"The Next Ten" visioning plan

After six months of gathering ideas and strategies, Community Foundation releases the result

Months in the making and based on extensive grass-roots community input, the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln is releasing the next 10 – a community visioning plan for greater Springfield. The plan will be unveiled at the May 28 Citizen's Club meeting (8 a.m. Hoogland Center for the Arts). It identifies 10 broad initiatives. All have champions who will lead the projects, all can be implemented in the near term and all projects have clear strategies for funding. "It is not just aspirational, but a concrete action plan," says Andy Van Meter, Sangamon County Board chair.

The Community Foundation launched The Next 10 community engagement initiative last fall. Citizens were invited to share their ideas on the future of Springfield (see Illinois Times, Oct.15, 2020). The intent was to spark a fresh conversation about Springfield's potential and coalesce citizens and decision-makers toward shared priorities that will elevate the community's livability, economy, creativity and spirit.

The response was tremendous. Through an interactive website, individuals shared suggestions for a particular geographic location and posted ideas both big and small on a virtual "idea wall." Citizens communicated hundreds of ideas. Over the past six months, the Community Foundation facilitated conversations among the City of Springfield, Sangamon County, State of Illinois, nonprofit organizations, federal and state elected officials, the business community, university leaders and others to discuss ideas and identify partners and potential funding sources.

"We cast a wide net and kept talking to stakeholders to determine what's practical to get done," says Community Foundation president and CEO John Stremsterfer. To help vet the ideas, the Community Foundation assembled a steering committee which Stremsterfer describes as the perfect sounding board to narrow things down.

Four themes underpin the initiatives:

• A Distinctive Community, recognizing Springfield as our capital city rich with history,

• An Equitable Community that is socially and economically inclusive,

• A Prosperous Community with diversified jobs, growth and investments, and

• A Green Community that is sustainable, resilient and strong.

Developing a master plan for downtown, revitalizing the east side, bolstering early childhood education, providing support for artists to beautify and enliven the community, developing a comprehensive plan to address homelessness, making the Illinois State Fairgrounds a year-round attraction, becoming a leader in farm-to-table and investing in environmental sustainability are some of the initiatives. The Pillsbury site and Benedictine Campus are catalytic projects that are priorities for collective action.

Some things are already underway. Grant funding is enabling bands to play in bars and restaurants to rejuvenate the local economy. The Levitt AMP music series is returning to the Y-block. Outdoor dining in downtown is being expanded. The Community Foundation is committed to funding nonprofit sustainability projects. An initiative will be announced soon to move forward with developing a comprehensive strategy to address homelessness.

Mayor Jim Langfelder stresses the significance of the grass-roots approach. He says The Next 10 has increased the spotlight on areas that need attention, and the bottom-up approach helps to build a stronger-knit community. He emphasizes the importance of everyone moving in the same direction, especially with large-scale initiatives, and also highlights the value of engaging the private sector.

Stremsterfer says it was heartening that many ideas aligned with things already being worked on, such as tackling homelessness and creating a downtown UIS hub. Van Meter says some of the identified initiatives were not on the radar screen of community leaders. For example, becoming a leader in farm-to-table emerged from broad-based community interest. Van Meter says the county is the logical entity to lead this initiative, given the rural and urban nature of Sangamon County. "There are already individuals keenly interested in what the county can do to help broaden connections between the farming community and the restaurant industry," says Van Meter. There is potential for the county to be a conduit for federal funding.

Van Meter considers arts organizations vital to the community. The potential to increase arts funding can in turn change the nature of the perception of Springfield, he says.

Stremsterfer says, "It has been exhilarating to have broad buy-in from people. Now it is up to the community to embrace this vision for Springfield and turn plans into action."

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The Next Ten projects

1. A revitalized and resilient downtown

• Development of a downtown master plan

• State of Illinois renovations to the Illinois State Capitol campus

• Permanent outdoor dining improvements

2. Illinois' recreational playground

• Reopen Lake Springfield Beach and Beach House

• Expand programming on the Sangamon River

3. Urban-rural connection

• Make the Illinois State Fairgrounds a year-round center of social and economic activity

• Establish the Springfield region as the farm-to-table capital of the world

4. A culturally rich community

• Celebrate and honor Springfield's diverse storylines, including the 1908 race riots, rich political history and the region's diverse history

• Support for artists to beautify and enliven the community through murals, public art, live entertainment and advocacy for cultural districts

5. Community-led reinvestment in the east side

• Investment in economic, physical and social infrastructure by creating funding tools and incentives

• Protect, preserve and designate historical properties; notable properties include Firehouse No. 5, the Lincoln Colored Home and the Judge Taylor Home

6. Strong foundation for our youth

• Bolster early childhood education and help low-income, first-time mothers get their children off to a good start through the Nurse-Family Partnership

• Develop a community-based work program for youth

7. Support for our most vulnerable

• Develop a comprehensive strategy to address homelessness

• Connect political parties and government employees to support local causes

8. Investments in higher education and innovation

• Make the UIS innovation hub and district a reality

• Bring a law school to Springfield

9. An environmentally sustainable Springfield

• Create the CWLP energy plant of the future and make Springfield a leader in clean energy

• Sustainability improvements for nonprofits by providing financial support

10. Collective action on catalytic developments

• Pillsbury site redevelopment

• Retain local ownership and control of the Benedictine Campus and revitalize as a hub of community and educational activity

• Establish and implement a Community Economic Development Strategy

Sprinkled throughout the plan are "Promising Ideas" – projects with merit that warrant further development to become implementable projects. Examples include:

• Continue alleyway beautification program

• Indoor and outdoor sports facilities to position Springfield as a sports tourism destination

• Reinvention of Kidzeum as an essential component of the education infrastructure

• Stronger emphasis on STEM education and career and employment connections for young people

• Repurposing the Third Street Rail Corridor after rail lines are relocated

Karen Ackerman Witter is a frequent contributor to Illinois Times. She is an active community volunteer.  She chairs the Community Foundation's Women for Women Steering Committee, is chair of the NPR Illinois Community Advisory Board and is board president of Kidzeum.

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