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City Beat: Zoning change eyed for possible Cox clinic

Council considers purchase of south-side sports facility

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 CoxHealth is eyeballing property near the busy Sunshine Street and National Avenue intersection for a clinic – but some neighbors are concerned about traffic and trees.

At the Aug. 9 Springfield City Council meeting, rezoning of the approximately 2-acre property from single-family residential to office district was on the agenda. Rod Schaffer, vice president of facilities for CoxHealth, discussed the hospital system’s desire to build on the site, just across the street from Mercy Hospital Springfield. The rezoning request applies to 1136 and 1144 E. Sunshine St. and 1816, 1820 and 1826 S. Florence Ave.

The property for the proposed clinic is owned by Joni Marsh, the widow of the late state representative B.J. Marsh, who ran his travel agency, Marsh Travel, there.

“We’d been looking for clinic space up and down Sunshine for a number of years,” Schaffer said.

In April, Marsh contacted Cox about a possible sale of the space. CoxHealth spokesperson Kaitlyn McConnell would not disclose the asking price.

Schaffer said that the largest building possible under regulations of the desired office district zoning is a two-story, 21,000-square-foot structure. Cox intends to build a new structure on the site, which will also require adequate parking for a clinic.

The measure before council is essential to the purchase, according to Schaffer.

“Without the zone change, we’re not interested in the property,” he said.

Some nearby property owners shared their concerns during the public comment portion of the meeting, and their chief worries had to do with trees and traffic.

Mindy Spitz, chair of Springfield’s Tree City USA, told council, “I am here because I care for this city and the trees that make her so beautiful.”

She noted a red oak tree at the site and said that tree, in particular, should be saved.

Schaffer said trees are important to Cox. “From our landscape perspective and our facilities perspective, part of our environment is the healing environment, which promotes vegetation,” he said.

A Florence Avenue resident, Sean Schoonover, raised concern over traffic and said it could be a deadly mistake not to conduct a traffic study.

He said leaving the property, especially to take a left onto Sunshine Street, would not be safe, especially for drivers who may be old or sick.

“You’re going to have fatalities,” he said.

Councilperson Craig Hosmer told the residents that Cox would be a good neighbor, and Councilperson Richard Ollis added that something would eventually go in that spot – possibly a fast-food restaurant.

Council will vote on the measure on Aug. 23.

Fieldhouse purchase opportunity
Parks Director Bob Belote shared with council what he called a unique opportunity: the chance for the city to buy the 46,000-square-foot Fieldhouse Sportscenter. 

Located at 2235 W. Kingsley St., adjacent to the Springfield-Greene County Park Board’s Chesterfield Family Center, the Fieldhouse was described by Belote as “one of the best indoor sports facilities you’re going to find anywhere in the Midwest.” 

The facility includes four full-sized gyms intended for basketball and volleyball, with the potential to host other indoor sports and events. Belote said the building is in fantastic shape. 

“Calling them gyms is almost a disservice,” he said. “This is about as good as it gets.” 

The bill before council would have put $2 million of the $40 million Springfield received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 toward the purchase of the Fieldhouse. However, one resident showed up to object to this use of funds intended for coronavirus recovery. Because of concerns, Councilperson Andrew Lear ultimately offered an amendment to take ARP funding off the table for the Fieldhouse purchase and instead use carryover funds for the purchase. 

Lear’s amendment was approved, and council will vote on whether to pursue the purchase at its Aug. 23 meeting.

The Fieldhouse is privately owned by Dr. Craig and Kristen Naugle, who have offered the city a price 25% below market value as a way of donating toward the purchase. Belote said the Naugles have raised their children and are ready to slow down, which led to their desire to sell the 8-year-old Fieldhouse. 

David Holtmann, director of finance for Springfield, said the city could issue a $5.2 million bond to buy the Fieldhouse, in addition to the $2 million payment. The interest cost would be approximately 1.7%, for payments of $390,000 per year for 15 years, according to Holtmann. 

Holtmann said for six years, the city would pay the $390,000 out of carryover funds to pay off the Fieldhouse debt. After six years, the Park Board would take responsibility for payments by using the funds that had been earmarked for Dan Kinney debt relief, which will retire at that time. 

Resident Jonathan Garten spoke in the public comment portion of the meeting to say that ARP funds are intended for the city’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Garten said buying the Fieldhouse while evictions loom for thousands of city residents “is an indictment against this body’s competence.”

But Holtmann said the Fieldhouse purchase would fall under ARP’s guidelines. The city experienced revenue loss of more than $30 million in fiscal 2020, Holtmann said, and the Park Board specifically lost over $5.2 million in fiscal years 2020-21.  

Councilperson Lear’s amendment instead uses $2 million of the city’s $5 million carryover funding for the purchase.

Lear expressed concern that the project was brought to council without the recommendation of the committee that was convened to direct council in the use of the ARP funds. 

“While I fully support the purchase of this project, what I’m concerned about is that because of timing that we don’t control, we need to make this decision now prior to having gone through that process,” Lear said. 

Other council business

  • Council considered a $75,000 expenditure for a blight study for the Grant Avenue Parkway project. One overarching study will keep developers from having to do individual studies before undertaking projects in the area. Cameron LaBarr, a Missouri State University faculty member and a developer, urged council to extend the study beyond the narrow confines of Grant Avenue itself. “I think it will be important for us to consider the width of the blight study,” he said, adding that no one will want to move into the parkway area if the area around it is a mess. This measure is up for a vote on Aug. 23.
  • Council voted to allow the city manager to apply for up to $2 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act Community Development Block Grant funds from the Missouri Department of Economic Development. The money would be used to address COVID-19 impact. Bob Atchley, senior city planner, explained the application will focus on providing additional emergency shelter beds. The city will put out requests for proposal from existing agencies. Councilperson Hosmer said that it is important to make sure a certain percentage of funding is used for mental health, alcohol and drug treatment. “We can never house our way out of this problem,” he said to applause from the audience.
  • Council considered a special ordinance to provide $290,000 for the Commercial Street Tax Increment Financing District and authorize the expenditure of $365,000 previously allocated for the project as a cost-share. The district’s TIF funding, which uses incremental increases in sales and property tax over time for improvements in the district, began in 2006 and runs through 2031. Priorities for the funds are parking, directional signage, public art and a design for the parking lot and footbridge plaza area in the district. Councilperson Ollis praised the work being done on C-Street, noting, “This area, I think it’s a real jewel for Springfield.”

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