'A Life of Its Own'
Amid a sour economy, historic Springfield is mending on its own terms.
But many of those foreclosures are being snapped up by young professionals. And locals are still building homes, including an environmentally friendly house on Walnut Street in the Prairie architectural style, by Content Design Group and Breaking Ground Contracting. The Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council estimates that today about half of the neighborhood's homes are owner-occupied.
And some of those residents have begun investing in the neighborhood beyond their own homes. Andrew Macris and his wife, Erin, moved to Springfield from St. Johns County's massive Julington Creek Plantation in 2007. This fall, the couple bought the property next door to their own SRG-built home. Macris also moved his small advertising firm into the new commercial building, just two blocks from his house. "People who live here and who always wanted to open a business in Springfield, can now afford to invest," Macris says.
Lisa Simon, a Springfield resident for nine years, remembers having to convince the parents of her children’s friends that the neighborhood was safe. The departure of investors and flippers has created a more family-oriented, stable community, she says. [Photo: Jon Fletcher]
Some say the real estate bust has helped in some ways, as falling prices drove out speculators. "This economy is drawing more real people to move here than has ever happened," says Lisa Simon, who bought her century-old home in Springfield and moved her family there in 2001.
Springfield still has its challenges, including pockets of boarded-up homes, and a new wave of foreclosures that is forcing out some families who bought at the top of the market. And for some outsiders, the neighborhood's image is still defined by the "scary days," when residents like Simon, now a Realtor, had to convince the parents of her children's friends that the neighborhood was safe enough for their kids to come over and play. "People used to say, ‘There are drug dealers in your neighborhood.' And I would say, ‘You've got drug dealers in your neighborhood, too — you just don't know who they are.' "
New Springfield commercial building
The community’s first new commercial project in decades was built at Third and Main by longtime Jacksonville developer Bill Cesery. The upper floors include 36 extended-stay residential units used by patients at the nearby University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute at Shands Jacksonville. At ground level are busy Uptown Market & Deli, City Kidz Ice Cream Cafe and other businesses. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, new stand-alone businesses include a Mediterranean restaurant at Sixth and Main, and a home-made candy and ice cream store in a restored Victorian on Pearl Street. Owner Peter Behringer is the first half of the Peterbrooke Chocolatier namesake.
Ironically, one of the casualties in Springfield's rebound is the man who helped accelerate it. The real estate crash has hammered Bissette along with other larger developers as home prices plummeted and financing dried up. Case in point: The McDermotts' $166,000 dream home, which Bissette built and sold originally for $316,000 to a woman who lost it in foreclosure. Today, he says, "I could not build that house for $166,000 if you gave me the land for free."
These days, Bissette is shedding lots and building workforce rentals while he looks for other development opportunities. "I thought that anybody with 100 lots in a national historic district with this kind of architectural beauty would be insulated from the oversupply and the craziness in the suburbs," he says. "I completely misread the tea leaves."
But he believes in Springfield more than ever.
"I always believed Springfield could be a case study for the nation," Bissette says. "It's become the most successful creative community I've ever seen. It has a life of its own. In the end, that's the measure of a true market."