Breathing New Life Into Downtown Springfield
A city’s downtown is almost as important as the residents who occupy it. If seen as comparable to the human body, city streets are arteries and veins that ultimately lead to the pulsating heart — a city’s downtown.
Not only is a downtown area generally the main source of activity in a city, a downtown helps to give any particular city a certain character and definition that extends beyond the parameters of bricks and buildings. It helps to define the perception of a place, gives people a hub of interaction, and creates an atmosphere that is unique to each and every city in the United States.
Recognizing the importance of having an operational and functional downtown, the City of Springfield launched a revitalization effort in 2010 that will tentatively make Springfield one of the more attractive and affluent cities in Oregon. With successful business and companies such as Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend in the area, the city might well be on the way to accomplishing its goals.
Sarai Johnson, associate director at NEDCO (Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation), a Community Development corporation and one of the main companies behind downtown Springfield’s revitalization effort, mentioned that development of Springfield’s downtown is already underway. Johnson says,
“In 2008, NEDCO launched Springfield’s Farmers Market in partnership with the City of Springfield. We’ve run that market for the last five years and I’ve been marveling at how different downtown is today from what it was like five years ago.”
The farmer’s market has already made a big improvement. Johnson explains,
“I think the farmer’s market provided a lot more incentive for people to come down and hang out in a critical mass of positive activity to really launch more efforts in Springfield.
Rated recently as the 2nd best farmer’s market in the State of Oregon, the Springfield farmer’s market has come a long way since its inception. Running from 3-7 pm on Friday nights, the market has — as Johnson points out — brought significant traffic into the downtown area. It has kicked off what many hope to be one of the most aspiring yet attainable development goals in the State of Oregon.
Due to the success the market has seen since it was started, the Springfield Farmer’s Market will be transitioning into a year-round market beginning October 19th. It will move into Sprout!, a regional food hub that took over the building property of the First Christian Church. Johnson says,
“In the very immediate future, Sprout!…will be economically excellent for downtown and will bring foot traffic here. Starting this month (October 19th), we are launching the year-long farmer’s market portion of that program.”
Sprout! figures to be the next big step in revitalizing the downtown Springfield area. Not only will it house the Springfield Farmers’ Market, the regional food hub features a full kitchen with professional equipment that is ready for rental by the hour.
Beyond Sprout! and the Springfield Farmers’ Market, however, lies even bigger aspirations for the area. Regarding further development, Johnson states,
“Around 2010 we started working and building a lot of partnerships with other organizations to launch a Main Street program. Main Street is a proven program that’s been used throughout the country in a lot of different places.”
The Main Street model, which has been successfully implemented in numerous cities across the nation, has the goal of working “with communities to develop comprehensive, incremental revitalization strategies based on a community’s unique assets, character, and heritage.”
“It’s a way to engage volunteer efforts and community efforts to make incremental changes in downtown to create a more positive commercial space. Since [the implementation of the Main Street program], the four companies that make up the Main Street group have been working on different projects and implementing small things that have really started to make more of a difference downtown.”
With downtown revitalization picking up speed month by month, many may wonder whether the planned Springfield downtown area is being put in place to rival Eugene’s downtown area. But Johnson is careful to avoid that issue:
“I don’t think it’s anything about comparing Eugene and Springfield. I think Springfield is interested in having a downtown that’s thriving and that is a great place for people who live here and nearby here for recreation, shopping, and arts and culture.”
More than anything, it appears, the revitalization being put in place for Springfield’s downtown area is more about giving city residents an area they can be proud to call their downtown and business and social hub. According to Johson,
“It’s really a lot about the people who live in Springfield really being interested in investing in a place that they live and being a part of something really positive for the community.”
Johnson also says that bringing in new businesses as well as supporting existing businesses is a key factor in revitalization efforts.
“Downtown Springfield is definitely interested in attracting businesses as much as possible because that is one of the tactics we need in order to make a stronger downtown. We’re also working really hard to strengthen the existing businesses.”
With lofty yet achievable goals, one of the questions people are asking is one concerning where all of the money is coming from. To this Johnson answers,
“The City of Springfield supports the efforts. The efforts are [also] supported by volunteer work, which is the majority of what goes into it.”
NEDCO and the City of Springfield, as well as many citizens and businesses of Springfield, are clearly ready to revitalize their downtown area, a revitalization they hope makes downtown Springfield one of the best areas in Lane County. Nestled right along the Willamette River and next to Eugene, Springfield has the prospects to be a budding business hub should its revitalization go according to plan.
While there is no time frame for completion of the project, NEDCO and Sarai Johnson will always be there to help support the efforts:
“The perspective that we take on community economic development is that the process will go on for a very long time. Maybe even indefinitely. We don’t anticipate our work just being done at some point.”