Mike Eyster

For decades leaders in Springfield and Glenwood have sought to develop the potential of Glenwood. The undeveloped land could be used for all types of housing, and the riverfront is ripe for recreation, hospitality, and commercial uses. All of these would benefit the community and the region. 

The City of Springfield prepared Glenwood for development by creating the Glenwood Refinement Plan, building roundabouts on Franklin Boulevard, and consolidating property; steps necessary to attract private developers. City leaders are to be commended for their foresight. Yet, Glenwood remains largely undeveloped, in part because of missed opportunities by the city.

Despite a long desire to attract development in Glenwood, the city has never engaged in a comprehensive process to attract developers there. This should have been done years ago.

In 2018, a well-funded and well-established international private company came to inspect Glenwood. When executives of the company met with City staff to pursue their interest, they were told the City was not prepared to entertain proposals from developers, but the City would soon be issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP).

At the June 24, 2019, Springfield Economic Development Agency (SEDA, an agency of the city made up of the City Council and the Springfield County Commission) meeting, staff introduced a well-known and highly regarded consultant to the SEDA Board and explained that the consultant would assist staff in preparing documents to invite development proposals in Glenwood. SEDA was told that the work of the consultant would be completed by fall of 2019.

When no report was issued and no RFP process was begun, questions were raised. Responses to those questions were evasive. Much later, City staff acknowledged publicly that the work of the consultant was halted by the City to preserve the Glenwood site for another project that some City leaders preferred. The project that halted work of the consultant was later rejected by SEDA.

In recent months two developers (on their own initiative) presented proposals to SEDA for development in Glenwood. The SEDA Board charged City staff to engage in an expedited process to vet the proposals. However, it appears a decision was made (not by the SEDA Board) to drop the expedited process and begin a new and different process. The May 20, 2021, issue of The Chronicle quotes a city spokesperson, “The board has elected to not make a selection of either Glenwood Development, LLC, or LOCALIS Partners, LLC. The board has instead directed staff to begin the process of issuing a Request for Qualifications to identify and select a future development partner.” However, at the May 24, 2021, SEDA meeting some SEDA Board members expressed surprise at this announcement. SEDA Board member, Commissioner Joe Berney expressed confusion that a new direction was announced. The May 24 meeting proceeded with no decision by SEDA regarding which of the two processes they would utilize but acknowledged that a decision needed to be made. At this point, it is still uncertain which process (expedited or RFP) SEDA will use.

SEDA should consider the following:

The examples cited above are only three examples of missed opportunities by the city.

Flip-flopping and mixed messages by the city discourages private developers. The above actions by the City cast doubt on the city’s commitment to develop Glenwood and signals to developers that the City can’t be relied upon to follow through on its commitments.

The most recent plan for an RFP process would have been appropriate had it been implemented years ago. However, the city has missed or subverted many opportunities to engage in an open RFP process over the years. Starting the RFP process now seems disingenuous after avoiding it for years. Further, it causes many to believe this new process will result in yet another indefinite delay in the development of Glenwood.

The two proposals currently before the city rely on Opportunity Zone funding. Delaying implementation places Opportunity Zone funding in jeopardy and thus the current projects in jeopardy.

It appears that the discussion about the two processes (expedited or RFP) took place in Executive session since there is no record of such discussion in public meetings of SEDA prior to May 24. SEDA will be better served by limiting Executive session discussion to topics authorized to be discussed in those sessions and erring on the side of holdling public meetings.

SEDA decisions should be affirmed by public votes rather than head nods of the Board. It is standard practice for public boards to convene in open session after Executive session to affirm decisions with a public vote. Apparently SEDA did not follow this standard practice to identify the process it will use to select a developer.

Questions were raised at the May 24, SEDA meeting about the objectivity of information provided by staff. It is essential that City staff experts be scrupulously objective in providing information and advice to elected officials.

This work is complicated even under the best of circumstances. To serve Springfield, the city needs to take advantage of opportunities, be scrupulous about process, and be transparent.

Mike Eyster, a Ward 2 resident, was a Springfield mayoral candidate in 2020.