BIG IDEA #16: ANCHOR DOWNTOWN
Mayor Ken McClure sees a return to the concept of the city square as just the thing Springfield needs for a vibrant future.
If you think your utility bill is high, talk with Springfield Mayor Ken McClure. Not long after moving into the mayor’s office last April, McClure was handed the city’s utility bill. It included a whopping $700 million in stormwater needs. But McClure is surprisingly optimistic. “We’re on the cutting edge of so many things,” he says. One of those bright spots is Springfield’s historic square. Once the central hub of the Queen City, the downtown grid was largely abandoned until the city, Missouri State University and business owners dedicated their efforts to its revitalization. After sitting vacant more than 20 years, lights at the historic Heer’s Building are back on. Lofts are occupied, shops are open, and just a handful of buildings have yet to be scooped up.
As McClure sees it, no space better represents Springfield’s enthusiasm for engaging, attracting and retaining business than the MSU IDEA Commons. MSU picked up the 88-acre strip of downtown for $1. “People at the time said the university overpaid,” McClure says. “But that started businesses coming in, and one thing led to another.” The once-blighted stretch of land is now home to the university’s Brick City, which houses the art and design programs, and the eFactory. “The IDEA Commons can provide an anchor for downtown,” McClure says. “It’s focused on business and business development. I think we have an opportunity to develop that area further, and we need the university, the city and private businesses to be part of that.”
So how does Springfield convince businesses to set up shop in our city limits? Easy. “Our low cost of living is key,” McClure says. “We have good workforce development programs and resources, including OTC, a strong public school system and a superb network of higher education institutions. This area has always been ideal for business, but it’s been under the radar.” Not anymore. The word is out.—By Ettie Berneking
BIG IDEA #17: LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
What does the future hold for theatre in Springfield? According to Beth Domann, it should involve more parking, more engagement and more community support.
If you haven’t seen a production by Springfield Little Theatre, don’t tell Executive Director Beth Domann. “I meet people who have lived here 30 years and who have never been inside Landers Theatre,” she says. “If people could only realize what an incredible art scene we have here and what a freaky vortex of talent we have!”
Stars including High School Musical’s Lucas Gabrielle and Apollo Robbins graduated out of Springfield Little Theatre, and star-powered Broadway names including Kim Crosby, Kathleen Turner and Betty Buckley took a turn in the Springfield spotlight.
It’s the wealth of talent, the impressive century-old building with its knockout acoustics and a dedicated cast that puts on more than 300 performances each year that make Domann more than optimistic about Springfield’s art scene. “It’s alive and thriving,” she says. “If money were no object, we’d go for world domination. But really, I’d just like to see everyone have their endowments filled so each theatre can be self-sustaining. That would be awesome possum.”—By Ettie Berneking
BIG IDEA #18: BIG CITY DREAMS
After more than 40 years in public service, Roseann Bentley has one request for the future of her hometown.
After 12 years as Greene County Commissioner and another eight as a state senator, Roseann Bentley has heard from residents who have wishes, demands and hopes for 417-land. Now that she’s retired, Bentley has wishes of her own. For starters, she’s set her sights on improving our transportation system. Reviving the downtown train depot and increasing the bus routes downtown are all high on her list. “Our transportation needs more help,” she says. “We’re growing pretty fast, and our transportation system hasn’t taken hold like I thought it would.” During her four decades of public service, Bentley focused on the county’s finances, she served on the Springfield school board and the Missouri State Board of Education and was the first woman from southwest Missouri elected to the Missouri Senate. After all those years, she’s pleased with how her hometown has grown, but growth comes at a cost. As Springfield’s population inches toward big-city status, Bentley worries our public transit isn’t keeping up. “It can’t get better unless we do something pretty bold,” she says. Springfield, one of your most vigilant supporters is keeping her eyes on you.—By Ettie Berneking