ERIN TIERNEY/THE CHRONICLE - Springfield Chamber's longtime executive director Vonnie Mikkelsen stands in the entryway of the newly remodeled, freshly painted Chamber office at 101 S. A St. The redesigned space will allow for better workflow and collaboration efforts, and now offers a more inviting space for community gatherings. Before image of Chamber entrance.

SPRINGFIELD — Just after crossing the Willamette river from Eugene into Springfield, there’s a (pale? bright?) yellow building on the south side of A Street that, in many ways, creates one’s first impression of the city. It’s the historic Depot Building, which houses the Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

And while the outside provides a nice aesthetic and nod to the city’s railroading roots, the inside – until recently – really started to show its age and wear.

A dedicated board of directors, a resilient staff and a keen steward of Springfield’s history have been collaborating to renovate the Chamber’s interior and highlight the central hub of the city’s business and economic community.

“One could argue that 2020 was decidedly NOT a good year to start a major transformation plan,” says Vonnie Mikkelsen, the Chamber’s longtime executive director. “But we thought long and hard about the fact that there is no time like the present, and the present of 2020 and 2021 actually provided a good opportunity to redo the interior.”

Board room before renovations.

Board room after renovations.

Mikkelsen went to her board in early 2020 with a plan to use some of the Chamber’s general fund to enhance the offices, accentuate the historic architecture, and improve the technology. All told, board and staff members were able to carve out significant funding for the project, augmented by a generous matching cash donation from Chambers Construction and in-kind donations from local contractors and Chamber members. 

“The board and members were incredibly supportive of the project,” says Mikkelsen. “I think we all felt that, as the center for business in Springfield, we needed an office that was both inviting and functional.”

The Chamber was also able to secure a grant from Springfield Rotary to put toward the project.

Meeting room before shot

Meeting room after renovations.

After obtaining approval to utilize general funds, Mikkelsen turned to local architect Jenna Fribley. Fribley is principal and co-founder of Campfire Collaborative: Architecture & Design, a Springfield-based firm that has won awards for design and creativity. Fribley details her philosophy on her website by saying, “My vision for Springfield’s revitalization includes a civic responsibility to identify and protect the historic fabric of the city in a manner that is compatible with future growth and development. In my work with local building and business owners, I try to — almost literally — peel back the layers of Springfield’s history.”

After spending some time with the space, Fribley came back to the Chamber with 10 pages of design additions and improvements. 

“It was so much to go through, but of course it’s always better to start with too many ideas than too few,” says Mikkelsen.

With a good amount of consideration and planning, Mikkelsen and her team winnowed down the project to something that was both affordable and manageable.

Mikkelsen is well-known throughout Springfield and her membership base as a savvy collaborator, and she secured the participation of a Chambers Construction employee who would help shepherd the entire project through to completion.

With funding and construction management secured, the project moved forward – during the height of the pandemic. “It’s funny, but looking back, I think we all agree that the timing actually worked well for us,” says Elora Kelsh, manager of marketing and communications for the Chamber. “With many of us working remotely, it allowed the crews to work with minimal disruption and many of us didn’t have to endure the dust and noise.”

After all that dust, noise, and activity has settled, the Springfield Chamber boasts a completely different interior look and feel. The new paint and carpets, open floor plan, and improved technology and energy efficiency have transformed the offices into a showpiece for the city and the business community.

A corner of the meeting room to sit and "inspire excellence."

With a bright and airy main floor featuring a pleasing color palate on both the freshly painted walls and newly carpeted floors, the space has transformed into a truly inviting space. Upstairs, the staff enjoy less cluttered workspaces and air purification units – one downstairs and one upstairs – from a local small business that supports the Chamber’s goal to create a healthy and safe place to work, gather, and meet. The east side of the building also boasts a refurbished conference room that will be able to accommodate larger meetings and events.

“It’s really a great first impression for the city and the business community,” says Springfield Mayor Sean VanGordon. “As we continue to open up facilities, this space will quickly become a signature meeting location for Springfield.”

While the interior is fresh and new, something old and historic will have a prominent home in the Chamber. Maddie McGraw, Curator for the Springfield Historical Museum, is putting the finishing touches on a three-panel display case that will highlight the history of the Depot building, the Chamber itself, and the larger community.

“We are very fortunate to have a plethora of historic photos and images that will help tell a very compelling and aesthetic story of Springfield’s history,” says McGraw. “The Chamber had many archival photos, and the museum has collected many wonderful pictures as well. To be on display later this year, the panel will become a great showcase for the Chamber office as well as a wonderful illustration of the collective historical story of Springfield.”

Exterior of the Springfield Chamber office.