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Tornado redevelopment plan released

Date: 8/29/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – The draft action plan released by the city to address the after-effects of the June 1, 2011 tornado with more than $21 million in Community Development Block Grant disaster relief funding would make some major changes in several city neighborhoods.

The plan was announced on Aug. 21 and improvements to the infrastructure would be made in the South End, Maple High-Six Corners, Upper Hill, Forest Park, East Forest Park and Sixteen Acres neighborhoods.

Ward Three City Councilor Melvin Edwards, whose district includes much of those areas, told Reminder Publications he is “very excited and happy the money is going where it’s needed.”

He added that recovery from the tornado’s effects has been “long and arduous.”

While he noted that South End was in the middle of a redevelopment plan when it was struck by the tornado, Maple High Six Corners “had chronic issues long before the tornado came.”

The draft plan includes the following actions in the South End: “demolition of blighted properties; paving of damaged side streets within the tornado zone; purchase of the Mount Carmel School (to be used as the South End Middle School); assistance to small businesses; housing repair, as is still needed; and possible roadway realignment and/or housing redevelopment, as is necessary for the new South End Community Center.”

In Maple High-Six Corners, Old Hill, Upper Hill and Forest Park the improvements would include: “development of infill single-family homeownership opportunities; demolition of blighted properties throughout the tornado-impacted neighborhoods; realignment of Central Street to flow into Hickory Street, eliminating the poorly-designed intersection at Rifle and Allen Streets; paving, sidewalks and streetscaping of Central Street from Pine Street to Walnut street; Paving of damaged side streets within the tornado zone; redesign of the Six Corners intersection, to improve safety and traffic flow; retail improvement and redevelopment; redevelopment of Hill Homes Apartments; purchase by the city of the School Street School, to be used by Springfield Public Schools as the Parent Information Center; assistance to small businesses; and housing repair, as is still needed.”

In East Forest Park and Sixteen Acres there would be the refurbishment/redevelopment of Nathan Bill Park; assistance to small businesses; and housing repair, as is still needed.

The plan came about after three public meetings in July that solicited opinions from neighborhood residents and Edwards said, “I think the powers that be did listen to the community.”

The building of the new Elias Brookings Museum Magnet School is not included in this plan, although Edwards said, “We’ve needed a new school for the last 30 or 40 years.”

Two elements of the infrastructure plan do not have details in place – the re-routing of Central Street and the res-design of the Six Corners intersection – Edwards said.

Of the intersection, he noted the conversation at this point is to create a rotary that would include Hancock, Walnut, Ashley and Alden streets. Edwards believes there would be land-takings by eminent domain in order to create a rotary.

He also expressed concerns about taking Central Street and merging it with Hickory Street in order to eliminate the intersection at Central and Rifle streets. Edwards said the group of auto-related businesses at the corner of Hancock and Central streets would have to be moved and the property taken by eminent domain as well.

Edwards said he doesn’t want the neighborhood or the city to lose the business.