The next major piece of the downtown Batavia streetscape renovations -- fixing and beautifying Houston Street -- should be penciled in for 2015, Batavia aldermen said this week.
"If we're going to do it next year, it's time to chop-chop," city administrator Bill McGrath said Tuesday, saying the staff needs time this year to finalize the plan and seek bids. The plan includes rebuilding the bumpy street, adding a bike lane, improving sidewalks, installing brick crosswalks, replacing a water main and more.
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One alderman is questioning whether there will be much return on investment for the money that would be spent on aesthetic portions of the project.
"We have spent a lot of time drinking the Altamanu Kool-Aid," Alderman Susan Stark said Tuesday. " ... It is one of those things where I'm not sure where and 'if you build it, they will come.' " Altamanu is the firm that designed the whole streetscape project for the downtown, including North River, Wilson, Water, Houston, First and Main streets and Batavia Avenue.
Other aldermen and the mayor have oft cited the work done on North River in 2012 as something that attracted businesses to the street, but Stark is not sure the streetscape should be credited for that. She also mentioned recent complaints from one of those businesses about a lack of patronage.
"We have some interesting problems in town that I don't think a streetscape is going to solve," she said, suggesting the money be spent first on incentives to businesses.
Alderman Michael O'Brien, who sat on the citizens advisory committee that came up with the streetscape plan, has repeatedly criticized the council's decision to veer from what was originally designed for Houston. He said the city wasted $100,000 in design money for what he thinks is an inferior plan. The city estimates Houston work at $2.1 million. The project was supposed to be done in 2012, then in 2013.
Houston will tie in with the other streets, he said. "The residents wanted it," O'Brien said -- a point Stark disputes.
Alderman Steve Vasilion also asked why Houston should be done before South Batavia Avenue. He said he doesn't see how an improved streetscape will help current businesses along Houston, or attract new ones. McDonald's already has a new building; other major occupants of the two-block area are the back lot of a bank, two office buildings and the Riverwalk.
The streetscape plan identifies Houston as a major entry to the downtown from the west side. Designers have suggested that the city make a riverside plaza on the west bank of the Fox River near where Houston ends at Island Avenue.
McGrath said that there isn't much room on the Batavia Avenue right of way along the sides of the highway for the decorative elements, such as large planter boxes, that were installed on North River and Wilson. He also said South Batavia Avenue will undergo some construction when the state finishes a traffic signal interconnect project from Wilson to Main, but that project is still being engineered, whereas Houston Street preparation is farther along.
McGrath also said the city likely will have to borrow about $1 million to complete Houston.