Community group leads tour of Pillsbury Mills perimeter

While the long-shuttered Pillsbury Mills plant can easily be seen from a distance from drivers passing by on North Grand Avenue or Clear Lake Avenue, the true magnitude of the site comes into focus when standing immediately in front of it.

“When you’re right up here close to it and you’re right in front of it, you can really get a sense of the scope of what we’re working with,” said Chris Richmond, the former Springfield Fire Marshal and the leader of the grassroots group Moving Pillsbury Forward. “And you can also see the safety and security issues that we’re working with here too.”

The hulking operation — 850,000 square feet of buildings over almost 19 acres — used to process about 35,000 tons of wheat per day, which was ground down into flour, known as Pillsbury’s Best, and shipped all over the country. It shuttered in 2001.

On Saturday, Richmond led a group of about two dozen people on a walk of the perimeter of the property, highlighting the significant problems in its current state. Among them: holes in the fencing that allow scavengers and the homeless access; rampant fly dumping; and the presence of asbestos in certain parts of the property.

As an example, Richmond pointed out a hole in the fence that was closed up earlier this week with baling wire, something he characterized as a “minimal fix.”

“This is going to dissuade a 10- or 12-year-old child (who doesn’t have any tools) from getting in, but it’s not going to do a whole lot more than that,” Richmond said. “So if you’re somebody that’s interested in getting in here and you get a set of pliers in your hand, it’s not a hard thing to do, even at the front gate.”

Moving Pillsbury Forward, a community group founded earlier this year, is advocating for the City of Springfield to buy the property from its private owner, demolish the plant and facilitate the sale of the site someone who will redevelop it. This can all be done in five years, Richmond said.

But city officials have made clear they have little interest in assuming ownership of the site, preferring to have it declared a Superfund site. That process would likely take longer, and many who came out Saturday are tired of waiting.

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Public Tour of the Pillsbury Plant
Public Tour of the Pillsbury Plant