Amid hints of a bombshell announcement for the blighted Kmart property on MacArthur Boulevard, the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission last week rejected a proposed rezone to allow a used car lot.
The bombshell came Tuesday, when Hy-Vee, an Iowa-based supermarket chain, filed plans for a grocery store with the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission. The company wants to build both a grocery store and a convenience store on the parcel between Cherry Road and Outer Park Drive.
“It’s another step along the path,” said Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin. “They’ve got options to purchase on properties there, and they’re moving forward. We’re talking about a grocery store that will have 300 to 400 jobs.”
Plans for a tax increment financing district on MacArthur was “clearly” an inducement, McMenamin said. Besides eliminating a vacant block on MacArthur, a Hy-Vee store would strengthen and stabilize nearby neighborhoods, McMenamin said.
Hy-Vee’s plans became public on the heels of a unanimous vote last week by the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission, which rejected a proposal for a used car lot and auto repair shop on MacArthur near South Grand Avenue on the former parking lot for the Esquire Theater, which has been closed and vacant for seven years.
Opponents of the car lot say that a rezone would sidetrack a hoped-for renaissance on MacArthur, where a committee is starting work on a proposed rezone aimed at luring new businesses to a strip currently marked by check-cashing stores and vacant property.
“There’s nothing wrong with dreaming,” planning commission chairman George Sisk told car-lot opponents. “But, realisitically, how long can you afford to wait?
On paper, MacArthur Boulevard could be a thriving residential-and shopping district, with row houses lining the thoroughfare and plenty of trees. That’s what a plan released in February shows, and car-lot opponents last week pointed to Kmart as a sign of hope, even before Hy-Vee announced its plans.
“Yes, there are some best-kept secrets going on at the Kmart,” Ward 6 Ald. Cory Jobe told the commission. “I think we’re short term instead of long term.”
Robert Wilbern’s plan to sell secondhand Mercedes and BMW automobiles at the Esquire property needs eight votes on the 10-member city council. Opponents argue that the city shouldn’t be rezoning land to allow uses not contemplated in the plan by The Lakota Group that was released earlier this year.
The plan envisions neither a car lot nor a supermarket for MacArthur. Rather, Lakota says that the Kmart property would be perfect for townhomes with a central green, or perhaps retail development on the ground floor of apartments or maybe even four commercial buildings.
In short, there is wiggle room, and a supermarket could be ideal, given that Lakota says that people who live near the corridor generate an annual demand of nearly $46 million for groceries. Otherwise, Lakota says, the Springfield area has an oversupply of commercial property, and so residences should line stretches of MacArthur in the future, with parking behind buildings instead of fronting the street.
Jim Moll, chairman of a committee that will recommend a new zoning plan for the boulevard, said that he’s not certain that the real-estate market would support all the residential development recommended by the Lakota study, which he called a guide as opposed to a blueprint.
“It’s a good starting point,” Moll said. “I don’t think that we want to rigidly adhere to every word in it. Whether residential becomes, eventually, part of MacArthur remains to be seen.”
Whatever zoning plan is eventually adopted should be drawn with an eye toward the future, said Moll, who opposes the proposed car lot.
“You never take anything just because it’s able to be developed,” said Moll, whose committee is part of the MacArthur Boulevard Action Committee, which was formed earlier this year to come up with plans for the area. “You always have to look at the long-term impacts. It’s taken a long time for MacArthur Boulevard to get in the shape it’s in. It’s going to take a long time to get it back.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at email@example.com.