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posted: 6/11/2014 5:30 AM

Wheaton council discusses future of downtown

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  • A rendering of what Liberty Street in Wheaton could look like once revitalization plans are complete. The Wheaton City Council started discussing the implementation of the city's downtown strategic and streetscape plan Monday.

      A rendering of what Liberty Street in Wheaton could look like once revitalization plans are complete. The Wheaton City Council started discussing the implementation of the city's downtown strategic and streetscape plan Monday.
    courtesy of the city of Wheaton

 
 

Prioritizing work and determining funding sources is already proving challenging for Wheaton City Council members as they begin moving forward with the implementation of a Downtown Strategic and Streetscape Plan.

During a planning session Monday, Assistant City Manager Mike Dzugan and Director of Planning and Economic Development Jim Kozik presented an overview of the plan, which was approved by the council in February.

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The proposal includes about $64 million in projects that could take up to 20 years to complete. Dzugan said roughly $48 million of the total amount is for streetscape projects, including the creation of festival streets, improvements to downtown streets, "wayfinding" signs and a new traffic signal at Illinois and Main streets.

City staff members have identified nine potential funding sources, which were explained to the council Monday. They include:

• Three downtown tax increment financing districts, including one that could possibly be extended when it expires in 2016.

• Special service areas, two of which already exist.

• Earmark money coming from the home rule sales tax or food and beverage tax.

• Creation of special assessment or business districts.

• And general obligation bonding.

Some of the funding categories may need to be allocated to a specific project or portion of a project, staff members said.

Nine categories of projects also were identified as part of the plan. They include a permanent French Market structure, a new Central Park, improved parking, dining alleys, artwork on blank walls in the downtown area, small parks set up in parking spaces, changes to zoning, marketing and the immense streetscape plans.

Dzugan and Kozik recommended the council allow staff more time to look at funding. For now, they are suggesting the implementation process begin with the French Market and the start of a festival street, marketing and parking.

Every funding source and project requires multiple steps to secure or complete, from picking people to do the work to getting opinions from business owners.

City staff also identified parts of the implementation process that require the approval of parties outside of city council, such as the state legislature or other taxing bodies.

Councilman Todd Scalzo said the scope of the plan is "pretty overwhelming," but he commended staff for breaking it up into "manageable chunks."

"This is going to be, I think, a big challenge going forward," he said. "It's going to require, I think, a very deliberate process so people can see it was reached fairly and equitably."

Scalzo said he hopes the public doesn't see the implementation of the plan as "just spending" because the city will get a return on the investment.

Mayor Michael Gresk agreed, comparing the revitalization of the downtown to the upkeep of a private home.

"If you keep putting it off, you'll end up undermining your investment," he said, adding that the impact of the downtown projects will be felt throughout the city.

Councilman John Prendiville said he is excited about the projects, but hopes many different sources of funding can be used to complete the work.

"We don't want to put all the burden on downtown, as far as financing it," he said. "Some of it definitely should be because it's going to benefit the businesses down there, but the whole city shares in the benefit."

Councilman Phil Suess said he would like to have some design work completed before the council approves the start of some work.

"I think we have to look at this in the context of the other investments we need to make in the community," he said. "There's got to be a balancing between what we're doing downtown and the resources there versus the other needs in the community, be it water, sewers, whatever."

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