Part Two: The Vision Takes Shape

Submitted by srac_drupadmin on Sun, 02/12/2017 - 10:19

 

Former Springfield City Manager Tom Finnie.
Former Springfield City Manager Tom Finnie.

Vision 20/20, strongly backed by now-retired City Manager Tom Finnie, was a large-scale exercise in civic renewal, in which a number of volunteer citizens' committees, as well as City of Springfield agencies and employees, met to conceive and shape the evolution of the city. Launched in the mid-1990s, the project was designed to bring into focus the disparate visions of the city’s future, to create a roadmap for Springfield’s growth, and to offer suggestions for how these proposals could be funded and achieved. The Vision 20/20 process was led by the late City Planning Director Fred May and community activist Bill Compere, and it benefited from the efforts of more than 300 citizen volunteers.

Former SRAC President Carolyn Gerdes.
Former SRAC President Carolyn Gerdes.

Longtime civic leader and volunteer Carolyn Gerdes recalls that the origins of today’s Creamery can be traced to two Vision 20/20 committees, one charged with re-imagining the future of downtown Springfield, the other with offering suggestions for the evolution of the city’s parks. Gerdes, who was then president of the Springfield Regional Arts Council (SRAC), recalls that the Parks Committee was hatching a proposal to create a large new park. Civic Park, as it was informally called at the time, was envisioned as 300 acres of land devoted to new parks and open spaces.

A city banner promoted the Vision 20/20 project in the late 1990s.
A city banner promoted the Vision 20/20 project in the late 1990s.

The park, as originally proposed, would be located where the city was then growing the fastest, on its south side, to serve the widest number of citizens. But as Gerdes recalls, "When the folks on the Downtown Committee heard of the plans for Civic Park, we realized that placing a large new park in Springfield's downtown might create a magnet that would attract people to the city center—and that, in turn, could be a sparkplug for further development."

The notion of creating a dynamic new park space in the city’s declining core captured the imagination of Springfieldians, and by the late 1990s, the City of Springfield was actively exploring several potential downtown sites for the proposed Civic Park. Eventually, that search led to a large parcel of land running along the north side of Trafficway Street, just east of the city’s longtime commercial center, Park Central Square. The site was directly across Trafficway from Hammons Tower, the 22-story office building created by the late visionary of downtown Springfield’s renaissance, hotel magnate John Q. Hammons, who passed away in 2013.

Hotel developer John Q.Hammons.
Hotel developer John Q. Hammons.

The tall black tower was the crown jewel of Hammons' downtown developments, which dated to the 1980s and included the nearby University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center, as well as several office buildings and a large condominium development. The parcel was also directly across Sherman Ave. (now Hammons Parkway) from a large piece of land that was beginning to be seen as the potential home for a proposed baseball stadium that would bring AA minor-league ball to Springfield.

Several local businesses were operating along Trafficway on the land now increasingly envisioned as the future Civic Park, including Tri-States Laundry; a longtime auto dealership; and a company that crafted stretch limousines. If the Civic Park was to become a reality, these businesses would have to be moved, the land would have to be acquired, and environmental concerns based on the area’s past use would have to be tackled.

A 1997 Springfield News-Leader article showed the location of the proposed new downtown park, then called Civic Park.
A 1997 Springfield News-Leader article showed the location of the proposed new downtown park, then called Civic Park.

These challenges would soon be addressed by the central funding achievement of the Vision 20/20 project, the Hotel-Motel Tax of 1998. This proposal would place a tax on local tourist businesses and would direct the resulting funds to improving the city’s parks, museums and other attractions, creating enhancements that would draw more visitors to the city. Powered by the efforts of an energetic and enthusiastic cadre of civic leaders, the Hotel-Motel Tax was approved by Springfield voters on Feb. 4, 1998.

As former City Manager Finnie points out, the tax proposal was the only referendum in city history that received a positive vote in every precinct of Springfield—quite an achievement for an area where suspicion of civil authority dates back to the days of moonshiners and "revenuers." The new tax re-shaped the city in the years that followed: it funded the creation of Civic Park, which eventually was christened Jordan Valley Park, and it helped power the transformation of the old Creamery building into an arts center.