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updated: 1/28/2014 1:29 PM

Wheaton residents give their suggestions for downtown

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  • A rendering of what Liberty Street could look like once revitalization plans are complete.

      A rendering of what Liberty Street could look like once revitalization plans are complete.
    courtesy of the city of Wheaton

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

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

 
 

About 25 residents attended the last public hearing Monday on Wheaton's Downtown Strategic and Streetscape Plan before it's submitted to the city council for final approval next month.

Nine residents offered suggestions and even gratitude for the plan, which provides what Mayor Michael Gresk describes as a "road map" for the city as it looks to revitalize the downtown area over the next 20 years.

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Some of the residents' suggestions included working to fix parking issues first, improving downtown access from Naperville Road, and adding charging stations for electric cars.

Britt Palmberg of Design Workshop, the Denver-based consulting firm that created the plan, gave a brief summary of the $64 million in projects laid out in the plan. Four public hearings on the plan had already been held, in September 2012 and last February, April and May.

"It's been a pleasure working with you all," Palmberg said. "We're going to stay in touch and see what you guys do. We wish you the best of luck, and I'm pretty confident some good stuff is going to come out of it."

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.

Some key recommendations in the overall plan include converting Liberty Drive, Hale Street and Karlskoga Avenue into "festival streets" and creating a Central Park that could include a small amphitheater, an ice-skating rink, fountains and a permanent French Market structure.

Enhancing South Main Street from Roosevelt Road north to the train tracks is also listed as a top priority in the plan, along with other ongoing streetscape improvements, such as improved signage and parking.

Downtown Wheaton Association Executive Director Paula Barrington said the association wants to be an active partner in implementing the plan, particularly with marketing and business recruitment and retention.

"Those are very, very key components to the future of the downtown area being a vibrant economic component of the city of Wheaton," she said, adding that the association is thankful the city took the initiative to create a vision to help move the downtown forward.

Jim Mathieson, a property owner in downtown Wheaton, said he noticed it has become difficult to fill office space there in recent years. He said he hopes to get some stimulus started sooner rather than later.

"I don't want to wait five years. I want to see it happen sooner," he said. "Now you just have to figure out how to fund it."

City officials said funding options may include the addition of new tax increment financing districts and expansion of existing ones or working to attract investors from the private sector. TIFs freeze property taxes going to local governments, with taxes above that amount funneled to development.

"I would hope that some of the costs of this could be, perhaps, picked up by sponsors or others who may find some benefit to this so it's not all out of the city's pocket," said councilman John Rutledge.

Councilman John Prendiville said he hopes the city council will start moving forward with efforts to find funding sources soon.

"I know there's a big price tag on this, but I think it's important that we do start taking steps to implement it, maybe small steps at first, but that we not put it off," he said.

The city council is expected to prioritize the projects and discuss more details about financing options at future planning sessions.

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