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Thursday, July 29, 2010 12:58 am

A neighborhood’s call to arms

Enos Park works with planners on improvement strategy

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Planners suggest dressing up commercial buildings, such as the Near North Crossing strip mall at Fifth and North Grand, to help revitalize the neighborhood.
SKETCH COURTESY OF THE LAKOTA GROUP AND MANSUR REAL ESTATE SERVICES

Full of hope and energized by the progress they’ve made so far, Enos Park residents faced discouraging news last week as planners quantified the neighborhood’s current plight: The number of homes in poor condition exceed those in good condition.

“This is the call to arms that we’ve got to do something here,” says John LaMotte, urban planner with the Lakota Group, hired along with Mansur Real Estate Services to develop a comprehensive redevelopment plan. “It’s not a few little homes here and there that have some rough edges. The neighborhood needs some help.”

Of 602 residential properties, about 8 percent are boarded up or appear vacant and about 13 percent are single-family homes converted to apartments, not a sign of a healthy neighborhood, LaMotte says. Thirty-two percent (191) of the homes are considered in poor condition, about 44 percent (268) appear to be in fair shape and only 24 percent (143) appear to be in good condition.

“You can see that this neighborhood needs attention,” LaMotte says of the area just north of downtown Springfield and bordered by Carpenter, North Grand, Second and Ninth streets. As the planners continue to work with community members to develop a long-term strategy for turning around the Enos Park area, they’ll be looking to build upon the existing plan for the overlapping medical district and to connect the neighborhood to downtown, just a short walk away.

According to the neighborhood association, the Enos Park area hosts up to 46 properties that are at least possible historical landmarks, providing potential for the area to become a natural extension of downtown as tourists to Lincoln sites meander to the historical Edwards Place. As the home of the Springfield Art Association, the Edwards Place could become an arts campus, planners say. “So much history here, so many pieces of history whether it’s a site, a monument, a place, a house, that we really need to tie it all together rather than just the downtown,” LaMotte says.

The shopping center as it looks today.
PHOTO BY DAVID HINE

Other key aspects of the plan will likely include improvements to North Grand Avenue to make it the “front door” to the neighborhood while redeveloping Carpenter Street as the medical district main street.

“If we can just get over the stigma, that hurdle of getting people involved. You have great institutions, the local leadership is unbelievable,” LaMotte says. He says the plan, expected to be complete sometime in September, has the potential to be implemented within 10 years.

Besides the condition of the houses, the planners have identified inconsistent trash service, hodge-podge zoning and a lack of design standards as major setbacks for the neighborhood. They also cite traffic – both trains on the Third Street railroad and cars speeding down four different one-way streets – as major problems, which could be solved by turning the railroad into a bike-hike path and Fourth, Fifth, sixth and Seventh streets into two-way roads.

Presented with examples of what the neighborhood could look like, residents liked what they saw, although some pointed to some of the ideas – such as the conversion of the Third Street rail into a green trail – as a bit lofty.

“It [the draft plans] takes on a life and you get pulled into it,” says Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association president Steve Combs. “But when you come back to the reality of it, there are such major challenges ahead for any one of those things to materialize. And most of it comes back to money.”

LaMotte pointed to the potential for creating a community development association, identifying a master developer and partnering with the hospitals to bring in employer-assisted housing. He says developing a multi-source funding strategy will be key.

An existing Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district, which rebates property taxes to encourage development, and about 120 vacant lots that can more easily be in-filled, or individually redeveloped, could also help speed up improvement of the neighborhood.

Combs says the neighborhood association is looking into purchasing properties and preparing them for development using TIF district funds, in order to attract redevelopers.

“Having been through this for many years,” Combs says, “my pep talk is … one project at a time.”

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com.

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