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Springfield Underground looks to develop surface

Planned development changes would apply to 402 acres

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Beneath the earth, within Springfield Underground Inc.’s 3.2 million square feet of leasable space in a former limestone mine, 14 companies occupy buildings that range 50,000-400,000 square feet, according to the company’s website.

Up top, placid grass fields offer a stark contrast to the industrial activity beneath.

That might change if Springfield City Council rezones the land for a planned development on 402 surface acres. Council is scheduled to vote on the measure at its June 26 meeting.

The zoning change, which is an update of an existing planned development, would apply to property located in the 3400-4000 blocks of East Division Street and the 1600-2200 blocks of North LeCompte Road.

Springfield Underground is seeking additional uses on the site, which is identified as an industry and logistics place type, allowing for manufacturing and logistical support as well as office, hospitality, retail and service.

The application also adds permission for medical marijuana cultivation, dispensary operation and infused product manufacturing on a 48-acre portion of the site. Christina Angle, chief financial officer of the Erlen Group, which owns and operates Springfield Underground, said there currently is no specific potential tenant from the cannabis industry.

Jared Rasmussen, leader of the Springfield office of engineering firm Olsson Inc., represented Springfield Underground at the June 5 council meeting where the zoning change was proposed. He said the purpose of the amendment is to update the planned development to conform to the current comprehensive plan, which allows marijuana-related uses.

“There’s no intended use right now for those facilities,” he told council.

Another change to the planned development designation would allow a different area to offer more commercial uses, like offices, banks, entertainment facilities and commercial outdoor recreation, according to the council report.

A section along Division Street would be opened to general retail uses, and parcels in the far eastern portion of the planned development would allow multifamily uses with a limit of 11 dwelling units per acre.

John Griesemer, president and CEO of the Erlen Group and Springfield Underground, thanked council for the city’s support.

“We are excited to continue our project that we’ve been working on for 25 years,” he said, adding he believes the development plan would spur additional commercial activity nearby.

A report provided to council by Michael Sparlin, senior city planner, indicates the change would update roadway design standards and alignments to correspond with federal and state grants that  recently were awarded for widening and improvements to LeCompte Road and Eastgate Avenue.

The city received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration in 2022. The funds, from the American Rescue Plan Act and EDA’s $300 million Coal Communities commitment, are intended to support supply chain resiliency in a region impacted by declining use of coal. Council voted to provide up to $1.6 million in matching funds, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. Additionally, the state government is providing a cost-share for changes to Eastgate Avenue.

Angle said the EDA grant will widen the entirety of LeCompte Road to three lanes – and that’s a key point in the company’s amendment proposal. The current planned development on file with the city would require making LeCompte five lanes to support new commercial activity.

“LeCompte would have to look like South National, with a grassy median and five lanes,” she said, noting that requirement has prevented Springfield Underground from doing any development on the surface.

“Now, with EDA funding and the smaller size of LeCompte being accepted, it really paves the way for us to do some development,” she said.

Aside from some minor changes to bring the plan in line with city code and to allow for now-legal uses related to the cannabis industry, the proposed planned development is otherwise unchanged.

Angle said the development would provide a highway commercial buffer between it and surrounding neighborhoods, including Supreme Estates, Cooper Estates and the Lakes at Wild Horse.

“There will be more commercial uses, with nice amenities for neighborhoods to have, like grocery stores and convenience stores,” she said.

The interior of the development would transition to more industrial uses, she said.

She noted the city is growing at a rapid pace, and the additional manufacturing and industrial use on the surface would expand the activity happening under the surface of the property.

“We’re open to different ways to use surface property for any type of manufacturing, industrial warehousing or distribution,” she said.

She added that the Ozark Greenways Inc. master plan shows a trail going from the city toward Strafford generally through the property in question.

“We’re trying to work with that master plan to see how we could get that accomplished,” she said. “It would be an amenity for our truck drivers, too. Sometimes they have a few hours to wait.”

Griesemer recently spoke to council at a luncheon meeting, and he referred to the city’s existing industrial parks, Partnership Industrial Centers, east and west, as “almost competitors” to his companies.

At that meeting, Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Matt Morrow noted the PIC complexes have sites available that run up to 50 acres, but the city regularly fields requests for much larger sites.

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