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Thursday, July 1, 2010 01:58 am

Building a new MacArthur

Planners bring concepts to wake up a tired street

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Draft plans for revitalizing MacArthur Boulevard suggest demolishing the empty Kmart building and replacing it with residential units.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF THE LAKOTA GROUP

At the very least, businesses on MacArthur Boulevard should and could start adding grass, trees and shrubs to their properties as a way to make the thoroughfare more welcoming to Springfield visitors, says John LaMotte with The Lakota Group.

One of the city planners hired with grant funding to help create a redevelopment plan for the MacArthur corridor, LaMotte is working on a revitalization proposal for what he calls a “tired” street.

“The physical conditions [of MacArthur Boulevard] are so in your face … that the street has been losing customers for years, not just because there’s been so much growth to the west but because it’s just not an attractive place to go,” LaMotte says. “You’ve got to get in and get out.”

With only short pieces of curb separating driveway after wide driveway, the asphalt road blends into the cement that makes up front yards of a number of businesses. But the street could become safer and businesses could look more inviting if owners switched to shared parking lots behind buildings, allowing for wider easements in the front where grass and trees could grow, LaMotte says.

He presented to a workshop of business owners and community members last week draft plans that also call for façade improvements, completing the sidewalk network and reducing the number of curb cuts.

Workshop participants said signage and landscaping that could allow MacArthur Boulevard to be rebranded as “the green corridor” should be first on the list of actions, and LaMotte and Norm Sims, executive director of the Springfield Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission, agree.

“There are some things out there that can make it [streetscape improvements] happen. We just sort of have to piece that together,” Sims says, naming both state and federal grant opportunities. “We’re asking now: ‘Do we know enough about what we want to do on MacArthur to at least apply?’”

Other aspects of the concept plans would require zoning changes and a review of land-use ordinances so that, as turnover occurs, new developments would be forced to conform to the new vision.

Workshop participants agreed that good starting points for major revitalization would include the vacant Esquire Theatre and the old Kmart, both of which LaMotte suggests tearing down. At the Kmart site, draft plans call for building condominiums, apartments or townhomes with a central courtyard and plenty of greenery.

Those sites would fit into a three-node approach in which consolidated commercial centers, with residential units filling the space in between, could help focus consumer traffic and create a more neighborhood-like feel.

But beyond redeveloping those long-vacant spaces, some participants questioned the feasibility of reorganizing much of the rest of the street and of convincing businesses to share resources, such as parking lots and common dumpster areas. Project consultants say it’s a matter of bringing puzzle pieces together and finding common benefits for different businesses so they can be repackaged more easily.

“A lot of the discussion centered around implementation, which means people generally liked what they were seeing,” Sims says.

He adds that there’s no guarantee the final plan will become a reality, but it could help pave the way for a more welcoming boulevard.

“Even if the owners right now want to do it [make improvements], they don’t have a picture to work from,” Sims says. “Now we’re getting to that point – what could occur and what the options are.”

The Lakota Group will include the workshop feedback in its revisions to be presented this fall. The next version of the plans will include full market analysis to help inform planners of how much and what types of residential and commercial real estate development the corridor potentially could hold.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com

See more draft concept sketches at http://thelakotagroup.com/macarthur/updates.html

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