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A Look At Downtown Springfield Missouri

June 18, 2005 Planning & Design 8 Comments

For many Springfield conjures up images of religious schools, Bass Pro Shops and a place to drive through on the way to Branson. For me I had never spent any time there other than passing through on I-44. I spent one night there several years ago when a major snow and ice storm made it unsafe to keep driving when returning to St. Louis from a visit to family in Oklahoma City.

But I spent June 10-12 in Springfield becoming a League Cycling Instructor. Although most time was spent in class or on the bike (including an 8am to 10:30pm Saturday) I did manage to find a little bit of time to look around downtown Springfield and take a few photos.


Regular readers know how I love street trees and Park Central East has plenty. Before anyone comments how the pictures lack people and activity I need to say that all of these were taken around 7am on Saturday June 11th. That having been said, the street with its 80s gentle curve and lack of on-street parking is apt to look empty regardless of the hour of the day. The fact the street is one-way going into their public square didn’t help.

Not surprising to me, the storefronts were not occupied by the most interesting of businesses. A blood bank was next door to the tattoo studio (I do find tattoo places interesting).

I can imagine they will eventually have to redo this entire street to align it, add at least one row of parking and to make it two-way.


Springfield’s public square is a bit dated looking in terms of the paving and overall design. Still, a square intersecting the grid is always interesting. See a map the street pattern.

The four corners facing the square all had a roof structure over the sidewalks, added likely in the 70s or 80s. The idea was to allow pedestrians to walk from store to store without getting wet. In reality it darkened the storefronts and make the square feel small. Three out of the four have been removed and I’m told the city is gather funds to move the fourth.

The square is still recovering from the ill-conceived sidewalk canopy treatment. But, new businesses are opening including a very attractive restaurant and bar with alfresco dining. The buildings facing the square are all interesting and varied.


The square has all the right elements — seating, sculpture, texture, and mature trees — yet it fails to be interesting or terribly useful. In the background you can see the columns for the one remaining roof structure over the public sidewalk.


The Heer’s building on the West side of the square is set for a major makeover into office lofts and ground level retail. I was hoping for residential lofts but I guess as long as the building it used I can’t complain. I didn’t get a sense they needed office space in Springfield.

The key is the ground level. This will be an important part of adding more street life to the square. A commenter on a prior post on Springfield had this to say:

The plans for my favorite Springfield building are particularly impressive. The former Heer’s department store occupies the NW corner of Park Central Square. After 125 years in business, the seven-level store closed in 1995. Prost Builders is converting the upper floors into office space, and the main and mezzanine levels will be home to retail shops and restaurants (several leases have already been inked). The building’s original terra cotta panels, damaged by the glass and steel facade installed in the late 1960s, will be restored, and a parking deck will be built on the surface lot that once served the store’s customers behind the building. The first two levels of Heer’s Tower will be open by fall 2006, with the remainder of the building completed by mid-2007 IIRC.

For more detail on this project and to see a picture of the tragic 1950s remodel click here.


Moving away from the square the blocks just to the South are the most interesting. I noticed a number of solid brick buildings with interesting restaurants and businesses. This breakfast diner looked like a good source of grease. Down the street was a great urban neighborhood grocery store. I was blown away by the number of artisan bakeries.

Streets and sidewalks are narrow.


Construction abounds all over downtown Springfield, converting many buildings into residential lofts. Here the public right of way is wide but the sidewalks are still too narrow to create a great pedestrian area. The lack of trees is quite noticeable, especially when trying to escape the heat of the sun.


South Street is the dividing line between East and West in Springfield. It is also the most happening street in town from what I saw. Granted, based on this picture it doesn’t look very exciting. This picture is taken just South of the Square and is looking South. Got that? South of the Square on South Avenue looking South!

One of the few two-way streets in downtown Springfield South Avenue has a mix of angled parking and parallel parking. The West side of the street recently gained new sidewalks while the East side of the street are still very narrow. The angled parking can obviously get more cars than parallel but it does make it a bit more challenging for bicyclists trying to avoid cars backing out.

I would have like to see some street trees in the area, even one just to humor me.


One thing that shocked me was the number of bike racks in downtown Springfield. I think it is fair to say they have more public bike parking than we do in St. Louis! This is due to their Community Improvement District (CID). Sadly, picking the wrong rack and installing it in the wrong spot is not unique to Washington Avenue.

The ‘wave” rack used on South Avenue is designed to hold three bikes perpendicular to the rack. Two from one side and one, in the middle, from the opposite side. Look at the rack in the foreground. Just to this side of the rack is an entrance to a doorway. Even using the rack from the other side will have the front wheel intruding into the space for this doorway and be close to the other door just beyond the rack.

The racks also protrude into the walkway too much for my taste. I would have put simple inverted-U racks in-line with the lamp posts.

If you have the job of specifying a bike rack for a project please ask someone that actually bikes in town what type and location would work best. It is so obvious the people “planning” these things don’t have a clue.

Saturday night our group walked a block from our meeting location to South Avenue Pizza just up the street from where this photo was taken. Leaving around 9pm on a Saturday I was pleasantly shocked by the amount of activity on the street. It was quite busy. I was told by our Springfield hosts that during the school year it can get quite crowded downtown. Perhaps it was my low expectations but I was very impressed by what they had going on. And it was despite not having the best bike parking or street trees!

Also impressive were ordinances with strict regulations on smoking in public buildings (including restaurants) and a new ordinance requiring bike parking in new developments. We bike through adjacent residential neighborhoods which had some great craftsman bungalows in varying condition. We also biked to their Southern sprawl areas and past the massive Bass Pro Shops. Like most sprawl areas, it was boring and less friendly to cyclists.

As Missouri’s third largest region it is good example for review. Next time I’m passing through I’ll stop and spend some more time there.

– Steve


Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. Matthew Hicks says:

    Steve- great observations. I’m glad you had the opportunity to explore downtown Springfield. People that haven’t been to Springfield for a long time (if at all) are quite skeptical when I tell them how far downtown has come in the last five years.

    Missouri’s historic preservation tax credits are paying off for Springfield just as they are for its two major cities. Springfield leaders deserve credit as well for their visionary plan to link Park Central Square and the government plaza north of downtown with Jordan Valley Park. Founders Park is another creative use of public space, and it is being used for outdoor concerts and movie nights during the summer months.

    Developers are bringing back Springfield’s charm one building at a time, but what can the city do? I agree with your critique wholeheartedly. South Avenue and Walnut Street have become vibrant corridors, but the angled parking, narrow sidewalks, and lack of trees are at odds with the increased activity.

    Parking can be surprisingly tight in downtown Springfield at times, but the Jordan Valley and Heer’s, and College Station car parks should alleviate that concern. The need for on-street parking should diminish to the point where Springfield could re-configure South Avenue and Walnut Streets with parallel parking on both sides, wider sidewalks, and trees and landscaping.

    Park Central Square needs to be updated. It opened in 1970 in an effort to stem the flow of downtown’s retail anchors to Battlefield Mall. It was originally a pedestrian mall, and many buildings on downtown’s periphery were leveled to create tuning forks directing traffic around the square. By the late 1980s, when traffic was restored to the square, Heer’s was one of the few retail operations remaining. (FWIW, mismanagement, not a lack of business, contributed to its demise.)

    I also wish (S)MSU and the state could scale back their ground-level offices in the Landers Building, and the former JC Penney and Levy-Wolf department store buildings to free up more space for retail establishments facing the square.

    Park Central West and Park Central East are places where parking should actually be added- perhaps there’s a way to do this and restore the original street grid without leveling all the trees. The restaurant you mentioned, Trolley’s, is co-owned by Aaron Buerge, a Springfield banker who appeared on ABC’s “The Bachelor” (not that I watch that tripe, BTW). He occupies one of the lofts above the restaurant.

    Downtown Springfield is definitely back, but tweaking the “improvements” first made 30 years ago would go a long way toward making the space more functional and more attractive at the same time.

  2. Tracy Steinhauser says:

    I am excited to see your post on Springfield. I’m from St. Louis and IÂ’m studying architecture at Drury University. I’ve watched Springfield change the last 4 years and I must admit things have come a long way. The City of Springfield must be commended for their many collaborative efforts to improve the city. IÂ’ve never witnessed so many people working together with a common goalÂ… it will be interesting to see what happens within the next 10 years or so.

  3. Shaun Tooley says:

    Sadly, (S)MSU and downtown Springfield are not very well conected. I wish my MSU would be more compact like Drury. Don’t forget to tour the streets of Pickwick, Weller, Deleware, Delmar, and Meadowmere south of Cherry, north of Sunshine, west of Glenstone, and east of National. Many industrial barons built mansions with tudor and some Georgian being among the most popular on those private streets. There are many Arts & Crafts homes in the same area. Springfield is urban too!(at least for 10 square miles or so)

    Supposedly, First and Calvary Presbyterian Church is home to Springfield’s old money and some of Springfield’s most prominent citizens.

    Springfield’s most used and popular park is Phelps Grove Park nestled in a neighborhood that tries to be bucolic. Homes north, east, and west mostly date from the 1920s era. A well-to-do ranch home neighborhood borders the park’s southside. Streets like College, Stratford, Kingsbury, and others are more 1940s upper class tudor homes like University City, Missouri in some ways.

  4. Steven Scott says:

    I have little knowledge of Springfield and hadn’t been there in many years. On a whim while traveling I-44, I pulled off and drove downtown. I went into the diner that looks like a drug store from the outside. It was great with lots of sunshine, high ceilings, local art and interesting customers & staff. I ordered Full English Breakfast. It was pretty close to the real deal, I wish there was something similar in my neighborhood. Then I visited a couple of really good art galleries, noticed one or two loft developments and a really nice looking theatre that appeared to be used for live performances. I couldn’t believe it. I always thought of Springfield as lots of traffic lights and shopping malls. Didn’t know they were reclaiming their downtown. Congrats to Springfield and best wishes.

  5. Susan Wade, PR Manager, Springfield, MO, CVB says:

    Thanks for letting people know about the changes taking place in Springfield, Missouri. As a long-time resident and promoter of Springfield, I appreciate your reveiw.

    While the downtown restaurants, night clubs and shops are fun, something you didn’t mention is the brand new Springfield Exposition Center, Jordan Valley Ice Park (an ice arena), Jordan Valley Park (green space and trails) and Hammons Field Baseball Stadium (home to the Springfield Cardinals, a AA team affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals). All that has been added in the last five years and more is to come.

    A downtown event people might be interested in is the First Friday Art Walk. (It’s the first Friday of each month.) Hundreds of people gather and walk from art gallery to art gallery. It’s amazing to see such a lively downtown.

    Any of your readers who want to know more about Springfield should visit http://www.SpringfieldAdventures.com or call the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-678-8767.

  6. Ryan says:

    A very thoughtful look at downtown Springfield, thank you.

    Thought you’d like to know… they have now converted the South Avenue diagonal parking into parallel parking.

    Also… there are only two real one-way streets in downtown (and really in the whole city): Jefferson and Campbell. All the streets that connect to the square are actually two-way streets.

  7. Tori says:

    I am a Springfield resident who has just recently taken an interest in downtown! I was really excited to see your pictures and viewpoints on our growing little city. It is quite impressive to walk around and see the changes, it is different every time I go that way. I have lived in Springfield for about 15 years and attended
    (S)MSU. It is nice to finally see the culture start to filter in. (They say we are always 5 years behind). Thanks for taking an interest!

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