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Public Weighs In On UIS Plans For Downtown Springfield

Innovate Springfield's Katie Davison discussing ideas to attract young people with community members
Mike Smith
NPR Illinois
Innovate Springfield's Katie Davison discussing ideas to attract young people with community members

University of Illinois Springfield officials on Thursday fielded ideas from community members about what a potential downtown building should look like and what purpose it should serve.

It’s the first time the Springfield community was able to discuss a potential university building downtown since the concept was announced in February.

That building, also known as the “Innovation Center,” would be one of several hubs throughout Illinois designed to grow the state’s technology industry.

Rusty Jones, a member of Innovate Springfield and a business owner from Chicago, said the public forum was a good first step in giving the community a voice.

“Not being from here and understanding the magnitude that it could bring to Springfield, you know, it’s no longer just the state capitol, it could be the destination for innovation,” Jones said.

Project leaders say they remain “location agnostic” and have yet to receive an estimated $15 million of state funding to get the project moving.

Katie Davison directs Innovate Springfield, which would help conduct programming in the building. She said a major goal of the project is to attract young people to Springfield.

“There really is a strong disconnect between the university and downtown,” Davison said.

“If you came to Springfield, would you necessarily know that there was a university here, a fairly substantial university here? Probably not.”

UIS’s Bruce Sommer said once there’s enough consultant feedback, Innovate Springfield will create a report that they’ll share with the public. After that point, they say they’ll be ready for input on the specific location.

“Having a downtown presence brings us not only in the community but of the community, and being able to lead these endeavors gives people some hope and I hope they continue to engage with that confidence.”

Officials said programming in the Innovation Center would be centered around five strategic areas, including public policy, social innovation, education, technology and business incubation.

The organization is planning to host a second public forum sometime during the summer.

A radio version of this story was first broadcast on NPR Illinois on Friday, March 6, 2020.

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