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Thursday, May 5, 2005 05:30 pm

Clearing a hurdle

Garrison Group Inc. is inching forward with its plans to build a shopping center on the site of the old Esquire Theatre property on South MacArthur Boulevard.

The city’s zoning commission recently greenlighted several zoning variances for the project. They include requests to build closer to the street and reduce the number of parking spaces by 20 percent.

“We’re trading some of the parking space for more green space and pedestrian space,” says Todd Smith, president of Garrison Group.

In February, Smith unveiled plans to develop an upscale retail center that would stretch along the eastern edge of MacArthur Boulevard from South Grand Avenue to Campbell Avenue [see “Man with a plan,” Feb. 24].

Likely tenants include a bookstore, a card and gift shop, and a women’s-clothing outlet. Local grocery Food Fantasies plans to relocate to the site from its current digs on Wabash Avenue.

The project’s small-scale design has won accolades from Ward 7 Ald. Judy Yeager and neighborhood-association leaders. They hope it sets the standard for future commercial development along MacArthur.

But Garrison Group, which hopes to complete the project by as early as next spring, still has several hurdles left to clear.

Engineering firm Crawford, Murphy & Tilly Inc. is performing a traffic-impact study for the project, which includes closing off Conkling Avenue to MacArthur and extending Leland Avenue. The plan requires approval from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The Springfield City Council will vote on the requested zoning variances at its next meeting, set for May 17. City zoning administrator Joe Gooden expects them to pass easily.

“The issues were all resolved with the neighbors,” Gooden says, “because there have been no objectors.”

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