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updated: 3/9/2011 4:24 PM

Aurora accepts state grant for downtown park

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  • The future site of RiverEdge Park sits just north of downtown Aurora along North Broadway Avenue.

      The future site of RiverEdge Park sits just north of downtown Aurora along North Broadway Avenue.
    Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer


Five months after Gov. Pat Quinn announced an $8 million grant for the music garden at Aurora's proposed RiverEdge Park, the city council approved a plan detailing how the grant will be received.

But the plan -- which gives the city two years to finish construction of the music garden -- raised questions this week about the cost of the overall park project and how much it depends on public funding.

Under the grant agreement, which the council approved 10-1 Tuesday, the city will receive $2 million upfront and the remaining $6 million as music garden construction is completed. The grant expires Feb. 28, 2013.

"We did receive confirmation from the state that the funds are available to be appropriated," Planning Director Stephane Phifer said.

Because of the state's history of late payments, Finance Director Brian Caputo said each music garden construction contract will include a clause allowing work to be halted at any time if the city does not receive enough grant money for it to continue.

Kevin Mathews, a candidate for alderman-at-large in the April 5 election, asked the council to reconsider the use of state grant funds for a project he said is too large and "the antithesis of good local government."

"Residents of Aurora have no right to pick the pockets of residents of the state to fund a benevolence like this," Mathews said. "The residents of this community should be funding projects in this community."

Current Alderman-at-large Richard Irvin, whom Mathews is running against, said city officials only need to consider their own constituents -- Aurora taxpayers -- in deciding whether to accept the grant.

"Everybody who sits up here owes a responsibility to this taxing body and only this taxing body," Irvin said. "If we don't take advantage (of the grant), somebody else would."

While Mathews questioned state funding, Alderman Rick Lawrence questioned the city's contributions to the park and whether the 30-acre area along both shores of the Fox River just north of downtown will spur more development.

The idea for a signature space that highlights the river -- including a music venue, visitors center, pedestrian bridge and open areas -- sprang from a 2007 plan for downtown revitalization, and Mayor Tom Weisner said the city's business community supports it.

"The park is the key feature of attracting mixed-use development moving forward," Weisner said. "We now have a number of areas cleaned up and ready to go, and as the market improves, there will be development, without fail."

As part of the grant agreement, the city agreed to contribute about $8.9 million toward the music garden's $12.7 million estimated construction cost. The park's total cost is estimated at $17.4 million.

Roughly $4.2 million of the city's $8.9 million contribution already has been spent on land acquisition, design and engineering services and power line burial. The city anticipates spending about $4.7 more during the two-year span of the state grant, according to the agreement.

Some of the city's past and anticipated spending is supported by local grants, with a $3 million grant from the Fox Valley Park District and a yet-unspecified grant amount from a private foundation. The city's contribution also includes revenue from tax increment revenue bonds sold in 2008, according to a city memo.

Lawrence said he is concerned the tax increment financing district will not generate enough revenue to meet the park's funding needs. He said more elected officials need to question the cost of projects like the park during their planning stages.

No matter which taxing body grants come from, Lawrence said, Aurora taxpayers are paying for the park.

Music garden construction could start as early as this summer and is expected to take between 18 and 20 months once it's started, Phifer said.