As Finnie, Gerdes and others began to share their vision for the Creamery’s future, they began to attract support from a wide variety of Springfieldians. One early backer of the idea was Randy Russell, a longtime art teacher in the Springfield Public Schools system. A member of the SRAC board of directors, Russell served 6 years as chairperson of Artsfest, the city's popular annual arts celebration, initially moving the event to Walnut Street.
Russ RuBert, a sculptor who created large-scale stainless steel works and had won a national reputation, was another early supporter of the plan. RuBert and wife Pam, an art quilter, were longtime advocates for the arts who helped the effort gain momentum.
Business leaders, arts enthusiasts and longtime civic visionaries Rob and Sally Baird were other early champions of The Creamery vision, and Tom Finnie declares that their efforts were so essential in the process that “their names ought to be on the building.”
Banker Brian Fogle, another veteran civic activist, brought his fiduciary expertise, wide connections and winning way with people to the table. Another key player soon emerged: the Community Foundation of the Ozarks (CFO), a philanthropic agency under the leadership of president Jan Horton and her successor Gary Funk, had already begun to direct its donations and energies toward community advancement, and the CFO would prove instrumental in leveraging the donations of the Bairds and others to secure historic-building tax credits from the State of Missouri that would fund the renovation of the Creamery.
Rob Baird remembers that he first heard about the old Creamery building from City Manager Finnie. "Tom called me up one day and said, 'I’ve got the keys to this old building. Why don’t you come on down and take a tour and see if we can dream up a use for it?'" Baird, who had seen aging buildings restored to dynamic life in cities around the country, quickly bought into the vision of turning the structure into an arts center.
“This entire period of the late 1990s saw a great flowering of civic ideas and energy in Springfield, drawing on the talents and visions of a host of people,” Baird recalls. Among those who helped foster the dream of a downtown renaissance for Springfield, he singles out Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce president Jim Anderson and Missouri State University officials Jim Baker and Dean of Fine Arts David Belcher.
As Baird recalls, both Anderson and Belcher began to sponsor visits to other cities in which Springfieldians toured downtowns and met with city leaders and arts supporters to learn from their experiences. Baird recalls being inspired by projects he saw in Boise, Idaho; Seattle and Vancouver; and Kansas City and St. Louis, all of which pointed a way forward for The Creamery.
Working closely together, Baird, Fogle, Funk, RuBert and others found a way to leverage funds donated by the Baird family to secure State of Missouri tax credits for historical renovation. RuBert, who had attended a pottery workshop with Joyce Mahoney well before the building was acquired by the city, remembers discussing the possibililties of converting the building into a hub for the arts with Mahoney. RuBert and wife Pam were instrumental in shaping the course of the SRAC in the years before the Arts Council moved to The Creamery.
As RuBert recalls: “We learned that the State Economic Development Department had made available some $3 million in tax credits the City could apply for as part of the effort to build what became Jordan Valley Park. It was considered a long shot that we would receive them, and it was a very competitive process. An important requirement for consideration was that the City partner with a non-profit organization that would then actually be awarded the benefit of the credits.
“I wrote the proposal to receive tax credits from the state in the summer of 2001,” RuBert recalled. “If you look back at the vision for The Creamery’s future contained in that letter, it’s amazing to see how close we came to delineating the future of the building years before it really took shape.”
Indeed it did. Here is the vision put forth in RuBert’s letter, condensed into bullet points:
- It [the Creamery] should assume a community-based arts education role
- It should serve as a visual arts exhibition center
- It should offer rental space and flexible rehearsal space for cultural and arts organizations
- It should be a fun and vibrant contributor to Jordan Valley Park
- It should be an evolving cultural resource for the community
RuBert recalls the feeling of satisfaction he felt when he sent the letter to Finnie—dated Sept. 6, 2001. Five days later, terrorists attacked New York City and Washington. “People forget today how much the terrorist attacks paralyzed the nation,” says RuBert. “For some time, we feared we would not receive the tax credits.” But in time the credits were approved, and the plan took a giant step forward.
As former CFO president Funk recalls: “The Mahoneys provided the opportunity. Tom Finnie amplified the scope of that opportunity and seized it, bringing expertise and city resources to the project. Philanthropist Rob Baird had the passion and vision and capital to make the funding happen. The CFO provided social capital and the networking skills to win the support of the various arts groups.”