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Making Springfield More Pedestrian Friendly

Melissa Riney just moved to Springfield from New Jersey. As she walked around the Tower Center area, pushing her baby in a stroller, she liked the appearance of the landscaped area, which is the pilot program for "Streetscape," Phase I of Central Springfield's revitalization.

"It looks very inviting, nice and clean," she said. "It's pretty easy to get around, friendly I'd say."

Streetscape includes brick sidewalks and crosswalks nestled in an array of trees and shrubbery chosen for their endurance. It is the vision of the Central Springfield Area Revitalization Committee (CSPARC).

Phase I consists of the area around Amherst Avenue, north of the veterans bridge. Work is scheduled to start in early 2004.

"The idea is to get it pedestrian friendly," said Elizabeth "Skeeter" Scheid, CSPARC president.

CSPARC members worked with the Virginia Department of Transportation on a plan that would revitalize Central Springfield in an aesthetically pleasing scenario while keeping traffic moving. This phase of the project will be the biggest revitalization step thus far.

"This will give us uniformity and a sense of image," Scheid said.

Matt Slavin, Fairfax County director of revitalization projects, worked with CSPARC and planners to come up with a viable plan. The streetscape is the result of partnership between CSPARC, the County Office of Revitalization and the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.

"Construction of this phase should take about a year," Slavin said.

The price tag for the plaza upgrade is $3 million, according to Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee). The next part of the streetscape is priced at $1 million, funded with proceeds from a 1988 county revitalization bond, Slavin said.

SCHIED CONSIDERED the project in Tower Center to be a success. Some of the businesses in the center shared that feeling, which is something that Kauffman hopes will catch on.

"The message is 'we made an investment, you should too.' People see the area getting cleaned up, and they're happy to see it. Businesses are now willing to make the investment," Kauffman said.

David Stenberg, manager of Pepperidge Farms in Tower Center, likes what he's seen so far.

"If it improves the looks, sure it's going to improve the retail environment. That's actually a good idea," he said

Don Bennie, manager of Springfield Butcher, went to a meeting about the project at the Fairfax County Government Center. Initially, Bennie was worried about the construction outside. He was also concerned that motorists and pedestrians would not have adequate notice of what businesses were in the shopping center.

"It would be better if they had signs telling which merchants are here," he said.

Scheid noted that signage and color-coded areas are part of the plan.

"The idea eventually is to have parking," she said.

One of the more immediate decisions Scheid is working on is a choice between real bricks for the crosswalks or "street print," which is "a patented process that dyes the asphalt," according to Slavin.

"I'm researching that right now," Scheid said. "CSPARC will decide this at the October meeting."

Since funding is a concern for the entire commonwealth of Virginia, Scheid couldn't really give a completion date for the whole revitalization. It is happening one step at a time. In her five-year vision, she included theater, visual arts, restaurants, easily accessible retail, office space and residential for the central area.

"Ideally, we'd be on the way to constructing these things," she said. "Optimistically, we'd have a good start."

Elements of the revitalization plan that are already in place include the Marriott Town Place Suites, Trader Joe's in Springfield Plaza, the ornamental Amherst Avenue bridge and the streetscaped Tower Center area. Buca de Beppo restaurant is also on the drawing board.

"We have a unique area," Scheid said. "If the place is really vibrant and alive, people want to go there."