"The synergy created around renewed downtown investment – including a $300 million regional medical facility development – is one of the greatest opportunities a community like Springfield can build upon," said Executive Assistant to the Springfield City Manager Shannon Meadows. "A lot of planning has gone into how Springfield's downtown will look in the future. City staff worked with investors, developers and elected officials to develop a Unified Plan and Land Use policy.
"However, there was a piece missing. The Wittenberg market is significant to downtown revitalization and success of commercial investment in the area. It is critical that city planners and local leaders understand the perceptions and expectations of university students when planning for a renewed urban community."
Meadows, a 1999 Wittenberg graduate who also currently serves as interim director of human relations, housing and neighborhood services for the City of Springfield, and Heather Whitmore, Springfield planning and zoning administrator, coordinated the meeting, which attracted more than 60 Wittenberg students, faculty and staff members. After learning more about the city's history and what has led to a decline of its downtown core in the last half-century, students were divided into discussion groups to analyze what kind of development should take place in Springfield's "center city."
Maps illustrating development plans already under way – including the proposed regional medical campus that combines the city's two existing hospitals – helped to create context for the discussion groups. Students were charged with analyzing the kinds of retail establishments and commercial, business and residential development that they thought would improve life in Springfield.
"I'm excited to see what job opportunities, as well as entertainment benefits, this planning committee and the city as a whole has to offer."
Stover was one of many students energized by the impromptu city planning experience. Such nationally recognized retail and food industry businesses as Dave & Buster's, Barnes & Noble and Starbucks were mentioned regularly as potential downtown business district tenants, in addition to thoughtful discussions about the need for better public transportation, more locally owned businesses, attractive green spaces with well-lit walkways and a wider variety of downtown entertainment options.
Wittenberg students were also united in their opinion that environmentally friendly businesses and downtown development were also a priority.
The students' enthusiasm – and their insistence that they would patronize businesses in a more vibrant downtown – was music to Meadows' ears.
"It is refreshing to work with future leaders of Springfield's community, and other urban areas throughout the country at this critical juncture in planning Springfield's renewed downtown," Meadows said. "Wittenberg's commitment to the liberal arts and community service is an asset that cannot be overlooked when planning for the future. It is critical to understand what university students want in their community – whether it is their home for four years or for many years following graduation.
"The community now has an opportunity to plan for large-scale redevelopment in the urban core – something not all urban areas are lucky enough to get to do. Working with university students, faculty and staff adds to the layers of planning and incentives city staff can develop for future investment in the center city."
Written By: Ryan Maurer
Photos By: Robbie Gantt
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