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Thursday, March 10, 2005 03:13 pm

First step

Ward 7 Ald. Judy Yeager has heard the complaints for years.

The southern stretch of MacArthur Boulevard, with its vacant buildings, giant parking lots, obnoxious signage, and abundance of payday-loan stores and auto-parts shops, has long topped the list of grievances from concerned constituents.

“I get a lot of angry phone calls and a lot of nasty notes,” says Yeager, who has represented much of the commercial corridor for the last decade.

That made the community meeting held last Thursday (March 3) all the more sweet. More than 100 people turned out to applaud plans for an upscale shopping center along the eastern edge of MacArthur near South Grand Avenue [see Todd Spivak, “Man with a plan,” Feb. 24].

Todd Smith, president of Springfield-based Garrison Group Inc., has proposed building a cluster of low-density redbrick buildings that would house about a dozen businesses, including local grocery Food Fantasies and possibly a Starbucks.

The new development calls for Leland Avenue to be extended across MacArthur and for the 1930s-era Esquire Theatre to be razed. Support for the project was near-unanimous.

“This is a wonderful, wonderful plan,” gushed Susan Mogerman, a nearby resident and chief operating officer of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation.

Smith will appear at other community meetings in coming weeks to further promote the project and garner community input.

“I think we have the right project for this location,” he says.

Yeager, who endorsed the plans before they were formally unveiled last week, says she is “relieved” by the public enthusiasm.

Revitalizing MacArthur, she says, will take a lot more work — but she plans to bask in her glory for at least a little while.

“Wasn’t that a cool meeting?” she says. “For me, it was very gratifying.”

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