Farmers market and Kidzeum energize a block
ARTICLE AND PHOTOS
BY RACHEL JOHNSON
They may not be creepy or kooky, but they are coming together as a family on the 400 block of Adams Street. The Old Capitol Farmers Market has been a magnet for 20-plus years, but with the resurgence of downtown and the strong advocacy of Café Moxo owner Mark Forinash, the block is seeing a new burst of energy in anticipation of Kidzeum’s opening in late July. “Moxo has been so supportive,” said Itty Bitty Fashion Truck co-owner Tricia Schlosser. “He’s like the cheerleader for Adams Street.”
It was Forinash who started the using the nickname. “I use #adamsfamily a lot,” Forinash said. According to Buzz Bomb head brewer and co-owner Bill Larson, it started around last October. “They’ve always done great at promoting not only downtown, but this block,” Larson said.
Next to, but not on the main tourist corridors of Fifth and Sixth streets, the block attracts plenty of locals as well. Forinash actually tracked feet on the street and the speeds of passing cars before choosing to open his restaurant on the block more than 11 years ago. “We have the highest level of parking in all of downtown and the slowest street speed of all of the downtown,” he said.
Fifty years ago, downtowns were thriving. Then came the move to the suburbs with the rise of shopping malls, followed by big box stores. Now, with the advent of online shopping, retail is shifting to new avenues. Consumers will still shop, eat, get haircuts and come together for social occasions, but where and how may change. In other small cities across the nation, downtowns are seeing a rebirth. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2013, 2.3 million more people lived in metropolitan areas than in 2012. Studies have shown that having a water feature or a small college downtown can help with the growth. Springfield has neither, but it does have a plethora of historic sites and buildings as well as many state offices and the anchor hospitals for the Memorial and St. John’s health care systems.
As for a college presence, Springfield does have access to several university systems, but they’re not represented downtown. “One of the things you see in college towns is that the downtown really prospers when the college locates itself downtown,” said local realtor Phil Chiles. “If the university could move their public affairs and those kinds of classes downtown, it would be great.”
To see more growth downtown requires more residents downtown. “You’ve got people who don’t want to move downtown because the amenities that they are looking for are not there yet,” Chiles said.
There are plenty of empty buildings and second-story spaces ripe for development downtown but, as Chiles points out, it’s hard to “make the numbers work.” Older properties are hard to bring up-to-date and up-to-code, making the price tag at the end pretty big. “We need to look at ways we can ease the burden on the developer,” Chiles said. He suggests “some kind of an adaptive reuse program.”
Whether it will take big developers or small developers to make downtown move forward remains to be seen. Lisa Clemmons Stott, executive director of Downtown Springfield, Inc., commented, “I feel that the more smaller projects we have that are successful, the larger projects will come easier as far as being able to attract developers.”
Clemmons Stott points out that locals often come downtown for events, but if they haven’t been downtown lately, they may not realize all the growth and new ideas that have been happening over the last few years. Change is coming more slowly than downtown advocates would like, but it is happening. “When we did a housing study for downtown in 2012, it showed that we could have 450 new apartments by 2017,” Clemmons Stott said. “It’s the middle of 2018 and my numbers show that we’ll have added 200 new apartments by the end of this year. So, we’re just not on pace.”
Clemmons Stott would like to see more individuals and small group developers try their hand at developing the smaller spaces available downtown. She recently attended an Incremental Development Alliance workshop in Peoria which showed how small groups working together could tackle vacant properties. “I think there could be a better coordinated effort between the city and the downtown to figure out how to make it easier to work with the banks, how to make the loan process easier, how to make everything easier for a small investor to come downtown and do some of these projects,” Clemmons Stott said.
Perhaps downtown is just waiting for some sort of tipping point and maybe the Adams Street family is the kick starter. New businesses Buzz Bomb Brewing Co. and Itty Bitty Fashion Truck could have set up shop anywhere, but they chose the 400 block of Adams Street. Already regulars at the farmers market, the three sister owners of IBFT felt comfortable on Adams Street. “After we heard about the Kidzeum opening, we thought Adams is where we need to be,” Tricia Schlosser said.
They still have their truck, but are enjoying their transition to a brick and mortar residence. “It was easy for us to start,” Schlosser said, speaking for herself as well as co-owners and sisters, Krissy and Rachel. “This is the street to be on.” She jokes that once the kids’ museum opens, “The dads can go to the brewery and the moms can come over here to shop.”
Buzz Bomb co-owners Bill Larson and Josh Flanders agree. They could have set up in a field outside of town or on the west side. “We wanted to be part of downtown,” Larson said. “These are the types of businesses that people want to see downtown, we just need like 20 more of them,” he said.
Formerly located on Sixth Street, urban market Milk and Honey should be reopening soon on Adams Street. Also scheduled to open soon is a combination work space for start-up businesses and coffee shop on the corner of Fifth and Adams streets. Incubator will be similar to Innovate Springfield, located kitty-corner across from the new business, but a little more selective since businesses will have to prove that their business is a viable asset to the community.
Urban Sassafras owner Cassandra Pence Ostermeier was originally located on Adams Street. Three years ago, she moved over to the corner of Sixth and Washington streets. “When I moved over here, it was pretty interesting how I got so many more tourists and a lot less locals,” Pence Ostermeier said. “People feel comfortable parking in that (Adams Street) area.”
So, when she needed more space for not only her Take & Make kits, but an office for her intern, she looked at Adams Street. “I kind of missed my families here,” Pence Ostermeier said of her Sixth Street location. “I wouldn’t have my weekly families that would come in.”
Kidzeum opening across the street at 412 E. Adams Street was also a draw, and her branch space is called Kiddos. Right now, the space offering free art activities for kids is just open on Saturdays, but they hope to expand to birthday and private parties in the fall. Pence Ostermeier rejects the argument that there isn’t enough parking downtown. “We have plenty of parking lots they can use, they’re just stacked on top of each other,” she said.
With all their energy and enthusiasm, the Adams Family businesses are on the cusp of something exciting. They’re working together to bring more people downtown to both live and play. “One of the great things about this block is that we all get along,” Elf Shelf owner John Michael Combs said. “We all watch out for each other. We’re all doing our best to ensure that we’re all here, tomorrow.”
The fun family vibe will hopefully trickle out to the rest of downtown and the downtown renaissances seen elsewhere will finally see full bloom here. “We want you to believe that downtown is the ‘heart’ of Springfield. How do we get that blood to pump a little bit further back into that heart as opposed to extending to all the extremities?” Forinash asked.