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Springfield facelifts making a difference

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By The Staff

By Jennifer Corbett

Sun Summer Intern

Since the 1800s, the Washington County Courthouse has been the center of downtown Springfield, along with a booming economy with numerous businesses locating here.

Now, almost 200 years later, the same structures are still standing, and Springfield officials want to maintain them as they are.

Nell Haydon, director of the Springfield Opera House and chair of Springfield Main Street Renaissance, said the process of revitalizing the town is all about revamping it to make it “a modernized building within an old building.”

According to the city’s Web site, in 1793, one year after Washington County became the first county created by the new Commonwealth of Kentucky, a location was chosen for the county seat. In the center of the public square was the courthouse. Stores were erected around the square and Springfield began to prosper.

According to Haydon, since 2001 more than $3.7 million has been invested in downtown development, including renovation of the 1900 Opera House. But once it came time for renovation, she knew she didn’t want to change the look of the town.

The main goal is to retain what the city has and to “just bring the buildings back to life,” Haydon said. “We don’t want to change the buildings.”

Haydon said there are some very good examples around the city. The former Kentucky Utilities building has recently been renovated into a first-floor office and conference room space. The downtown landmark “Robertson Building” will be completely renovated by 2010.

Construction is also currently underway for a new judicial center, and once it is finished the current courthouse will become a Lincoln heritage museum. Haydon said it will still keep the same appearance, but with some added finishing touches. A Lincoln statue has also been commissioned for the front entrance for the new judicial center. Installation is scheduled for February 2009.

“Sometimes older buildings need upkeep,” Haydon said. “It’s not just the building, but the liveliness of downtown.”

Haydon said one example that has kept downtown alive is Snappy Tomato Pizza, which Haydon said was in pretty bad condition before renovations.

“Nothing had been there for a while,” said Len Spalding, owner of Snappy Tomato Pizza. “We wanted to retain its old character. We decided to fix it up as best as we possibly could.”

Spalding estimates the building to be about 150 years old, and renovations only took about six months, even though “a lot of the building was almost completely rebuilt,” according to Spalding.

Spalding said keeping the liveliness of downtown is “very significant with Springfield’s past.”

Spalding said he hopes people will invest in the downtown area to keep it up to “modern day standards.”

Hal Goode, executive director of Springfield/ Washington County Economic Development Authority, agrees with Spalding.

“It’s so nice to see people investing in downtown,” he said.

Goode added that the SWEDA board has a strong belief to work on other things for economic development and to see “economic engines work together.”

Goode said he would like to see more retail businesses come to Springfield, and to also show people the importance of buying locally.

However, Goode noted that with the size of Springfield, it is important to look within the regional area, adding that retailers usually look to the population size and traffic numbers. Goode stressed that it is important to look at Washington County as a regional market.

A tourism council has already been formed to bring in more unique and fun activities to Springfield, Goode said.

Though the council has only had about two meetings, Goode said it is all about “how it puts (Springfield) in the tourism game.”

Overall, Haydon said it is important to keep the historic aspect of Springfield alive, and Goode agreed, adding that it gives citizens a sense of pride in their town.

“As long as you have a sense of pride there will be growth because people will want to be apart of it,” he said.