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Springfield Streetcar

June 18, 2011

Recently, the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader carried an article describing the predicament the city had found itself in with its Expo Center. A consulting firm had been asked to analyze the Expo Center’s competitiveness with others in the region, especially the convention center in Branson. The city had already begun negotiations to get a new connecting hotel added to the Expo Center, and feared that it would not be enough. To their dismay, they were right.

The Expo Center sits in a desolate stretch of St. Louis Street, four blocks east of the main shopping and dining of the downtown area around the square, and sandwiched between residential areas to the south and an industrial rail corridor to the north. The report by Hunden Strategic Partners revealed that without an additional $53 million in private investment and $55 million in public subsidies in the area around the center to create restaurants and entertainment close-by, the Expo Center would continue to lose to its well-placed rival to the south and be a drain on the city’s budget. In fact, the image of Springfield itself seems to be to blame, as a city known for being unswervingly status-quo and even old-fashioned doesn’t attract convention-goers wanting to have a good time. However, all of the things that would make for a complete convention package already exist, just separated by four hot and uninviting blocks. What to do?

Build a downtown streetcar line, of course! The ability to hop on a streetcar and within minutes get to anywhere in the downtown area would link the disconnected Expo Center to the successful business district that already exists, at a minimal cost to the city compared with that of attracting private development in the area around the Center. Tampa, Florida is by far the best example of what a streetcar line can do for a city’s convention business, with Tom Keating, the president of the local chamber of commerce, saying that the streetcar line has become a draw for conventions, along with giving the city a coherent image by linking disparate entertainment and shopping districts.

I have begun to design a streetcar line for downtown Springfield in my free time, and plan to seriously propose it to the city as a possible course of action. With the cheapest streetcar lines costing only $4 million per mile, the city could save a whopping $50 million in taxpayer money and still create a successful Expo Center.

You can find my new Springfield Streetcar site here.

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