City & Government, Springfield

Springfield mayor reflects on 2023

SPRINGFIELD —  Rewinding the year and looking ahead to the new one, the talk of infrastructure improvements puts a glisten in mayor Sean VanGordon’s eyes. 

“The City’s done quite a bit of work around infrastructure this year,” he said. “When you think about modernizing, improving, and maintaining, just taking care of the public assets in this city is a significant investment.”

Big plans are ahead for big projects like Mill Street, 42nd Street Levee, and Glenwood, and as VanGordon has put it, Springfield is full of “doers.” It’s that can-do spirit that fuels his love for the city he governs.

“Springfield is a city where we take a lot of pride in who we are,” VanGordon said. “People have so many great ideas, and this is a community of choice. … Really, what people want to do is build their life here.” 

For VanGordon, part of building a life here means there needs to be safe roads, secured waterways, and space for businesses to flourish. 

Mill Street Project

The City committed to the Mill Street road project in 2018. The pandemic, while it shifted the timeline of this project, allowed the City to work with the state to find additional money for the project, which will cost ​$1.7 million for design and $7.2 million for construction, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. 

The project will be a full reconstruction of Mill Street between A Street and Centennial Boulevard. The asphalt concrete pavement will be replaced with concrete pavement, and will also include ADA-compliant curb ramps, bike lanes, new sidewalks, new lighting, and upgraded stormwater facilities.

“People are going to see work on that road this coming year – and part of the reason is we did a lot of the hard lobbying work to find funds to make sure it got started,” he said. 

Utility work is scheduled to begin in the spring, and the bid will open in August. The project is expected to take at least two years to complete.

42nd Street Levee Project

Another project eyed is the outdated 42nd Street Levee, a repaving modernization project that aims to reduce flooding in the north Springfield and Willakenzie areas. 

Constructed nearly 65 years ago by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the County, the levee has been under City ownership since 1983 and is out of compliance with federal levee design and construction standards. Those standards have changed several times since the levee’s creation, according to Loralyn Spiro, public information officer, noting that the biggest changes came after Hurricane Katrina, in addition to a more concerted effort to address climate concerns. 

VanGordon said the City has been raising money for the levee and it has also already spent money to create an emergency action plan related to it. The estimated total project cost is $40 million, according to a letter VanGordon sent to the Senate Committee earlier this year.

VanGordon said that the levee is probably the number one regional priority because the river is pushing up against it.

“If you look at how the river bends here, that’s not a natural bend. If we have a flood event, the flood zone goes clear over to Coburg Road,” he said. “That piece of infrastructure protects like 10,000 homes in the city from having to have flood insurance, but it’s eroding and needs to be replaced. Not only is it dangerous to the folks in those homes, but we have a lot of public infrastructure that sits over there.”

The levee provides flood protection to around 24,000 people, 7,500 structures, and more than $4 billion in property value in the area extending from the McKenzie River west to I-5 and from Centennial Boulevard north to the river, according to the aforementioned letter. 

In the new year, the City plans to launch a multi-year project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate the existing levee and determine the best path forward to modernize and reduce flood risks, Spiro said. 

Developing Glennwood

VanGordon also said the conversation surrounding the development of Glenwood has been consistent, and 2023 was a year that really put wheels in motion.

“It’s still going to take time; if we could have something tomorrow, we’d have it tomorrow, but it takes time. It’s really a game of inches, and we will get there in the end,” he said. “There’s a certain amount of discipline that goes along with it like, ‘let’s not get distracted; let’s set ourselves up to do the work, and then we’ll get to the end.’”

In January, the Springfield Economic Development Agency (SEDA) Board approved entering into a contract with Rowell Brokaw Architects and Walker Macy landscape architects after a full Request for Proposals process. The team has been working on the land use Master Planning process ever since, according to Spiro. 

An approved Master Plan will realize phasing of development; provision of public facilities and services; determination of specific land uses and densities; identification of potential impacts of proposed developments; and assurance of predictability for long-term development potential for property owners, Spiro noted. 

Another Glenwood milestone Spiro noted occurred in July when SEDA closed on the final tax lots within the Master Plan area, finishing the 13 acres of land acquisition for the City and SEDA within the 30-acre Master Plan area.

Mapping an easier course

Looking ahead, the City’s Comprehensive Plan Map will be a game-changer, which will take effect on March 1. 

The map is the visual component of Springfield’s Comprehensive Plan, which is a policy and planning tool that reflects the community’s vision for the future, Spiro said. Those plans are “some of the first resources people use when trying to understand if realizing their vision for a property is possible,” she said.

VanGordon said that, if you own a piece of property in Springfield, with this map, “it’s now easier than it’s ever been to understand what governs (the property) from a regulation perspective. … It just makes it easier to do business with the City because we continue to make it easier to understand what you can do with property,  and the goal is really to develop it.”

Before the map was created, it had been difficult for some property owners to find out their property’s plan designation, Sprio said, noting that staff needed to do research to find answers. That research was often “extensive because this information was not often available at a property-specific level.”

An optimistic city

All in all, “the City has had an absolutely great year,” VanGordon said.

“If I talk about our sense of optimism as a city, I feel like we’re always the tinkerers and the entrepreneurs,” VanGordon said. “We have a guy who used to work on one of the ‘Avengers’ movies that prints art on a wall here (Joel Gerlach, owner of Surface Ink), and then we lined up money for Cornerstone Community Housings’ next project.”

He added that Springfield is a positive and consistent source of economic development, even when certain projects fall through.

“Blue McKenzie (the now dead Buick Building Project) did get a lot of press this year, but Spark! Lab opened up, and that was amazing; Rosboro announced a big expansion this year; there is always a lot going on,” he said. “The really cool thing about economic development is: Small things and big things all matter. I just told you about a $150 million expansion, but we got another ice cream shop downtown (Mr. Ice Cream) – and I love ice cream.”

But for VanGordon, his favorite project so far has been For Every Student A Library, a program providing library cards to Springfield students who live outside city limits — a program Springfield has participated in for about a decade. 

So it wasn’t shocking when he was especially enthusiastic about the Springfield Public Library’s summer literacy program, saying it’s also economic development “when you’re bringing kids and their associated families into the downtown corridor.”

According to public information officer Loralyn Spiro, the 2023 summer reading program reached 1,352 unique individuals (400 kids; 309 pre-readers; 405 adults; 238 teenagers). She added that “over 4,000 people attended the nine events at the Plaza over the summer, and we handed out 500 themed literacy/activity kits at those programs.”

It’s not always roses. Sometimes there’s thorns — like not being fully in control of issues like inflation or maintaining new state regulations.

“I think the world is how you move forward from things, so in a lot of ways, the challenges the City’s had are outside of our control,” VanGordon said. “The thing I keep wanting to do is move forward with that sense of purpose because some of this stuff is just gravity; we don’t get to control it.”



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