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City Beat: Council revises Kearney redevelopment plan

Springfield’s governing body votes to make the corridor a ‘multiproject redevelopment’ area

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In the latest step toward redeveloping Kearney Street in north Springfield, city officials are seeking approval to blight 388 acres along the corridor and enable 100 percent property tax abatements on developer improvements within the Kearney Street Corridor Redevelopment Plan.

Springfield City Council on July 2 unanimously approved a resolution to make the 3.5-mile Kearney corridor a “multiproject redevelopment” area with special permissions for blight and tax abatements.

“This is an incentive program for businesses that choose to use it,” city Economic Development Director Sarah Kerner told council before the vote.

The blight and tax abatement vote will wait until council’s July 16 meeting, as will a related small-business loan program vote.

If the blight and abatements are approved, the city would revert to regulations prior to the recently passed new workable plan.

“It gives some special accommodations for this plan,” Kerner said of the proposed Kearney Street ordinance.

For example, Kerner said the multiproject plan does not require the standard “but for” test, which means the redevelopment would not happen but for city tax abatement. It also offers a full 100 percent tax abatement and has a five-year sunset.

She said it’s basically the maximum incentives possible by the city.

“This is going to allow private developers to recoup some of their costs by deferring the additional property taxes on their development,” Councilman Tom Prater said, before addressing zoning concerns. “If anything does get rezoned that would come from a developer who has to come again in public to this meeting.”

Kerner said the bulk of Kearney Street is zoned general retail.

“This is really encouraging the area to just be redeveloped in the way it’s already being used in retail – basically an active retail corridor,” she said.

There are some restrictions. City officials outlined over 20 types of developments not eligible for abatement in the proposed plan, including adult stores, boarding and lodging houses, pawn shops, soup kitchens, swap meets and payday lenders.

Officials noted eminent domain is not part of the plan.

Three members of the public spoke, each representing groups generally in favor of the redevelopment incentives.

“We are pleased with the direction the city and city staff are going with this,” said Bill Owen, representing the North Springfield Betterment Association.

Owen had one request of the city: Add a plan to improve the housing stock in the area.

“We saw what happened when we put a bunch of money downtown on the square, thinking it was going to turn the square around by itself,” he said, recalling the change wasn’t realized until loft apartments and neighborhood improvements, particularly on the west side, came online. “We had to have people with disposable income coming into these areas, and then the demographics are such that the retailers want to be there. They’ll redevelop Kearney Street for us.”

A city-commissioned market study of the Kearney corridor found a potential to capture up to $95 million in additional retail sales. The study was completed by St. Louis-based Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets Inc. in May 2017.

Before council’s vote, Kerner detailed the blight issues city staff members have identified on Kearney:
 
• “uncontrolled traffic access” with limited street curbing;

• narrow and misaligned streets deemed unsafe for drivers and pedestrians with “street jogs beyond the normal traffic standard,” Kerner said;

• inadequate sidewalks along Kearney and the streets feeding into it;

• obsolete platting, initially platted in 1888 with city updates in 1933 and 1957, and now a much more commercial neighborhood – “It’s very difficult to develop on such a shallow lot originally intended for residential,” Kerner said;

• unsanitary or unsafe conditions: “Garbage, littering and dumping is fairly prevalent,” she said, noting city staff logged 153 nuisance/dangerous building complaints in the last 12 months;

• brownfields are too common because of historic gas stations and underground tank storage;

• 70 percent of buildings are in poor or fair condition and only 5.6 percent are in excellent condition, according to the PGAV market study; and

• 10 percent of buildings are vacant, which Kerner said “can lead to fire and other dangerous situations related to trespassing.”

Blight conditions typically involve poor housing, an economic or social liability or a menace to public health, Kerner said.

There are 393 landowners within the district.

Prior to council hearing the matters, the city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority voted 5-0 on the blight study and 4-1 on the redevelopment plan, which the Planning and Zoning Commission approved 9-0.

“We remember what Kearney Street once was,” said Councilwoman Phyllis Ferguson, who represents the area. “What we’re trying to do with this plan is bring vitality back to Kearney Street.”

$25 million grant
City staff has the green light to prepare a grant proposal for a multiuse trail between Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium and downtown Springfield.

Council unanimously approved the move.

Led by Assistant Director Martin Gugel, Public Works officials have identified funding through the federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development program for transportation projects. The BUILD program has $1.5 billion to award in competitive grants for new partnerships and multijurisdictional cooperation, according to the city manager’s report provided to council.

City officials plan to apply for the maximum $25 million grant, which requires a 20 percent match.

Dubbed the Grant Avenue Parkway Trail Connection Project, Gugel said it would stretch for two miles along Grant between Sunshine and College streets.

“This project also would fill in gaps in the Ozarks Greenways trail system, connecting the Fassnight trail segment to the Jordan Valley trail segment just north of the square,” he told council.

Documentation in the bill cites the estimated $300 million private investment by Johnny Morris and Bass Pro Shops to develop the WOW museum, as well as some $500,000 in public and private investments downtown over the past 20 years.

“It builds on the strength of having the nation’s top aquarium and connecting it to our vibrant downtown,” Councilman Matthew Simpson said before his vote. “And it improves the connectivity and quality of life in the West Central and Fassnight neighborhoods.”

The grant application is due July 19, according to council documents, and recipients would be notified by the end of the year.

If approved, the city likely would need to match with $5 million from private and in-kind contributions or other public funds, and Gugel said staff would come back to council to accept the grant and detail matching funds at that time.

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