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‘Ozark Modernist’ architects plan big new building across from White River Brewing Co. on Commercial Street

A Springfield architecture firm known for its “Ozark Modernist” style of design plans to build a big new building across from White River Brewing Company on Commercial Street. The news is prompting a debate about what new construction on historic C-Street should look like.

If the plan comes to fruition, it could dramatically change historic Commercial Street in north Springfield.

Architect Tyler Hellweg with Arkifex Studios said their proposed building on West Commercial Street will take up roughly 37,500 square feet across eight lots. Compared to the rest of the largely 19th-century historic district, that’s so big that the plans require special approval by City Council. C-Street design rules approved two years ago aim to keep neighborhood buildings in harmony with each other.

Meanwhile, the Arkifex building would greatly increase the number of apartments available on Commercial Street. It would also add space for office, retail and restaurant use.

Lyle Foster has been doing business in the historic district for more than 16 years as owner of Big Momma’s coffee shop. He supports the Arkifex building.

At City Council's September 19 meeting, Councilwoman Monica Horton, who represents Zone 1, asked Foster about apartments linked to the building—specifically how many units would be added.

Foster replied he understood the project to bring 42 new apartments to C-Street. "Which is significant to have new housing because of young professionals, potential Drury community, folks at Cox North, as well as empty-nesters. Many people are looking for new housing, and they love Commercial Street for all of its walkability. It probably would be different people who would say different things, but we probably have about 60-plus existing lofts, but increasingly some of our lofts are turning into Airbnb structures,” Foster said.

Hellweg, the architect, told Council that Foster’s count of proposed apartments is correct. At a Planning & Zoning meeting earlier this month, another nearby business owner said the new project had another perk: It would create residential options for people with disabilities, making the historic district more inclusive.

A City of Springfield aerial map graphic shows the location of a proposed 37,500-square-foot building at a site on West Commercial Street just east of the White River Brewing Co.
City of Springfield screenshot
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A City of Springfield aerial map graphic shows the location of a proposed 37,500-square-foot building by Arkifex Studios at a site on West Commercial Street just east of the White River Brewing Co.

But nearby neighborhood advocates are asking Arkifex to tweak their proposal. They say they support the general concept of the building. They even praised the architects’ talents, noting that Arkifex worked on several local structures they like — including Springfield’s Tie & Timber Beer Company.

But some accused Arkifex of designing their building in a “brutalist” style — a term that usually means flat, harsh concrete construction. Others said they wanted Arkifex to make a few changes for a less flat appearance. They want the building façade to seem “compatible” with the rest of historic C-Street, which is mostly made up of narrow buildings originating in the 1880s.

Becky Volz is with the Woodland Heights Neighborhood Association. "Give it something that has motion and flowing, if it is a light fixture or if it is something that you attach to the façade to make it look more — compatible,” Volz said.

The Arkifex proposal already passed Springfield’s landmarks board back in June. The Planning & Zoning Commission approved it earlier this month. Council is set to vote at their next meeting on Monday, October 3, on whether to give the project a conditional use permit allowing it to be bigger than 10,000 square feet.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs and investigations.