By Teresa Paul

Developer Daniel Mulcahy, along with former Springfield alderman Irv Smith, has purchased the former First United Methodist Church at Fifth and Capitol streets and have ambitious plans for transforming the downtown location into the new Metropolitan Place.

The property remained vacant for the last six years and was purchased in early 2014. Cleanup of the property has been happening over the last four months and remodeling will begin in the middle of September.

“I was attracted to the property because it is downtown,” said Mulcahy, president of Dankor Development Company. “I wanted to do some downtown redevelopment.” Dankor Development recently participated in the development at Second and Carpenter for County Market.

“We are now looking downtown to develop some housing,” Mulcahy said. The church’s education wing, just east of the sanctuary, lends itself well to loft apartments, he said. “On the second floor we hope to put in balconies and on the first floor a commercial wine bar and restaurant. The whole idea was to revitalize the downtown and the urban core.”

Drawing upon trends and forecasts of experts in the entertainment, dining and housing industries, Dankor Development drafted a proposal for renovation of the 67,000-square-foot property. Careful consideration has been given to ensure the existing needs of the city of Springfield are met while developing an innovative strategic plan to repurpose the existing buildings, according to Mulcahy.

“This includes bringing back the magic of the once famous Orpheum Theatre, which was demolished in the 1960s,” Mulcahy said. To this end, the former church’s sanctuary has been rechristened as the Orpheum Cultural Center and negotiations are underway with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra for the space’s first performance, with a tentative date of Dec. 11.

“The Orpheum Cultural Center holds 770 seats, which will make it the largest venue in downtown Springfield,” Mulcahy said. “We hope the city of Springfield will respond and we will sell it out.”

Mulcahy envisions the downtown urban core eventually becoming a residential suburb with little coffee and gourmet shops but no big department stores. “There are people who will say they want more shopping downtown. We want big discounters to come in. It is not going to happen,” Mulcahy stated. “There are 60 to 80 outlet stores being built on the south end of town and the mall. The sucking sound is pulling the business to the south and the west end of town.”

Mulcahy said downtown residents want walk and bike trails. He said Karen Conn and her husband, Court Conn, who own Conn’s Catering and the Inn at 835 should be commended for their work for bringing new types of business to downtown Springfield.

The Conns had taken a beautiful but empty building which sat on the corner of Jackson and Seventh Streets and turned it into a coffee house and café. The Conns also own recently relocated antique shop Widows at Windsor at 625 East Monroe Street.

“My husband and I and our children want to create a new experience for people in and visiting downtown Springfield,” said Karen Conn. “We want to encourage downtown livability.”

Mulcahy sees a lot of potential downtown. “We have a fantastic medical school in Springfield and a good population of state employees. How nice would it be if a medical student or state employee could get off work, walk downtown, see a movie, go to a venue, go to a play either at the Hoogland Center or here and walk home? How much more healthy could you be? We want to turn the downtown into a residential oasis. Hopefully in the next three to five years that will happen.”

Mulcahy said he believes that the new renovated location at Fifth and Capitol will be the number one location in downtown Springfield.

“The state of Illinois just sold from Fourth to Fifth Streets including the YWCA to the city of Springfield,” Mulcahy said. “Our city leaders are requesting proposals to do something with that entire block. That would be phenomenal to have a park or housing at that location. Currently 1900 housing units are needed in downtown Springfield.

“Imagine what that would do for our city. If we all work together, we could do something phenomenal and to be proud of. We can do better and we will.”

Teresa Paul can be reached at teresadawn1970@yahoo.com.