Springfield is among a growing number of communities across the country refocusing efforts on downtown. And as additional residential facilities and businesses have emerged and more patrons are visiting the area, there’s been an increase in the need to keep it as safe as possible.
“I told my wife I wanted to be in an area like that more of an entertainment district.”
Robert Sands is the owner of Palm Beach Vapors located at 212 S. Campbell in the heart of downtown.
“There was nothing like what we do here at the time and we spend a lot of time downtown ourselves so it only made perfect sense for us to open our store here,” Sands said.
But the business has been repeatedly hampered by crime. And in 2014 alone, the area adjacent to Palm Beach Vapors had at least five reports of criminal activity ranging from burglary to vandalism.
Of the calls sending Springfield police to the downtown area last year, 16 percent were to check well-being. General disturbance calls came in at 13 percent, followed by check person and assault calls, at 11 and 8 percent, respectively. SPD Spokesperson Lisa Cox says anecdotally these numbers reflect a slight increase in calls for service from the previous year, but did not necessarily translate into police reports.
Although Sands said Palm Beach Vapors has experienced occasional break-ins, nothing compares to the crime he’s seen take place in other cities he’s lived.
“I think that I’ve been to quite a few larger cities and I think that downtown Springfield is a wonderful place. I wouldn’t move and the crime although you do have it’s really not anything that people should be alarmed to come downtown. It’s very safe especially during business hours,” Sands said.
Maddie McKnight, a student at Missouri State University who frequents downtown for class, couldn’t agree more.
“I feel safe here during the day definitely and probably any time before 10, but after that it kind of gets a little sketchy especially in the square,” McKnight said.
Downtown Springfield has 16 movie screens, Hammons Field, live theater venues, over 40 restaurants, 20 nightclubs, a host of retail and loft options, and is a popular destination for various community events.
Rusty Worley, executive director of the Downtown Springfield Association, said this is the type of development Springfield has been waiting on for years.
“We see a broad expansion of retail and different types of businesses coming. We have a good base of retailers from home accessories to apparel. That’s something we’re trying to build, but we have stores that any downtown in the country would kill to have,” Worley said.
The Heer’s building, Sterling Hotel, Vandivort and Woodruff are among the major projects underway. These additions, Worley said, are likely to bring more residents and patrons to downtown.
The Downtown Springfield Association supplements $90,000 a year for additional police patrols in and around Park Central Square. They also help implement a business watch program to encourage crime prevention through environmental design and a neighborhood watch philosophy.
“Where we encourage people to take ownership of their community and if they see things that are out of sorts or suspicious to keep an eye out for that and call 9-1-1 whenever is needed and not be afraid to call 9-1-1,” Worley said.
The organization tracks six major crimes around the square: assaults, general disturbance, graffiti, peace disturbance, stealing and vandalism.
The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce also sits at the table of collaborators in downtown crime prevention. President Matt Morrow credits diligence when dealing with complex issues in downtown.
Morrow said that at any given time the economic development arm of the chamber is working with 15 to 35 companies as potential partners.
The Chamber of Commerce watches crime statistics in order to report to potential business owners in the area.
“We try to avoid making rash conclusions about a one year change or a short period of time change. What we’re really looking at is a more of a long-term trend,” Morrow said.
Worley adds, “We find that positive activity such as our community events and the new uses for our spaces really go a long way to addressing some of these issues.”
Rusty Worley says he’s looking forward to when those previously dark corners of downtown are active and with residents, hotel guests, and other customers. A change he feels will move the city forward in continuing the vibrancy of downtown.