New Housing Development Generating Excitement In Springfield
In 1914, real estate developer Harry Kissell used a rousing speech and the city’s growing population to have Springfield, Ohio named America’s Best 60,000 City.
In the years that followed, Springfield kept growing. By 1970, the city’s population had grown to 80,000 people.
But in the past few decades, Springfield has been losing its population. Today, the city’s home to around 60,000 – the same number of people as in 1914.
Today, Harry Kissell’s grandson is a developer in Springfield. And he says a construction project now underway holds promise for the city’s resurgence.
PETE NOONAN: My name is Peter Noonan, N-o-o-n-a-n, like morning noon and night, but call me Pete.
TOM STAFFORD: Pete Noonan is an affable man, and the founder of Springfield’s Midland Properties. He’s been a community leader for decades, and he sizes up his city’s most fundamental challenge this way.
PETE NOONAN: Springfield is built to have 80,000 or so residents. It has infrastructure for that. It has sewer and water and police and fire. But we only have 60,000 people paying the bill. That puts a tremendous strain on our city fathers try to keep the services and the infrastructure going.
TOM STAFFORD: As in most rust-belt cities, leaders have called for jobs, jobs and more jobs. And they’ve been coming, thanks to those efforts. But Noonan doesn’t think that’s enough.
PETE NOONAN: It seems to me the more critical issue is people living in Springfield So, people are coming in from outside to work. But if they don't live here, we aren't getting the benefit of their being here all the time.
TOM STAFFORD: That’s why a new housing development on the city’s East Side has Noonan excited. Called the Bridgewater, the project’s goal is to build 231 single-family homes in two phases of construction -- the first now wrapping up.
PETE NOONAN: We need and have not had for a long time development of that size of new residential. Unfortunately, we don't have developers here who have the expertise, the wherewithal and the background.
PETE NOONAN: The point is that if this project goes well, other developers of the same size and ilk will begin to look at Springfield and say, “Ah, there's a market for us there.” And we'll be able to expand our housing stock, which we desperately need to do.
TOM STAFFORD: And what does he see happening if the city is able to start regaining its lost population?
PETE NOONAN: First of all, it would give a further impetus to the redevelopment of the downtown.
TOM STAFFORD: More important, Noonan says, it could help to build a Springfield that’s a better place to live.
PETE NOONAN: We have a green belt that runs all the way from the west boundary to the east boundary where it then borders with a state park. That is a wonderful asset for people who are looking to live here. And we have to develop that.
TOM STAFFORD: But developing it will require money from city coffers.
PETE NOONAN: And those are the kind of dollars they don't have until you get to a certain threshold of numbers.
TOM STAFFORD: The revenue brought by added population could also improve city services -- and build on the optimism created by recent downtown development.
PETE NOONAN: We’ve done great things without a whole heck of a lot of bucks from government. But if we could spread that burden back a little bit, it would be a great boon for this community. We would be able to become what we want to be and what we can be. That’s why I’m so excited about this project.
TOM STAFFORD: It’s the kind of optimism Harry Kissell brought to America’s Best 60,000 City morning, noon and night. Reporting from Springfield for WYSO news, I’m Tom Stafford.