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Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005 01:39 pm

Wouldn’t it be great if. . .?

Gather ideas while the good mood lasts. Figure out funding later.

Lately Springfield seems to be in a “Wouldn’t it be great if. . . ?” mood, as opposed to the “there’s no money” mood that prevails most of the time. It’s hard to explain, because there’s still no money. The president is bogged down in Iraq and Louisiana, the governor is both unpopular and unbeatable, and the City Council just approved a huge electric-rate increase. Perhaps the success of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (we have to come up with a shorter name) has contributed to the optimism, or maybe the town is just giddy from secondhand meth fumes. Regardless of why, a year ago if somebody had proposed making the old Pillsbury plant into shops, loft apartments, and artists’ studios, they would have been laughed into the county. Now, even unfeasible ideas get written down and discussed as though they have merit. “You have to start with ideas first,” said Chuck Davis, the San Francisco architect who came to town as part of the R/UDAT team, “and learn how to fund them later.”
So, quick, while Springfield is still thinking it can do anything it sets its mind to do, I want to put a few ideas on the list. Show off Douglas School. The beautiful twin-towered Douglas School, located at 444 W. Reynolds St., designed by the prestigious architectural firm of Helmle and Helmle and built in 1917 — was originally praised for its spacious grounds and beautiful landscaping. “Picturesque grounds add inspiration at Douglas School,” read a 1930s headline. But the architectural gem is now hidden behind two big 1970s Springfield Public Schools warehouses in what should be the school’s front yard, on Walnut. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get rid of the warehouses and light up the school at night so that those who drive in on Madison from the west could have a Parthenon-like view of the historic school on a hill? Reclaim the fringe of Douglas Park. A friend came up with this. Douglas Park, across Walnut from Douglas School, is a jewel of a park in Springfield’s central city, with old oaks and band concerts that draw old folks. On the northern edge of the park, right next to the green hills and tall cottonwoods, is an industrial site, with warehouses and parking lots. Wouldn’t it be great if someone would line the park instead with fine houses and apartments so that people, not just trucks, would look out over the serene hills?  Build a public amphitheater directly east of Springfield High School. This idea comes from Tony Leone, the Pasfield House dynamo who has many more ideas where this one came from. He writes: “Both of the other public high schools have seated football stadiums. Why not SHS? Consider a public amphitheater, soccer or football field, and ice-skating rink. A cooperative effort between the school district, park district, and City Hall would be needed. All three of these public bodies would benefit by combining efforts to make this a functional setting, beautifying a strategic property that has become a serious blight on the area.” Make the Lincoln Colored Home the place where Springfield comes together. The new owners of the historic Lincoln Colored Home, at 12th and Capitol, once a county orphanage, have ideas of turning the 1904 brick structure and its site into a museum and conference center. Lyman Hubbard, 79, who is working on the project with son Lee and granddaughter Laura, recently told the State Journal-Register his vision: “The Lincoln Colored Home could bridge elements of the community, politically and socially, so people could meet and talk about the problems. Springfield east of Eleventh Street is not the Springfield I grew up in.” The proposed Capitol Avenue beautification project could usher visitors to this site, which could serve as a gateway to a revitalized east side of town. Wouldn’t it be great if the Lincoln Colored Home came together and brought Springfield with it? I could go on, but how about asking you readers for ideas? Wouldn’t it be great if we got some hopeful responses, perhaps impractical but at least noncynical? Don’t laugh. They’re starting to rebuild the tower on Union Station, which will soar as a monument to anything-can-happen. Send your ideas to “Wouldn’t it be great
if. . . ?” in care of
Illinois Times. E-mail mygreatidea@illinoistimes.com, check the link at our Web site (www.illinoistimes.com), or write us at P.O. Box 5256, Springfield, IL 62705.
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