Plans were unveiled Monday night in Gurnee for a project that would honor the village's longest-serving mayor.
Mayor Kristina Kovarik recommended that a long-vacant 1-acre site on Old Grand Avenue become the Richard A. Welton Village Plaza. By a voice vote, village board trustees at Monday's meeting enthusiastically supported a resolution attaching Welton's name to the proposed project.
Kovarik said the "simple, classy park" would include bronze markers indicating Gurnee milestones in an area just east of the Des Plaines River, which is Gurnee's original section known as village center. Trees would line a walkway to the circular area where visitors would hang out, possibly even with Wi-Fi access.
"I'm really excited we can do this for you. It's long overdue," Kovarik told Welton, who was joined by scores of family and friends at the meeting.
Welton, 71, is a lifelong village resident who became known for leading a growth spurt that included Six Flags Great America and Gurnee Mills. He was mayor from 1973 to 2001, when he was defeated by Trustee Donald Rudny.
After receiving a microphone from Kovarik, a grateful Welton held court in front of the village board dais. He provided the crowd with some village history lessons and doses of humor.
"Thank you for the honor," Welton said. "I'll sleep in the park every night."
Plans for the taxpayer-owned land have been in limbo since 2010, when former Trustee Kirk Morris sued the village after his private foundation was removed as leader of the Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park effort.
Morris and Kovarik began publicly feuding in 2009 after she accused his foundation of being incapable of building the memorial to troops who died in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Under a lawsuit settlement approved in 2013, Gurnee's insurance carrier paid $200,000 to the ex-trustee's Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation for design work and other improvements the group made to the public land. The foundation was named for Morris' son, a Marine killed in Iraq in 2004.
As part of the deal, the village agreed to remove the Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park name from the property and return the rights to the foundation.
Last year, Kovarik selected village Trustee Cheryl Ross to chair a panel that was asked to generate ideas for the site that's been vacant since the old Gurnee police station was demolished in November 2004. The property is in a flood-prone section of Gurnee, east of the Des Plaines River.
Kovarik said Ross' group sorted through many use and design ideas, but her suggestion for the plaza gained support from several trustees and village employees.
"They (committee members) wanted to make sure this is a park people will enjoy for years and years to come," Kovarik said.
Kovarik said a parking lot should be built this year, with plaza completion targeted for 2017. In addition to village funds, she said other forms of assistance are expected from the Gurnee Park District, Warren Township government and private donors.