Don't tear down downtown

An open letter from concerned nonprofits

As a group of nonprofit organizations that are located in, invested in and committed to the future and vitality of downtown Springfield, we voice our concerns over the preliminary proposal from the Springfield-Sangamon Growth Alliance that could result in the demolition of four blocks of existing small businesses and nationally recognized historic buildings. Tearing down these places is not the best path toward creating a university presence in downtown Springfield.

We understand and value the benefits of bringing university facilities into our historic downtown. Adding students, faculty and employees as our fellow neighbors could be a win/win – bringing new energy to downtown and generating economic activity for our local businesses. For years, the community has rallied to promote the revitalization of small businesses downtown. We are disappointed to see SSGA propose an initial concept that knocks down the very buildings where these small businesses thrive.

Instead of prioritizing new construction on empty lots, SSGA's plan would evict existing small businesses such as Custom Cup and JP Kelly's and relocate established organizations like the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Sangamo Club. This preliminary plan proposes the demolition of 17 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Comprehensive Plan for Springfield and other previous planning reports highlight the opportunity for adaptive reuse of historic buildings along with new construction on vacant and surface parking lots. Our preliminary research indicates that these priorities are consistent with other successful, downtown Midwestern universities, integrating seamlessly into the existing urban fabric.

Furthermore, our research shows there are dozens of acres of vacant and surface parking lots within downtown Springfield. These acres represent a blank canvas ready for the university's program-area creations and should be prioritized before demolition, thus adding to the overall density of downtown. Higher density helps create walkable communities, supports more housing and greater affordability and improves public safety.

A university presence, strategically planned, has the potential to be an economic engine supporting the continued revitalization of our downtown. With an emphasis on creativity and innovation, planning efforts should prioritize repurposing historic buildings and converting vacant lots into new landmarks. Instead of requiring a new university enclave, student and administrative buildings can integrate into the existing downtown, creating a vibrant urban environment where people want to live, work, play and learn.

Our collective organizations want to see this project happen, and our organizations are ready to lend expertise. By working together, we can have both a university presence and an expanded beautiful, bustling, historic downtown.

Stacey Pfingsten, Executive Vice President, American Institute of Architects Illinois;

Scott Troehler, Board President, Downtown Springfield Heritage Foundation;

Frank Butterfield, Director of Springfield Office, Landmarks Illinois

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