After almost a year of construction on Aurora's RiverEdge Park, work on the music venue and other amenities along both sides of the Fox River just north of downtown is on schedule and within its $13.2 million budget, city officials said.
Officials said they've spent roughly $8 million so far on planning, engineering and construction of the park that they hope will attract visitors to Aurora and serve as an economic engine for the community.
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The entire park is expected to be completed by Oct. 5, with another month needed to do some "close out" work and complete a kitchen and concession area in a building behind the music venue.
"Our goal was basically to work from the far south end to the north end, and that's exactly what we've done," said Terry Bohr, president of R.C. Wegman Construction, the park's construction manager.
Bohr said work on the south end of the 30-acre linear park is progressing well, with the plaza sidewalk ahead of schedule and trees scheduled to be planted this fall. Wilder Park, one of RiverEdge's six distinctive spaces, is set to open July 18 on the west side of the river.
By spring, all planting will be finished, and the venue's first public event will be Blues on the Fox on June 14 and 15, 2013.
The John C. Dunham Pavilion, the park's music venue, is taking shape, as is the wall designed to keep sound from escaping the park and disturbing residential areas while still maintaining high-quality acoustics inside the venue.
"If you make the performers happy, the audience will be happy," said Stephane Phifer, Aurora's director of planning and zoning. "If you design the facility so it meets their needs, if it's an easy place to perform at and someplace they like to perform with a great view of the Aurora downtown skyline and a great view of the river, they actually want to come back."
An integral piece of the project has involved reclaiming the river.
"The mayor (Tom Weisner) really wanted to try to re-embrace the river with all of the development that happens in the downtown, including with the RiverEdge Park," Phifer said. "This is a park that's really trying to engulf and embrace the river and not turn its back on it.
"For many years Aurora (treated it as) a very industrial river, and we're really trying to move beyond that and actually embrace the river as one of our most precious natural resources."
That will include integrating the bike trail, which is part of the Fox River trail system that runs on both sides of the river, as well as restoring Blues Island by removing invasive species and planting native plants both on the island and along the river. A total of 14 agencies signed off on the environmental aspects of the park, said Patrick Kelsey, executive vice president of the project's engineering company.
"The mayor is committed to making sure the environmental conditions of the whole park are served by the funding that was available," he said.
The next phase of the project involves securing additional funding for a pedestrian bridge that will be the central focus of RiverEdge Park. It will allow views of the Fox River and Aurora skyline, connect the Music Garden and Wilder Park and provide a bicycle and pedestrian connection to the transportation center across from the park.
A $2 million grant from the Kane County Forest Preserve District has been secured for construction and engineering of the bridge, which is expected to cost $6 million.
"In addition to helping with the park, it would be a huge asset as far as transportation," Phifer said. "The mayor is really hopeful we're actually going to secure some additional grants."
Phifer said the park is intended to act as an economic catalyst to bring more activity, entertainment and people into the downtown area. It will become the permanent home of the city's annual festivals and will serve as a regional destination that will bring the Aurora community together and serve as a place of pride. The goal is to make the area a more enticing place for future development.
"When we embarked on the planning for this, I don't think we thought it was going to come along as quickly as it did," she said. "We're positioned in a great place for when the economy turns back around."