Springfield, OH makes moves toward a downtown revitalization
Brian Scanlan has been a key player in the rejuvenation of downtown Springfield. After Scanlon restored Springfield’s historic Wren Mansion for his offices and others, friends often told him they wished they had saved the 1886 edifice themselves.
“I kind of wish they had, too,” said Scanlan, laughing. “It would have saved me a helluva lot of money.”
The experience also taught Scanlan and his company Scanlan Construction a lesson he applied in restoring two buildings in a block of Fountain Avenue where retail shops have secured a foothold after decades of absence.
“The city paid for the white box build out – HVAC, electric, gas – but Chad’s going to have about $400,000 invested in that space."
The first now operates as a bakery and Italian deli. The second, which this spring will house a pretzel shop and women’s clothing boutique, has presented the same challenge.
“Especially in buildings like this particular one – it’s been sitting vacant for years and years,” said Scanlan. “We just never know what we’re going to find.”
His son-in-law Dustin Gray said in this instance, his boss was spot on.
“When we got in here, we tore into a lot more than we were expecting, so it was pretty much a full gut.”
Water damage and gravity trashed layers of roof. The floors were covered with mud and rot. But Ray Kegley, who has worked with Scanlan for 20 years, said they have been able to rescue the building’s unique historic style and good bones in the renovation process.
“The timber in this thing is a lot stronger than the new lumber you use today,” he said.
The building’s surviving stained glass and classic vaulted ceiling represent the kinds of bells and whistles that draw people to a historic downtown area, Scanlan said.
“The glass was in horrible shape,” he said. “But we have a lady, she’s up north near the Toledo area, and she’s going to preserve all that for us.”
Meanwhile, across Fountain Avenue, two retail spaces are going in the city’s new parking garage. City Manager Bryan Heck said the project has been a major investment.
“The city paid for the white box build out – HVAC, electric, gas – but Chad’s going to have about $400,000 invested in that space,” he said.
Chad Druckenbroad is the owner of what will be Charlos’ Provisions and Eatery, a restaurant and food mart for downtown residents.
The city chipped in $20,000 tied to Druckenbroad’s pledge to create around 15 jobs. Next door will be Alcony Weavers, a local mother-and-son team selling knitting supplies and knit goods, many made on antique looms.
Heck said all these changes mean a more vibrant local economy.
“That’s what we’re seeing in our downtown,” he said. “It’s really driving that opportunity for local entrepreneurs to have a niche location within our community.”
This spring, those walking on Fountain Avenue from Columbia to Main Streets will likely see all the storefronts occupied – a far different scene than John Landess remembers from his youth. He is the executive director of Springfield’s private Turner Foundation.
“It was a pretty dead little corridor there. Now we have a 300-car parking garage with storefronts that are being built out as we speak,” he said. “These little storefronts, they always seem to come up with something interesting, something we don’t have in town.”
“It’s cool to see downtown Springfield come back."
The Foundation has financed the renovation of old buildings, hoping someday to break even.
“At least for us, everything we've tried to do has taken a little longer and been a little more expensive than we, you know, anticipated,” Landess said. “The payoff is when you see people enjoying themselves downtown. You know it’s going to pay off because the kids are going to grow up knowing that.”
There’s also more to come. Plans are in the works to convert half a block of old buildings into apartments. Gray is excited about the changes, both for himself and his children.
“It’s cool to see downtown Springfield come back,” he said. “There’s a lot of foot traffic down through here, and I think they’re doing a great job of bringing everything back downtown. To see the transformation is pretty cool.”
Many older citizens have been heartened over the past 15 years as the downtown has added a regional medical center and separate surgical hospital, a full block of greenspace, a food court in a historic market and an art gallery.
Heck is proud of the support for downtown development but is realistic about his expectations.
“What I try to tell people is, we're not going to bring back the past. But what we can do is make a great future in our community,” he said. “We're seeing that in our downtown as it’s starting to come back. It's starting to become a vibrant place to live, work and play again.”