Bicyclists whiz by on a newly paved street, a man gazes at the Fox River from under a white canopy, a Metra train hums and dings in the distance, groups dine on an outdoor patio at a pizza shop and a handful of political types step to a podium with an optimistic message: The city of Elgin is open for business.
Gov. Pat Quinn, state Sen. Mike Noland, state Rep. Anna Moeller and Elgin Mayor David Kaptain shared a positive outlook for commerce with about 250 people gathered Saturday for the official opening of the $10.5 million Riverside Drive project.
Funded with two state grants totaling $9 million and with $1.5 million from a special tax district in Elgin, the new promenade -- with its bikeway, crosswalks built of permeable pavers and bioswales to filter rainwater before it flows into the river -- was touted as a boon for Elgin's environment and economy.
"To see the completion of this and the promenade put together in a way that helps river quality, water quality, plus it invites people to come, see the Fox River -- it's really special," Quinn said.
Riverside Drive, which connects Festival Park to Chicago Street, has been under construction for two years, but the project began even two years before that, Quinn said, when he came to Elgin to kick it off.
The aptly named road on the east side of the Fox River in downtown Elgin now can start its life as the gathering place city officials long have imagined after the bikeway and deck were closed for more than a decade, Kaptain said. Symbolically, the completion of the project ends more than 50 years of Elgin "turning its back" on the river, he said.
"It's taken us over a half a century to turn around and face the other way. This project has done that for us," Kaptain said. "It's not only a beautiful gathering place, it's also a special place that's been designed to be environmentally friendly."
Leaders thanked the trade workers, construction crews and design teams who developed the project from concept to completion as just a block away, artists sold handcrafted wooden canes, designs made from beer bottle caps or miniature purses sewn from denim jean pockets and adorned with peace signs during the annual Art and Soul on the Fox fine art show.
The nearby Riverside Drive is beautiful at night, said Sandy Kaptain, a volunteer with Art for All and the mayor's wife, so Art and Soul organizers might look for a way to incorporate it as a venue for festival entertainment next year.
"This is good for downtown Elgin because it brings people down for the businesses," she said.
Elgin businesses, such as Chooch's Pizzeria, which has the only outdoor patio overlooking Riverside Drive, could stand to benefit most from the project's completion, Noland said.
"We see the bright future that is at hand for us," Noland said. "Here today we know that we're at a crossroads and on the threshold of a dream. And Elgin is finally open for business. It has been open for business for some time now, but this is the official opening of the business door for Elgin."