Springfield residents are invited to go online, attend public meetings and voice opinions on a master plan in the works for the downtown and Mid-Illinois Medical District.
Collaborators in the planning process, funded with a $150,000 state grant and private contributions, recently launched a website – SpringfieldMasterPlan.com – to inform the public and solicit suggestions for land use and development, transportation, parking, streetscape and other issues.
The master plan, to be completed this year for potential adoption by elected officials, will "help solidify public policy decisions" in the future, according to Ryan McCrady, president and chief executive officer of the Springfield Sangamon County Growth Alliance.
"Absent a master plan, it's hard to know what success looks like," he said.
The Growth Alliance is working on the master plan with Springfield city government and medical district officials, the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln and Downtown Springfield Inc.
Downtown Springfield has never had a master plan, and the medical district – a one-square-mile area immediately north of downtown that includes two major hospitals, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, other medical providers and residential neighborhoods – hasn't had its master plan updated since 2005.
The medical district's lack of ongoing state funding since its formation through state legislation in 2003 has hindered efforts to carry out its original master plan, though a $250,000 allocation for the district was included in the state budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
The Growth Alliance, a public-private sector partnership that promotes economic development efforts in Springfield and Sangamon County and could help carry out a new master plan for the district, wasn't in existence in the early 2000s, McCardy said. The alliance was formed in 2018.
Ryan Croke, president of the all-volunteer commission overseeing the medical district, told Illinois Times in April 2022 that the $250,000 would be used to expand quality, affordable housing in the district for medical students, medical residents, medical fellows, nursing students and other health care workers.
Public meetings for the new Downtown Springfield & Mid-Illinois Medical District Master Plan haven't been scheduled yet. The planning process began in summer 2022 and will conclude in summer 2023, McCrady said.
The $150,000 state grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will be supplemented by donations from DSI, the Community Foundation, Growth Alliance, city of Springfield and Horace Mann Educators Corp. to fund the $195,000 effort guided by the urban planning firm Houseal Lavigne, he said.
Abby Powell, director of business development for the Growth Alliance, said the state grant "opens the door for us to develop a detailed, successful plan and identify opportunities to tell the world what we want our downtown to look like."
The downtown and medical district "are distinct areas, they do overlap, and they do support each other," Powell said. "In order for us to attract development in downtown and the medical district, we have to paint the picture for developers and our community about what our future growth will look like and what types of businesses would fit best here."
The planning process dovetails with the effort by Springfield and Sangamon County officials looking into opportunities for business and residential development along the Third Street rail corridor once rail traffic is removed in 2025 and tracks are removed in 2026, McCrady said.
Recommendations being compiled for the corridor will be incorporated in the master plan, he said.
The final master plan will "identify housing gaps, urban development goals and plans for increased arts and culture in the area," according to a news release from plan partners.
Those partners are encouraging the public to go online to complete brief questionnaires and use an online tool called "map social" that allows people to make suggestions for specific locations downtown and in the medical district.
A presentation that McCrady made to the Springfield City Council on the master plan is available at bit.ly/SPIDowntownMasterPlan.
Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer at Illinois Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 217-679-7810 or twitter.com/DeanOlsenIT.