Here's what could be coming to Springfield's Y Block
For the first time, all four developers who submitted proposals for the YWCA block sat down together on Thursday to present their visions for what should become of the open space in downtown Springfield.
The panel was organized by the Academy of Lifelong Learning, a learning community for adults ages 50 and older. The approximately 35 attendees at Lincoln Land Community College were the first members of the public to see the dramatically revised plans submitted by one of the developers, North Mansion Y-Block Development, a group backed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Mayor Jim Langfelder asked the four developers for any supplemental information or revisions to their proposals to be submitted by Nov. 1. Two of them - North Mansion Y-Block and John Shafer and Associates - turned in revisions, according to city purchasing agent Sandy Robinson. Langfelder said he would make a recommendation by the end of November.
Sue Massie of Massie Massie and Associates, John Shafer of John Shafer and Associates, Chris Stone of EMS Midwest, and Don Tracy and Paul Wheeler of North Mansion Y-Block Development each presented for about 20 minutes and then answered questions.
All four pointed out how they would integrate their proposals for block -- bounded by Capitol Avenue, and Jackson, Fourth and Fifth streets -- with nearby attractions: the Executive Mansion, the Jackson Street corridor and the Hoogland Center for the Arts.
The tower is gone
After falling flat with the public, the original proposal from North Mansion Y-Block -- a park with a tower and interactive playground area -- was abandoned, Tracy said. Wheeler said the original proposal “did too many things and tried to be too many things.”
“We had a plan with a tower, my beloved tower, that no one in fell in love with,” Tracy joked.
A revamped proposal, designed with help of Belgian landscape architect Peter Wirtz, who visited Springfield earlier this year, emphasizes bringing water, an “oasis,” to the center of the park, surrounding it with 6-foot-high natural mounds and hemming it in with metasequoia trees.
The aquatic area would be 4 inches deep and water from fountains would cross over from pool to pool. In the winter, the water could be drained as a dry area for movies or frozen to be an ice rink. An open space in between all of the city attractions would serve as a respite for pedestrians, Wheeler said.
“Our thought was maybe we shouldn’t fill it up; maybe we should gather (the attractions),” Wheeler said.
The corner of the park would anchored by an active cafe, security, a small office and restrooms.
Shafer said his proposal, a 92-unit apartment, mixed-use complex with a park, would solve a “missing persons problem” downtown. The one- and two-bedroom apartments on the top three floors and the retail and restaurant space on the bottom floor would bring people, especially millennials, to live, work and shop downtown.
“One of the nicer areas of downtown Springfield is the Sixth Street area between Monroe and Adams (streets),” Shafer said. “That’s basically this same scale in terms of height.”
He added that 25 percent of the block would be building space and 75 percent would be park space. The plan includes green space, an amphitheater, a paved area for food trucks, a bandstand, public restrooms, a playground area and daycare center. He pointed out the building wrapping around the park would block the “ugly” nearby buildings. A developer from Indianapolis would build and run the project.
In an interview, Shafer said the revisions submitted to the city weren’t much different from his original plan.
“It was a good plan the first time and it still is,” Shafer said.
Amphitheater and city market
For her presentation, Massie took the attendees on a tour of the history of development on the block. Her design concept asks for an open green space with an amphitheater and a year-round city market, noting that the adjacent street, Capitol Avenue, was once called Market Street. Massie said by offering an open space, developers might be less reluctant to cultivate the rest of area.
“We aren’t saying we should dismiss the goals of the city in providing more housing for urban residents,” Massie said. “But we are saying let’s shift that to other obvious locations and use this site for green space.”
Video wall, university space, movie theater
Stone told attendees his proposal was similar to Massie’s. However, the top floor of the building would have a restaurant and open-air bar, and the park would have a video wall and splash pad. Building space would be anchored by an educational institution like University of Illinois Springfield or Southern Illinois University, a six-screen movie theater and 30 apartments.
A not-for-profit would run and maintain the block. It would ask seven banks each buy up $5 million in bonds. He said a casino would not be a part of the block. But if possible, it would be built on the county parking lot directly across from the BOS Center.
“We want to make sure we are doing a project that is fully sustainable, that puts money back instead of costing money to the taxpayers,” Stone said.
Questions, comments and answers
The life-long learners, several of whom knew the history of the area or had followed the project, were eager to offer their opinions and ask questions.
An attendee started off the discussion by commenting that Union Square Park, which was redeveloped more than a decade ago alongside the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, was often empty.
“I just don’t see just a park being viable because our small population, even with tourists,” the attendee said.
Tracy countered by saying a park, with its fountains and natural playground, would make it a “destination park.” Stone added the Executive Mansion was undergoing renovations and would, when completed, attract more visitors to the area.
“I obviously think Springfield needs density. ... I think Springfield is not Paris or Warsaw,” Shafer countered, alluding to the Wirtz park designs from those overseas cities.
Another audience member urged the developers with parks to plan to have programming to engage people.
One attendee asked Stone if he had a commitment from an education institution.
“Let’s put it this way ... I wouldn’t put in the proposal if I didn’t feel confident we couldn’t locate a major university downtown,” Stone replied.
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