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Venture to add space for multiple businesses in Springfield
Walt's rendering
This rendering shows a prelimary plan for the transformation of the former Walt’s Furniture buildiing at 405 N. Laurel St. into a Springfield business center. It features an greatly expanded Joann’s Florist, several “incubator offices” and two large rental spaces. - photo by Photo submitted

SPRINGFIELD —  Two parties willing to keep digging struck a golden deal during the Jan. 21 meeting of the Springfield Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

Carlson’s Springfield Holdings, an LLC of Springfield business owner James Carlson, entered into a lease agreement with the DDA for 405 N. Laurel Street, the former location of Walt’s Furniture.

Carlson will invest a minimum of $500,000 into the building and create several additional tenant spaces. In exchange, Carlson has given the DDA the properties he owns at 712 N. Laurel Street.

“It took us a long time to get here with this particular project but in the end I think we came across a good solution that will help Mr. Carlson keep his businesses in town and give him the expansion space he really needs to continue to grow his businesses in downtown,”  Community Development Director Erin Phillips said. “It’s a good use for the building that will provide some business on that end of town because a lot of the focus has kind of been between the red lights (between Second Street and Madison Street on Laurel Street) here and we are seeing that we are trying to get further down the street. This is a good step toward that.”

Without question, the lease agreement with Carlson is the DDA’s crowning achievement. 

“We’ve done some facade grants and we’ve been able to do some smaller-scale things,” Phillips said.

The Springfield City Council created the DDA in 2016 with the Walt’s building largely in mind. The building has been vacant since 2014, leaving a large downtown void.

“(The DDA) got started in 2016 so they didn’t really figure out what they wanted to do with this project until 2017,” Phillips said. “It took a good three years to get this pulled together which, in the grand scheme of things, is not uncommon with large buildings in complicated projects.”

The DDA spent two years working on a concept involving Carlson that proved to be untenable.

“We realized that it wasn’t going to work out as we planned,” Phillips said. “The initial concept that we talked about and signed into an agreement in 2017 was about the DDA actually renovating the building and then leasing it to a tenant. In this scenario, it works out a little bit better for everyone because we lease the building and the tenant does the build-out. That puts a little bit more burden on them and less burden on us but it protects us both a little bit better in the long run.”

The initial proposal for the Walt’s building exceeded Carlson’s budget for it.

“This time it is working just because we were able to cut out a bunch of the middle men,” Carlson said. “We are super excited.”

Carlson, who will take ownership of the building after five years, is known as a man of action. Phillips expects that he will get the Walt’s building renovations completed in short order.

“There is a lot of energy there. That’s for sure, she said. “There is a lot of energy and a lot of vision.”

On Friday, workers were clearing out the building. In addition, contractors were on hand to finalize floor plans.

Carlson gave Springfield a positive jolt with the 2019 opening of his events venue, The Local on Laurel. He expects more of the same with a revitalized Walt’s building.

“We definitely want to see Springfield grow and prosper, and we feed off each other in business,” he said. 

Carlson has badly needed more room for his businesses for a few years. Joann’s Florist has 2,300 square feet of space at its current location at 508 N. Laurel St. In the Walt’s building, it will have a sales floor of 4,300 square feet.

“We will have a sales floor that will occupy home decor, full gifts, a bridal registry and it will have clothing,” Carlson said. “It will have what you would see in most gift shops and it will offer gift-wrapping services.

“There will be a gift-wrapping station built in.”

The flower shop will be joined by Carlson’s Premier Events, his rental company, and up to a dozen other businesses, including eight “incubator offices.”

Each incubator offices will include 150-200 square feet of space. There will also be a conference room in the building.

“It’s kind of the same concept like they have at Georgia Southern,” he said. “It would house eight other businesses. We already have tenant prospects in the working.

“We’ve had a lot of outreach prior to us going under contract with this building.”

There is also 11,000 square feet of rental space available.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring in two other tenants, so that will be a total of 10 additional businesses plus Carlson’s to house 12 businesses,” Carlson said. “It’s actually structured for up to 14.”

No part of the building will be left untouched during the renovation. Even the back of the building will receive a new entrance.

Phillips expressed confidence that the venture will be a success.

“It took awhile and we acknowledge that but we really wanted to make sure that the project that the board was putting together was one that they had fully vetted,” she said. “They wanted to make sure that it was the best use for the building, the best way to get that use in the building and the best possible scenario that we could come up with given the circumstances. It’s a lot of square footage and it’s not in the best of shape right now.

“There is only so much interest in the private market right now so the board came up with a very good solution, I think.”