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The Springfield community is mourning the loss of James Quentin Hammons. The iconic hotel developer and philanthropist, who referred to himself as John Q., died Sunday at the age of 94. KSMU’s Scott Harvey has this remembrance.
He had a vision for Springfield, says Dave Coonrod, who got to know John Q. Hammons during his time as presiding Greene County commissioner roughly 30 years ago. Coonrod says you can look in just about every corner and see his fingerprints.
“Southeast you’ve got the [Missouri] Sports Hall of Fame and Highland Springs [Country Club] all together out there. He bought that property way, way back when that was just a crossroads of some pasture land. Nobody really knew where the roads were going or anything – that was going before 60 Highway was in. He saw it coming,” Coonrod says.
Born in Fairview, Hammons’ first business went bankrupt in the late 1940s. But he would rebound to have an impressive 52-year career, including the development of more than 200 hotel properties across 40 states. In Springfield, he had a number of successful real estate ventures, including numerous housing tracts, apartment complexes and shopping centers.
Mary Lilly Smith, Springfield’s economic development director, first began interacting with Hammons during negotiations regarding the sale of the Expo Center lot.
“He was a man who really knew what he wanted, he was a fierce negotiator, but he always had the city of Springfield, the community of Springfield’s best interest at heart, I think,” Smith said.
The city collaborated with Hammons on the University Plaza project in the early 1980s. Smith says Hammons’ ideas really set the stage for downtown.
“I don’t think that anyone had really thought about doing a mixed-use development to that extent downtown before, with the condominiums, office buildings, and the downtown hotel. And if you think about where we would be if those things had not occurred, I think our landscape in the center city would be dramatically different.”
At one point in his career, Hammons’ success as a businessman earned him a spot on Forbes’ Listof The 400 Richest People for three straight years.
His philanthropic efforts are massive. At Missouri State University, they include $30 million to build the JQH Arena, which opened in 2008, funding for Hammons Student Center, Hammons Fountains, and Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts. Additionally, he helped create the Hammons School of Architecture at Drury University and the Hammons Heart Institute and Mercy Hammons Life Line. The construction of Hammons Field for $32 million lured a Double-A minor league baseball team to Springfield in 2004.
His vision and commitment to development will leave a lasting impact on southwest Missouri, says Dave Coonrod, but also across the U.S., noting the formation of John Q. Hammons Hotels in 1969, which today operates 78 hotels in 24 states.
“For better, for worse, was I think was a lasting contribution because he just was able to spread the wealth, so to speak, across the country with a lot of projects, creating a lot of construction jobs,” Coonrod said.
Not only was he a visionary, he was a tireless worker, says Coonrod, who recalls a joke Hammons once told him; that his favorite holiday was Groundhog Day, because nobody got the day off.
For KSMU news, I’m Scott Harvey.