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updated: 1/24/2014 2:56 PM

Wheaton residents get another chance to comment on downtown plans

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  • A rendering of what downtown Wheaton's Liberty Street will look like once revitalization plans are complete.

      A rendering of what downtown Wheaton's Liberty Street will look like once revitalization plans are complete.
    Photo courtesy of the city of Wheaton

  • A rendering of the new French Market facility in downtown Wheaton.

      A rendering of the new French Market facility in downtown Wheaton.
    Photo courtesy of the city of Wheaton

 
 

Residents will have one more chance to comment on Wheaton's Downtown Strategic and Streetscape Plan before it is submitted to the city council for final approval.

The plan -- which includes $64 million worth of projects that could take up to 20 years to complete -- will be the subject of a public hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27, at city hall.

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For the past two years, a consultant group gathered data and solicited ideas from city officials, local organizations, business owners and residents in person and online to determine what the top priorities are for downtown Wheaton.

Besides listing many physical projects and proposing an order that they should be completed in, the plan includes suggestions for implementation strategies, such as the creation of a targeted retail recruitment plan and a coordinated marketing plan.

Director of Economic Development Jim Kozik said it's been a long process, but city officials are pleased with the final product. While the cost of all the projects together is daunting, Kozik said the plan doesn't call for everything to be completed at once.

"(The city council needs) to, as an upcoming activity, sort of prioritize what things they want to do and what order they want to do them," he said.

The plan has been split into five phases, the first of which is expected to cost $15.9 million and take three to five years to complete. Phase One includes:

• Improved streetscape along Main Street from Roosevelt Road north to the train tracks to provide a more attractive "front door" to downtown for visitors coming in from the south.

• Converting Liberty Drive, from Hale Street to Reber Street, into a $5.2 million "festival street" that will provide space for improved outdoor dining and community events and gatherings. Other streets are expected to be converted to "festival streets" in future phases.

• Construction of a $300,000 permanent structure for the French Market that would allow for it to be open in the winter months and available for events throughout the year.

• Create a $2.8 million Central Park that could include a small amphitheater, ice skating rink, fountains, open space and other amenities. The proposed boundaries for the park are the Illinois Prairie Path to the north, Liberty Drive to the south, Hale Street to the west and Cross Street to the south. The French Market structure would be built in the eastern portion of the park.

While city officials have expressed excitement with the plan, they also have acknowledged there are still a lot of details to work out, particularly with finances.

"The plan is just that -- it is a plan and it doesn't necessarily get into the nitty-gritty details. I think as we delve deeper into the design of the projects we might find some things that can't be done," Kozik said, adding that the reasons could range from funding to dated infrastructure.

Some suggestions for funding include the addition of new tax increment financing districts and expansion of existing ones, or working to attract investors from the private sector. Details are expected to be discussed in future city council planning sessions.

No matter which funding options are used, Mayor Michael Gresk said it is likely the city will move slowly, starting with relatively simple and inexpensive improvements, like new signage and changes in parking.

"To say we're going to get it all done by 2020 or 2025, that simply isn't realistic," he said, adding that the plan wasn't created so the city could hurry to get everything done, but instead, so it can serve as a road map for the current and future city councils.

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