April 17, 2024

Springfield, Jacksonville

'A Life of Its Own'

Amid a sour economy, historic Springfield is mending on its own terms.

Cynthia Barnett | 12/1/2010
Springfield, Jacksonville
Neighborhood community garden

Amanda Searle - Springfield, Jacksonville
Amanda Searle
A key element in Springfield’s resilience has been the presence of strong, active civic organizations, from longtime groups like the Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council to newer efforts that include Sustainable Springfield. This summer, more than 50 neighbors banded together to renovate the deteriorating home of an elderly resident, “Miss Maggie,” who has lived in the neighborhood for 50 years. Amanda Searle, pictured above in her back yard, is a member of a group that organized a community garden, top. She is working with Springfield lot owners and University of Florida extension agents on creating an urban orchard and hopes to launch an aquaculture project to raise fish for families and local restaurants. “One person inspires the rest and on it goes,” she says.
[Photos: Jon Fletcher]

Bissette then researched historic urban neighborhoods around the Southeast. In Springfield, he says, active organizations such as the Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council and the Springfield Woman's Club, founded in 1904, provided the strong foundation needed for a turnaround. The city's new zoning rules ultimately cinched his decision to move his family to Jacksonville and launch SRG Homes and Neighborhoods.

Bissette bought more than 100 empty lots in Springfield and began to build Craftsman-style houses that look more like renovated historic homes than new construction. He took an urban economics approach to improving the neighborhood, promoting the community and funding private trash pick-up on the theory that clean sidewalks would change outside attitudes toward the area and draw new residents.

It did. Many in Springfield say Bissette's work transformed entire blocks as SRG's stylish new houses became catalysts for others to invest. Bissette estimates that each of the 80 homes he built sparked about three nearby historic renovations.

Even as Springfield's transition accelerated, Bissette drew inevitable attacks from some who vilified him for gentrifying the neighborhood and driving up prices. And when Florida's economy began to tank, some people wondered if Springfield might backslide into blight.

Springfield, Jacksonville
Springfield still has pockets of boarded-up homes, and a new wave of foreclosures is driving down home prices. [Photo: Jon Fletcher]

By the numbers, that looked like a possibility. Of the 43 homes that sold in Springfield in the first nine months of this year, half were foreclosures, bringing the median sales price down to just over $40,000, says Raymond Rodriguez, market consultant at the Real Estate Strategy Center of North Florida. While that sounds bad, it's double the median sales price for homes in the larger downtown region, according to data from the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors.

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