Aurora's new downtown centerpiece needed more than vision. It needed someone to develop that vision into a tangible environment -- a haven for music, festivals and gatherings.
Aurora city staff members, including Stephane Phifer and Gina Moga, have been involved with RiverEdge Park from the start, shepherding the $18.5 million project through planning, land acquisition, environmental cleanup, design and utility relocation.
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But when it came time to actually build the Music Garden, the park's "Phase 1," city staffers needed more help.
Enter R.C. Wegman Construction Company of Aurora.
The firm was chosen as the park's construction manager by demonstrating it could create the park fastest, best and cheapest, gaining approval from aldermen in May 2011.
Wegman was promised 9.85 percent of Music Garden construction costs before anyone knew exactly how much it would cost to build the stage, seating, concessions and other facilities, which raised red flags to some concerned about city spending. But Phifer said a construction manager was chosen so a company with building expertise could select the best contractors with the city's bottom line in mind.
As price ceilings came in, a groundbreaking was held in July 2011 and the construction budget was set at $13.2 million.
Wegman built the Music Garden for less than that, allowing the city to add items that otherwise would have had to wait, Phifer said. Among them: extra security features, supports for future jumbo LED screens, nicer materials for bathroom floors and an upgraded permanent kitchen for the park's main food vendor, said Terry Bohr, president of R.C. Wegman.
The park at 360 N. Broadway Ave. also was built on time, reaching "substantial completion" Oct. 5, 2012, before the Feb. 13, 2013, deadline.
"We finished well in advance of that," with no injuries or other major issues, Bohr said.
Building the park from the ground up were 346 construction workers with a variety of specialties. And making it all possible was grant money, with $13 million used so far.
The state put the park on the fast track in October 2010 with $8 million from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, adding to $3 million the Fox Valley Park District pledged during a land swap in 2009. The Dunham Fund, which supports community development and cultural initiatives in the Aurora area, jumped in with $2 million promised in March 2011.
"This project we think will dovetail very well with the entertainment venue at the Paramount and take it into the summer," said Bob Vaughan, the Dunham Fund's executive director.
The Forest Preserve District of Kane County has committed $2 million as well, but that money is earmarked for a pedestrian bridge to connect the east side of the park with its future west end.
As the park's June 14 grand opening for the Blues on the Fox festival nears, crews have been adding spring plantings and putting the finishing touches on their work.
"I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised," Bohr said, "when they walk in the park and realize how big it is."