SPRINGFIELD — The signs of new life in Springfield aren't all related to the onset of spring.
The city's Downtown Development Authority's efforts to foster economic growth and overall attractiveness are taking root. The organization was activated by the Springfield City Council in 2016.
During its initial meetings, the DDA, funded mainly by the City of Springfield, mapped out strategies to attract new businesses and to oversee the revitalization of properties primarily on Laurel Street.
"We came up with facade grants, the startup grants, and we are trying to figure out if there is a way we can alleviate some of the city fees on some things like water, sewer or building permits but those are all connected with costs, and so that means someone is going to have to pay those at some point anyway," said Erin Phillips, Springfield's community development director. "That's a little a bit different tougher one to figure out but we've had some success with the facade grants."
Facade grant recipients are reimbursed for approved work done to improve their business fronts. The maximum amount per grant is $2,500. Businesses are limited to $5,000 in grants over a three-year period.
Tebeau Hill Apparel and Gifts received a grant for courtyard work done in 2017. Moo McGinn's Ice Cream will use a grant to get new curtains and awnings this year and the Newberry Law Firm will update its front door.
Phillips said representatives from surrounding DDAs are impressed Springfield's DDA issued three facade grants in its first year.
"Sometimes I think people make it too complicated so we took the stance to make ours very simple," she said. "We understand we don't have a lot of exceptions, rules and stipulations right now. We just want it to be accessible and easy for people to apply.
"As we come across things in the future, we may have to cut back on what we are allowing but we figured we would just kind of let the program grow organically with the needs of Springfield. We didn't want to start out with something so strict that it was hard to explain or hard to apply for."
Phillips mentioned that the former Walt's TV and Appliance building is on track to become a downtown economic catalyst soon. The DDA bought it so that it could find a buyer it considers suitable.
"I haven't made any public statements on who we are working with," Phillips said. "As you can imagine, it's a very big building with a very big (sales) number and we have to make sure all our ducks are in a row. We've been told not to say (who the buyer) is publicly yet so we are not going to, but what we are looking at is something that is going to be a multi-tenant development that will park revitalization ..."