Springfield City Councilman Richard Ollis grew up within blocks of his family’s 130-year-old business, now called Ollis Akers Arney Insurance & Business Advisors, which operated on Commercial Street for more than 90 years. The business, founded as Ollis & Company in 1885 by Ollis’s great-grandfather, began as a real estate, home loans and insurance company.
“We’re an old north side family. Four generations of our family grew up within blocks of Commercial Street,” Ollis said.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Ollis watched Springfield’s growth and development toward the south.
“Unfortunately during this same timeframe, many of our heritage neighborhoods deteriorated. Much of our older housing stock has fallen into disrepair with many homes converted into rentals. Nuisance properties and dangerous buildings have been a constant issue, gaining much-needed attention with new enforcement actions,” Ollis said. “If we want to continue to grow and prosper as a community, we must do more than enforce codes. We must reinvest.”
According to Ollis, community leaders have begun an effort to focus on the need to reinvest in Springfield’s heritage neighborhoods.
“Springfield Public Schools and our community passed the Proposition S bond, providing $170 million to improve the quality, safety and accessibility of our schools, many in older neighborhoods. Last fall, City Utilities began an ambitious project, dedicating $120 million to connect homes and businesses to high speed fiber, again, much of this in our older neighborhoods,” Ollis said.
With this momentum, Ollis teamed with Community Foundation of the Ozarks President and CEO Brian Fogle, retired banker Bill Owen and Downtown Springfield Association Executive Director Rusty Worley to form “Restore SGF,” a collaborative effort to enhance, restore and rehabilitate homes in Springfield’s heritage neighborhoods.
Worley, who co-chairs the Neighborhood Advisory Council and lives in the West Central neighborhood in a renovated 1896 Victorian says he is excited to see the initiative come to life.
“While there have been two decades of growth in Springfield’s bedroom communities and in mixed-use areas of Springfield, such as loft housing and in the Galloway area, our single-family housing stock has continued to decline. We have not had a new housing development within the city limits of Springfield since 2012,” Worley said.
The primary goals of Restore SGF are to encourage home ownership and enhance housing stock. Worley says the West Central neighborhood, where he lives, has the lowest rate of home ownership of the 22 registered neighborhoods in Springfield.
“Only about 30% of the homes in West Central are owner-occupied,” Worley says. “We know that low rates of home ownership contribute to property decline and then neighborhood decline.”
He said the group’s strategies for Restore SGF include providing a central resource for all residential incentive and loan programs, many of which already exist through the City’s Neighborhoods & Planning Office, the Affordable Housing Center and local lenders. Other strategies include more effectively marketing the programs through partnerships with real estate and banking institutions, stimulating the creation of more rehabilitation and financing options for home buyers and providing more resources to reduce barriers to home ownership and reinvestment in heritage neighborhoods.
Woodland Heights’ resident Adrianna Bertoldie and her husband Scott purchased and renovated a former nuisance property in their neighborhood – 1896 N. Douglas – and shared their experience with the group. The property is currently on the market.
“We took the most problematic house on the block and turned it into a gainfully beautiful home,” Bertoldie said. “Successful economic development is not just about building projects. It’s about building people and forming mutually beneficial partnerships to transform the places in which we live for the betterment of all.”
“Our vision is to bring young families back into neighborhoods on the north side into remodeled homes like ours. We are committed long term to continue to restore and raise the standard we know these homes In our heritage neighborhoods have. We know and believe the north side and Springfield’s older neighborhoods are worth investing in because we have successfully seen a drastic change in our block in the last seven months that our neighbors haven’t seen in the last 30 years.”
Restore SGF’s pilot neighborhoods are Midtown, West Central, Woodland Heights and Grant Beach. Ollis and Worley will present the program to the Neighborhood Advisory Council at its Aug. 12 meeting.