The Road Ahead: Corridor improvements a focus of Forward SGF plan

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This is the fourth installment in a series about the top 10 initiatives of Forward SGF, the city of Springfield’s draft 20-year comprehensive plan, now being rolled out for review before City Council consideration for adoption. Catch up on the coverage at SBJ.net/ForwardSGF.

When we visit a city, the downtown and the commercial areas make an impression, but so do the ways we get to them, according to Tim Rosenbury, Springfield’s director of quality of place initiatives.

“We experience our community largely by going through the corridors,” he said. “These aren’t just automobile corridors. More and more, by policy and doing the right thing, these corridors are where people bike, they walk, they run for exercise, as well as drive.”

Forward SGF, the city’s comprehensive plan for its next two decades, is being rolled out in draft form for community review, and one of its top 10 priorities is to beautify the city’s corridors.

“What we do on our corridors matters a great deal, not just functionally, but also in the psyche of our community,” he said.

Rosenbury said about 30% of any city’s land area is made up of public rights of way, parks and publicly owned spaces. Private developments also face and surround community corridors and impact them through architecture, site planning, landscape design and infrastructure.

“We love cities that are beautiful, and a lot of that beauty comes through in corridors – or not, as is the case somewhat in Springfield, I’m kind of afraid to say,” he said.

Multifaceted plan

Corridor improvements show up throughout the 242-page Forward SGF document, notably in chapters on economic development and transportation and mobility. The plan takes a place-based redevelopment approach, and a city corridor is one of nine place types identified in the documents.

“The city’s most traveled corridors are prioritized for streetscaping, beautification and multimodal improvements to enhance the character and connectivity of Springfield,” the Forward SGF plan reads. “As this place type receives the highest volume of visitors aside from the downtown place type, it is essential that the quality of development and visual appeal of the corridors are attractive and representative of the city’s desired image.”

The plan calls for balanced investment across the city, and this includes corridors facing the greatest disinvestment and those that are traveled the most, the plan states.

The plan calls for assistance for private developers and property owners in key redevelopment areas to help offset costs of infrastructure improvements. It also identifies six target areas for corridor improvements:

  • Bass Pro Shops area at Campbell Avenue and Sunshine Street;
  • Grant Avenue Parkway;
  • Medical Mile;
  • National Avenue;
  • Battlefield Road between Campbell and Glenstone avenues; and
  • corridors around university campuses.

The plan stresses the importance of community input on desired themes.

It also stresses the importance of gateways and entryways into the city, as they provide a first and last impression. Improvements should elicit a sense of pride and community ownership, the document says, and may include archway signs, monument signs, public art, decorative lighting, landscaping, green infrastructure, water features and pedestrian comfort and safety improvements.

The draft of the plan also calls for parking upgrades, with a reevaluation of lot minimums and maximums when the city makes future updates to codes.

Parking areas also should strictly require internal and perimeter landscaping in order to screen parking areas from right-of-way view and provide shade and an improved appearance. Shared parking agreements among businesses should be encouraged, the plan states.

The plan also suggests the city explore community improvement districts – that is, tax incentive districts – to fund corridor improvements, as well as a corridor protection program to establish an overlay zoning district to set standards for development.

Of special interest in the plan are Springfield-Branson National Airport gateway corridors. The plan suggests enforcing removal of debris and cutting of grass, as well as the planting of native plants and flowers, the installation of gateway signs and public art, and the updating of city code to guide development.

To make way for more multimodal transportation, the plan suggests filling in gaps in the sidewalk network, expanding bike routes, particularly to underserved areas, and requiring large businesses to provide bike parking.

 Dynamic places

Rosenbury said improvement of corridors is an ongoing process.

“Our community corridors didn’t develop overnight, and they’re not going to become beautiful overnight, either,” he said. “At some point we have to have the community will, the community desire, to do something about it.”

He said city staff would collaborate with the community on developing new standards, codes and approaches to take the city in the direction the community wants to go.

Rosenbury offered an example of a recent success story along one of the city’s targeted corridors, and that is the new Andy’s Frozen Custard store on National Avenue at Elm Street.

He said he became concerned when he heard the National Art Shop that had occupied the site was closing – and when he heard a food franchise was buying it, he grew even more concerned.

“The fact that you had this big, expansive glass to see all the things you just couldn’t wait to purchase, it was kind of terrific in the way that it contributed to both the National corridor and this really diverse-character intersection of Elm and National,” he said.

But he said he got a call from Andy’s CEO Andy Kuntz, who asked him to help figure out ways to integrate signage from National Art Shop into the building.

“What we found was some of our sign regulation ordinances were such that it was actually working against him doing something,” Rosenbury said.

But together, Rosenbury and Kuntz came up with a way to pay homage to the National Art Shop store by adopting its style of signage.

“We came up with something that would pay homage to the old sign by reusing it, still facing out, still having those individual boxes with letters so that it made a statement about place and time,” he said, adding, “I think the results are pretty doggone good.”

It all began with a redeveloper and a store owner who cared, he said.

“He didn’t have to do any of this,” Rosenbury said.

A similar opportunity exists at a building more recent newcomers to Springfield might think of as the old CVS pharmacy on Glenstone Avenue and Sunshine Street, but that longtime residents first knew as Katz City Drug Store. The otherwise simple block building has an all-glass front and a zigzag roofline that reminds Rosenbury of Charlie Brown’s shirt.

“The special thing, the unique element, is what lends it its iconography,” he said. “In the case of Katz, it was the squiggly roof.”

As of Aug. 27, the building got new life with a soft opening of a new business, Market Street Liquidation & Pallet Sales. On the store’s Facebook page is a schematic drawing of an illuminated storefront that offers midcentury-style signage and emphasizes the zigzag roofline that Rosenbury likes so much.

The roof is functional, Rosenbury said, providing shade to an east-facing wall of glass windows and shelter from the rain for customers.

“It also speaks to a time and place, and I just think that on a commercial corridor, you can’t ask for more than that,” he said.

Rosenbury’s example of an iconic building along a heavily traveled roadway may not be the first image to come to mind when thinking of city corridors. However, the corridor concept embraces all aspects of place, from the character of its buildings to the condition of its parking lots.

Can an old drug store be viewed from a new perspective?

“Not every building along a corridor needs to stand out as a brilliant, heroic and individual piece of architecture,” Rosenbury said. “In fact, what really matters is the ensemble of all of them.”

Rosenbury said the community needs to fall in love with Springfield again.

“When we talk about what happens to our corridors, we’re talking about change,” he said. “We can come together and envision and guide the inevitability of change, or we can resist change, and change will happen to us.”