Springfield residents pulled together in 2021 and need to continue harnessing the energy they poured into the past year, Mayor Sean VanGordon said.
“In 2021, we worked and showed Springfield was resilient and thriving. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t perfect,” VanGordon said during the annual “State of the City” address, delivered virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. “However, we showed up for each other. That’s what Springfield does. We show up.”
The city has made “significant progress” despite facing many challenges, he said, but officials and residents have to collectively commit to working together if they’re going to have continued success.
He discussed steps forward and what’s yet to come for economic development, public safety, housing and infrastructure.
Springfield is a “community of opportunity,” VanGordon said, that’s open and welcoming, and he wants to see it continue to be that.
“I want people to choose to live here, have a good job here, and raise their family here,” he said.
Strong opportunities for economic development
The city has a “well-deserved reputation for smart, pro-business policies,” VanGordon said, and has strong opportunities for economic development that will mean better economic opportunity for the community.
“Springfield finds pride in both the dignity of work, and the entrepreneurial spirit to challenge everything,” he said. “We work harder, we dream bigger because that’s what fuels our Springfield spirit.”
One dream that’s coming together is the redevelopment of the historic downtown Buick dealership into a multi-use site with housing, restaurants and coworking office space, he said. The Scherer family and Northwest Sustainable Properties have partnered with the city on the development.
VanGordon shared completed renderings of the project, a “first of its kind” for downtown Springfield, for the first time.
Read more:Here’s what’s happening with the downtown riverfront, Glenwood and other major developments
“This development will move us to the next level of market performance using limited land, sustainable construction and innovative mass timber materials,” he said.
And it should matter to residents because it will provide much-needed housing, can be used to develop future projects and will “continue to revitalize and bring people into our downtown core,” he said.
Officials also are moving toward revitalizing “prime riverfront land” in Glenwood, he said, and have partnered with Edlen & Co. and deChase Miksis to develop multiple acres between Franklin Boulevard and the Willamette River.
“After a decade of community input and substantial investment in infrastructure, we are ready to move to the next phase that will revitalize Glenwood,” VanGordon said.
There’s work to do in Glenwood beyond the riverfront to achieve the community’s vision for such a “special place,” he said, and while it will take time, it “will be worth it.”
VanGordon also commended local business owners and workers who continue to work tirelessly as an “integral part” of the city and asked people to “make a regular habit” of supporting them.
New local businesses, including more than a dozen downtown, continue to open in Springfield, he said, and he’s “excited to see this new generation of entrepreneurs begin their businesses.”
2021 ‘a time of reflection and growth’ for Springfield police
The past two years have brought hard lessons about public safety, VanGordon said.
“For the Springfield police, the last year has been a time of reflection and growth,” he said. “The department has faced numerous changes and challenges.”
Reports on use of force during a 2020 Black Unity protest in Thurston, the shooting of Stacy Kenny and overall use of force in 2020, along with national best practices, are “framing a road map on where we need to go as a police department,” VanGordon said.
New technology to track use-of-force incidents and complaints, increased training, a new employee assistance program to help officers and employees deal with trauma, and other measures are helping the police department move forward, he said.
Related:Springfield gets updates on police staffing, body-worn cameras, use-of-force tracking
There’s still work to do and conversations to have, he said.
“We will not ignore the lessons to be drawn from the death of Stacy Kenny, the Thurston protests and recent national events,” VanGordon said. “In 2022, the Springfield Police Department will continue to build trust through community engagement with youth and underrepresented communities.”
That will mean sending liaison officers to community events, hosting Coffee with a Cop, adding a data position, holding a joint meeting of the City Council and the police advisory committee and giving quarterly updates to officials, he said.
VanGordon added he’s proud SPD answered the “community’s calls for change” and thanked Interim Police Chief Andrew Shearer for his work.
There’s also work to come for the fire department, he said, including a review of the combined governance between Eugene and Springfield and recruitment for a permanent chief.
“The reality is the administrative structure of the department is too cumbersome for our current needs, and we need a governance structure that allows Springfield more of a say in fire policy,” he said.
‘Recording building year’ but more needed
Officials also need to work on meeting the demand and diverse needs of the community when it comes to housing, VanGordon said.
The city had a “record building year” in 2021, he said, adding 209 new homes. The city also added 17 accessory dwelling units, he said, and another 750 homes are coming to Marcola Meadows by next year.
That progress is critical, he said, but the city “will remain in a housing crisis for at least the next decade, and we need to find creative measures to ensure people can build homes here.”
Officials also are “laying the groundwork for the next phase of housing improvements,” by approving funds for more sewer lines, adding online options and developing a parcel-specific zoning map, VanGordon said.
“If you own a piece of land, we want to make it as easy as possible to understand what you can build, and support and encourage you to develop it as soon as possible,” he said.
Springfield also will work to continue to be a “state leader in housing policy,” he said, and work at the state level to make sure rulemaking “meets the needs of the Springfield community.”
City upping spending on infrastructure in 2022
The city is “set to spend more on infrastructure in the next decade than at any other point since the time I’ve been serving this community” and to be “a part of critical transportation work both regionally and locally” in the next five years, VanGordon said.
Residents deserve a “modern, resilient infrastructure system,” he said, and when the city does infrastructure right, it “creates an environment that fosters a more robust and vibrant future.”
VanGordon has a long-term goal of increasing the city’s urban canopy and highlighted efforts to plant new trees.
He also addressed big projects and ones that generate a lot of questions from the community, including:
- Finishing the West D bike path
- Completing the 2018 street bond package
- Repairing and improving 42nd Street and finalizing a plan for the levee along the McKenzie River
- Repairing Mill Street between South A Street and Centennial Boulevard
The city must continue to improve its infrastructure and “be a voice at the state level for practical solutions that allow for locally centered infrastructure,” he said, and will push for some during the coming session of the Oregon Legislature.
‘Our best days are still in front of us’
Team Springfield — the partnership between the city, Willamalane Park and Recreation District, Springfield Utility Board and Springfield Public School District — showcases a “culture of how public bodies work together for the public good,” VanGordon said, and needs to remain a tradition.
Leaders’ commitment to achieving the core mission of their organizations is “more important than ever” as the city works to adapt to a changing world and unknowns that impact the community, he said.
“We can’t always control events around us, but we can decide how we respond to them,” VanGordon said.
Springfield residents choose to love their neighbors even if they don’t agree, to welcome everyone and to show up and work even when it isn’t comfortable, he said.
“It’s those choices that are at the core of who we are,” VanGordon said. “It’s what makes a community of opportunity.”
The community has worked together to invest in infrastructure, develop homes, reopen businesses, support new business, build trust in the public safety system, add art and cultural exhibits and promote “a more transparent and welcoming city,” he said.
VanGordon believes in the city and its families and businesses.
“I believe in you,” he said. “Our best days are still in front of us.”
Distinctly Springfield awards
VanGordon awarded four “Distinctly Springfield” awards to people for their work in 2021.
The “Leader of the Year” award went to Mariela German Hernandez for her work as chair of Escudo Latino to create a “network of support and resources for Spanish-speaking community members” and other efforts that help make sure the city is welcoming to everyone.
Springfield’s operations division received the “Employees of the Year” award for their work around the clock and “in all conditions to ensure that Springfield stays safe.” VanGordon referenced an experience he and another official had when the division set up tents, lights and signs to make sure people could participate in a neighborhood safety meeting even though it was dark, cold and raining.
Nurses at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart at Riverbend and at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Care Center received the “Healthcare Workers of the Year” award for their “long hours away from (their) families to take care of our loved ones” as the coronavirus pandemic continued to stress hospital systems and employees in 2021.
Finally, the “Teacher of the Year” award went to Pauline Pham, an English and special education teacher at Springfield High School who the superintendent describes as “a shining example of dedication to Springfield students” and who is “focused on improving the entire education system to allow for student success.”
Contact city government watchdog Megan Banta at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MeganBanta_1.