Two years ago, the Willow Brook facility in downtown Springfield was empty. Today, it has a new name, there is a plan and funding to renovate it and it soon will be a major part of Missouri State University’s IDEA Commons.
Thanks to a seven-figure gift from the Robert W. Plaster Foundation, the facility will now be known as the Robert W. Plaster Center for Free Enterprise and Business Development. The gift and naming was announced today (May 27) in an afternoon news conference.
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When renovated, the center will house a business incubator managed by Springfield Innovation, Inc., the Small Business and Technology Development Center, the technology and construction management program and other university- and community-based business support services.
“The IDEA Commons continues to capture the imagination of not only Springfield and this region, but the United States,” said Missouri State President Michael T. Nietzel. “This gift and the naming of the facility allow us to take a significant step forward in the development of the IDEA Commons. We very much appreciate the Robert W. Plaster Foundation investing in this venture.”
The IDEA Commons is Missouri State’s vision and commitment to create a new type of urban research park that is blended with residential, retail and entertainment facilities, and supported by various university programs. This unique project will bring together Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship and Arts (IDEA) and is an example of how the university continues to be engaged in promoting the community’s livability and economic success.
When fully developed, the 30-acre IDEA Commons will include locations for spin-off commercialization of technologies and university programs that will create an environment to generate creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship for the benefit of the Springfield region. Over the next five years, the IDEA Commons is expected to create 850 additional jobs and private investment in the region.
Missouri State plans to bond about $3.5 million to renovate the facility. The gift from the Robert W. Plaster Foundation will help make the bond payments over the next 20 years. Work has already begun with a new roof being installed on the facility, which is Phase I. The exterior and interior work will be completed in two additional phases. Phase II will be completed by the end of 2011 and Phase III will be completed by fall semester 2012.
“We very much appreciate the Plaster Family’s long association with Missouri State University,” said Brent Dunn, vice president for university advancement. “From the Plaster Student Union to the Plaster Sports Complex to many other initiatives, the Plaster Family has been there to enrich the college experience for our students. This funding for this center just continues that long relationship.”
In April 2008, Cargill Value Added Meats (CVAM) acquired Willow Brook Foods’ operations in Springfield and almost immediately announced it would close the facility. In June 2009, Missouri State completed the purchase of the property from Willow Brook Foods, Inc., for $1,975,000. The purchase included the 121,224-square-foot facility located on 3.5 acres with approximately 161 parking spaces. The building had been insured for $5 million.
In September of 2009, the IDEA Commons received a $2.75 million Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant to help establish the Entrepreneurship and Business Development Center in the Willow Brook facility. The grant will renovate about 20,000 square feet in the facility for the business incubator managed by Springfield Innovation, Inc., and the Small Business and Technology Development Center. The grant was made possible through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).
In October 2009, Missouri State won the University Economic Development Association’s (UEDA) 2009 Award of Excellence for its work on the IDEA Commons. Missouri State received the award in the category of Community Development. The IDEA Commons competed against 34 other submissions for the Award of Excellence. North Carolina State University and the University of Memphis were the other two finalists in the category of Community Development.
The Robert W. Plaster Center for Free Enterprise and Business Development is part of a significant university presence in downtown Springfield. Currently the university has facilities at the Roy Blunt Jordan Valley Innovation Center, the Jim D. Morris Center for Continuing Education and the Kenneth E. Meyer Alumni Center (owned by the Missouri State University Foundation). The university also leases space for academic and administrative needs in the Park Central Office Building and Brick City. In 2009, the university purchased five properties in the adjacent area from the City of Springfield; the buildings and/or land will be part of the overall IDEA Commons plan.