Vacant sites create opportunities for redevelopment

Former city fire marshal Chris Richmond now leads Moving Pillsbury Forward, a group seeking to facilitate reuse of the former plant.

Built just before the Great Depression, Pillsbury Mills employed 1,500 people in its heyday. Producing flour and a variety of baking mixes, it was an anchor of the northeast Springfield neighborhood that bears its name. Following declines in the 1980s, the mill was sold to Cargill in 1991, closing permanently in 2000. Though the property was listed as an active mill, no buyers emerged, and the property was sold to a series of scrappers, ultimately resulting in a prison sentence for one of the current owners after it was revealed he hired workers to cut out asbestos-laden material for disposal in a landfill without adhering to any environmental or safety regulations.

In 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency got involved, spending millions of dollars for an emergency clean-up. It was at this time that Chris Richmond, then the fire marshal for the City of Springfield, became the city’s point person for the Pillsbury Mills cleanup, becoming familiar with the mill, as well as the people in the surrounding neighborhood.

After Richmond’s retirement from the city, he decided to get involved in the redevelopment of the dormant plant, putting together a working group known as Moving Pillsbury Forward (MPF). After holding a series of meetings with consultants as well as people from the neighborhood, the group decided the best way forward was to form a nonprofit. “What we have,” states Richmond, “is an 18-acre site that needs leveled and cleared, and we need local community and government support to get that accomplished on the front end.”

Richmond reasons that once the site is brought down to level ground, it clears the biggest hurdle that developers face in making the site worth reinvestment. Though MPF has sought ideas big and small for the site, the most likely is affordable housing, though light industrial and mixed use have also been mentioned.

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