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updated: 11/13/2013 10:42 AM

Wheaton council likes vision of downtown plans

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A $64 million redevelopment plan, featuring festival streets, an improved French Market and a bevy of other improvements has gained the support of Wheaton officials who must now prioritize and find funding for the 129-page plan.

The final draft of the Downtown Strategic Plan and Streetscape Plan was presented at Monday night's planning session, outlining a plan to keep the city's downtown relevant to both residential and commercial tenants in the years to come.

Mayor Michael Gresk said having a 20- to 25-year plan is an important piece to have in place.

"It's always important to have a map so you know where you're going, and I think it's good that we're being methodical about this," Gresk said.

"The price tag is huge but if you don't improve and upgrade your facilities, things will fall apart. We are still a vibrant community because we make plans."

The market study projects downtown Wheaton, primarily south of the Union Pacific tracks, has the potential to add a net increase of 80,000 square feet of retail space; 50,000 to 75,000 square feet of office space; and about 1,000 residential units during the next two decades. It recommends the city actively promote such redevelopment.

Initially, the plan suggests the city should focus on sprucing up and redeveloping Main Street, from downtown's "front door" at Roosevelt Road north to Front Street. Doing so, planners say, likely will help stimulate redevelopment on the south side of the tracks and take advantage of the area's proximity to the new Mariano's Fresh Market at Main Street and Roosevelt Road.

Councilman John Rutledge said he's in favor of doing everything possible to keep the downtown from becoming "tired and stale."

"I'm genuinely excited to have a plan in place," he said. "Granted, $64 million looks like a lot of money but it's a 20-year plan and we don't have to get it all done at once."

The plan also suggests the city invest in upgrades necessary to make Liberty, Hale and Karlskoga operate as "festival" streets that would accommodate improved outdoor dining and could easily be closed to traffic to host a variety of community festivals and events.

Also recommended is creation of a central park between Liberty Drive and the Illinois Prairie Path, and between Hale and Cross streets. The park would serve as a central gathering place for the community and could include a small amphitheater, an ice-skating rink, open spaces and fountains.

"This is a refreshingly realistic, yet very inspiring plan to take our assets and build on them," said Councilman Todd Scalzo. "We have a beautiful, walkable downtown already and festival streets will improve the attractiveness.

"The French Market is already very popular and this plan improves it with a permanent structure. Some have called it polishing the apple but this all about taking what we have and making it even better."

The council will schedule a public hearing in January to hear from residents and business owners about the plan before they attempt to modify or formally approve the document.

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