Originally dubbed West Grand Avenue, MacArthur Boulevard began its existence as the far west boundary of the city of Springfield. In the early 1900s, the area became home to the city’s first subdivision, Hawthorne Place, and by the 1930s the by-then renamed West Grand Boulevard was a shopping and service hub on the periphery of the city. In honor of General Douglas MacArthur, West Grand Boulevard was renamed MacArthur Boulevard in World War II, and the name has stuck ever since.
By the mid 20th century, the Boulevard hosted the city’s first shopping center, Town & Country, and was a bustling mid-century modern thoroughfare. The intervening decades have not been as kind to MacArthur. As new development has radiated ever outward from the city center, the Boulevard has seen increasing decline.
It was with this context in mind that new and longtime business owners and area neighbors established the MacArthur Boulevard Business Association (MBBA) in early 2007 to help promote and advocate for MacArthur Boulevard. MBBA has been active in zoning, economic development, and community development issues for over 10 years. In recent years, MBBA advocated for the tax increment finance district that was critical in landing Hy-Vee on a formerly blighted retail property along the Boulevard. MBBA also organized the city’s first food truck meet-up series, Bites on the Boulevard, which has been a stunning success for more than three years now. This event has over a dozen vendors participate and draws several thousand attendees each summer to the Boulevard. Bites also served as a fundraiser for neighborhood schools. In fact, MBBA donated more than $4,000 to those four schools, independent of funding raised at each individual event. 2017 was also a landmark year in that we saw the completion of an Illinois Department of Transportation study about how to re-engineer the Boulevard to be more pedestrian friendly and aesthetically pleasing – the beginning of the first significant infrastructure upgrade process in decades.
2018 promises to be another great year on the Boulevard with new businesses like Free Press Coffee opening, Bites on the Boulevard returning, and MBBA continuing to advocate for improvements along the Boulevard. MBBA believes that a great community starts from the ground up and we are lucky enough to be home to some of the best businesses, neighborhoods, and community organizations in the city. We invite you to come and check the Boulevard out in this year and see what everyone is buzzing about – we believe in the Boulevard and so should you.
Photos by Katie Davison & Daniel Shelton