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The proposed Grant Avenue Parkway project includes pickleball, coffee

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A cafe with drive-thru, food trucks, yard games with green space, an outdoor walk-in bar, and six pickleball courts.

These are the proposed amenities to occupy a stretch of the city’s inbound Grant Avenue Parkway at the corner of Grant and Grand streets.

Based on their comments at the Springfield City Council meeting this week, city officials appear poised to approve the “Loose Goose” development. But professional city staff are urging council to vote against the goose due to walking issues in the pedestrian-friendly Grant Avenue promenade.

Boosted by a federal investment of more than $20 million, the Grant Avenue Parkway will create a multi-use, off-street pedestrian and bicycle route from the city’s downtown to the National Museum of Wildlife Wonders and the Aquarium and at the Bass Pro store.

Starting downtown, the path will go west to Mother’s Brewing Company, then turn south for three miles along Grant Avenue until it ends at Sunshine Street.

On its way, the boardwalk may pass this “Loose Goose” development project, which its creators hope will become a community center for the West Central and Fassnight neighborhoods.

“We think it’s a risky investment for us. We’re excited to do it. We think Grant Avenue Parkway needs a gathering space and we want to build it for them…” the developer said. Andrew Doolittle. “After more than 25 years of vacancy, we offer something on this site for everyone.”

The coffee and alcoholic beverages on the site are developed by Michelle Billionis, owner of Coffee Ethic, and Joshua Widner, founder of Good Spirits and Company, respectively. Andrew Doolittle, Cameron LaBarr and Willie Grega led the development of “Loose Goose” more broadly.

“The Loose Goose development team is made up of local, creative and proven entrepreneurs…” their presentation reads. “We are a group of local people who want to change Springfield for the better by bringing unique experiences to the community.”

But the developers are facing pushback from city staff, who say the Grant Avenue Parkway is being built to give priority to pedestrians and a drive-thru could hamper that experience.

“(GAP Zoning) does not permit drive-thru restaurants and packaged liquor stores. The proposed use of a drive-thru is contrary to the goal of (zoning) to reduce automobile congestion in streets and is contrary to the promotion of pedestrian access and safety,” reads city staff’s assessment of the proposal.

After: What is pickleball? An overview of the rules and equipment to practice this sport in 2022

Despite these staff concerns, the proposal was unanimously accepted by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. It also has the unwavering support of the nearby neighborhood association, which sets it apart from the recently rejected Sunshine Street 7 Brew drive-thru cafe proposal.

“Fassnight Neighborhood believes in the vision of Loose Goose and strongly believes that this project will enhance the work being done along the Grant Avenue Parkway and ensure that Fassnight becomes and remains a more beautiful, safer and connected community in Springfield,” reads a letter from Fassnight Neighborhood Association President Nathan Cook. The West Central Neighborhood Association is also supporting the project.

On the 1.47 acre site, there would be 1,500 square feet reserved for the cafe and cocktail bar with 33 parking spaces and space for 20 cars in the drive-thru. At Monday’s meeting, Doolittle said the drive-thru is necessary to “introduce people to the drive” and that its presence will not be intrusive to pedestrians.

“You won’t interact with the driveway at all as a pedestrian. It will be completely hidden from you,” he said.

“At no time while you are on our property will you interact with the drive-thru or have to cross traffic. If you are a pedestrian, you can still be a pedestrian and people outside of the city might not even know there is a drive-thru component when they use the parkway.”

Doolittle also pointed to the six pickleball courts as a major draw for Springfieldians and part of a recent City Council initiative to develop sports tourism in the city.

“We really think a lot of people from the south end of town and other parts of town will come to downtown and re-explore it because of pickleball. We want it to be a destination. We want to bring people here and we want it to improve the livability factor of the bridge as a whole.”

Despite the reluctance of city staff, members of city council seemed enthusiastic about the proposal. Councilor Abe McGull called it a “good way to revive” the Grant Avenue promenade and Councilor Heather Hardinger called it “really exciting”.

“I don’t think we have anything like it right now. And you know, from what you’re showing us, it seems like a great place to hang out and relax and get to know a part of Springfield which maybe a lot of people don’t hang around,” Hardinger said.

With a smirk on his face, Councilman Mike Schilling asked if “pickleball could save America.”

After a big laugh, Doolittle replied, “You know it could, maybe we should try.”

City Council will vote on whether to approve the required zoning changes for the project at its next meeting.

Andrew Sullender is the local government reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow him on Twitter @andrewsullender. Email tips and story ideas to [email protected]

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