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Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010 07:43 pm

MacArthur makeover

Urban planners to unify corridor’s neighborhood and commercial appeal

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The Lakota Group of Chicago was awarded a $79,000 contract to study MacArthur Boulevard and its surrounding area.
ILLUSTRATION BY DAVE JANES

After Nick Kalogeresis heard about the plan to redevelop MacArthur Boulevard, he and other members of The Lakota Group, a Chicago-based planning and urban design firm, headed south to Springfield.

The firm had worked on both new and old corridors in the Chicago area, as well as in Indiana and Wisconsin, but its vice president says they were especially attracted to the chance to shape and unify one of the capital city’s busiest, but unkempt streets.

“This was an early commercial corridor for Springfield,” Kalogeresis says. “What interested us was you have these ’40s and ’50s buildings and architecture and land uses. Once you go further south, it gets newer and newer.

“How do you knit it all together, from an urban design standpoint and from an economic development standpoint? It’ll be a little bit of a challenge.”

The Lakota Group, one of 20 consulting firms that submitted proposals for MacArthur’s redevelopment, was selected last week by the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission to lead the new planning project. The commission received a $95,000 grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund a study of the corridor; The Lakota Group received $79,000 for its nine-month contract with the commission.

Kalogeresis told Illinois Times that even though corridors are sometimes challenging, because they’ve evolved over time and are often disjointed, MacArthur offers several benefits to planners. Not only does the boulevard boast a new extension to Interstate 72 and one of the highest traffic counts in the city, but it also borders both mature neighborhoods and unutilized vacant land.

“On the northern end, there’s really an opportunity to make it more neighborhood-oriented,” Kalogeresis says. “The southern end is more auto-oriented, so there’s an entirely different character down there. We’re going to be looking at how do we strengthen each portion of the corridor.”

The Lakota Group will focus on MacArthur from South Grand to the I-72 interchange, observing traffic patterns to establish a balance between pedestrians and automobiles, researching zoning laws to identify the framework of the corridor’s current and future development and coordinating with market analysts to promote competition among businesses in the corridor.

In September, The Lakota Group will present its findings to the commission, and then, Kalogeresis says, it’s up to its members and community partners to carry out the new plan for MacArthur.

Cory Jobe, the board chairman of the MacArthur Boulevard Business Association, a partner in the redevelopment-planning project, hopes the data will help the commission apply for future local, state or federal assistance.

“All we talk about is redeveloping Kmart and the Esquire, but without a plan it’s difficult,” he says.

The business association previously inquired to the city about turning MacArthur Boulevard into a tax-increment financing district — an area of redevelopment that uses increased tax revenues and incentives to attract private developers. There are seven TIF districts in the city of Springfield, including the Central Area TIF, established downtown in 1981.

Mike Farmer, the city’s director of planning and economic development, says The Lakota Group’s plan will meet some of the feasibility requirements needed for TIF consideration. Also, once the city understands the economics of MacArthur, such as the best uses for certain properties, he adds, it can extend the data to other troubled corridors like South Grand Avenue from 10th Street to Dirksen.

“As cities grow and expand and move outwards, some become antiquated and change their functions,” Farmer says. “MacArthur Boulevard is by no means the most troubled quarter in Springfield. But what’s fascinating and encouraging is that there’s a group of people who want to reverse this trend.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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