is…move your car. Oh, I guess we’ve got our tires marked, so I’m gonna have to move my car.” The city has free two-hour parking downtown. Economic Development Manager Courtney Griesel says they try and go easy on the tickets. Griesel: “We really talk more about the importance of having our staff out on the street just to do walkabouts with the businesses and check in and so we approach it a little bit different. We keep it small.”This smaller approach fits Springfield as they work to cultivate a hometown feel. And more people are calling downtown home.
Greisel: “It means that when they come home in the evening, they come home to our downtown where they might have dinner or where they might take the dog out for a walk.” The city has been sprucing up downtown with some much-needed projects. Greisel: “We acquired a large number of street lights out of Southern California. We refurbished them, repainted them, we have updated them so that they are now LED and incredibly sustainable and efficient.”Griesel says money from the urban renewal district also helped pay for signs with the word “open” printed on a banner. She says it circles back to my 2008 story about downtown Springfield.
Greisel: “The open banners are exciting because those are a product that came out of some of that story. The business owners were frustrated because they felt like if I were standing on this block and I looked two blocks down, there was nothing on the sidewalk to indicate to me something to adventure towards.” And more people are venturing to check out what’s new. Including Niles and Adrian Schartz, who frequently attend the Second Friday Art Walk. Niles Schartz: “Yeah, we’ve watched over the past five, six years how it’s changed dramatically. (laughs) So now it’s a much more friendly place and you can come downtown and not worry about what you’re going to run into.” Adrian Schartz: “Safety or anything. There was a long time that we didn’t come downtown. But probably for the last five, six years or so its gotten so much better that we do enjoy coming downtown.” There are still empty storefronts on Main Street. But with less crime, more investment and thriving businesses, downtown Springfield’s reputation has improved.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------Production assistance from KLCC's Rachael McDonald and intern Mira Trimmell.