Gurnee's longest-serving mayor will be honored Saturday during a groundbreaking ceremony for a plaza to be named for him on a site where he began his political career.
Festivities are set for 11 a.m. to officially kick off Richard A. Welton Village Plaza on Old Grand Avenue. Officials said the gathering place on the 1-acre site will be built in phases and feature rain gardens, perennial plantings, seating, a bicycle rack and bronze markers indicating Gurnee milestones and Welton's contributions.
Welton was mayor from 1973 to 2001. The plaza, which doesn't have a precise construction timetable, will be on vacant public land just east of the Des Plaines River that was once home to the village hall, police headquarters and public works facility.
Among those scheduled to speak is Gurnee Chamber of Commerce Chairman Dan Kloczkowski. He said Welton has had a strong commitment to the community.
"I feel it's quite an honor for a plaza to be named for him and that he can be around to see it," Kloczkowski said Tuesday.
Welton was at village hall in February when the plaza plan was announced, and he is scheduled to be at Saturday's groundbreaking ceremony. The festivities will be co-hosted by village government, the Gurnee Exchange Club and the chamber.
Assistant to the Village Administrator Erik Jensen said the village is limited on what can be done on the site. It is in the original section known as village center.
"We have to keep in mind this is still in a flood plain, so there's only so many things you can possibly do with (the land)," Jensen said. "Passive recreational use was something that had been in our mind for a while for that particular site. And just the opportunity to kind of honor the (village) history and have one spot to do it in our historical area made perfect sense to us."
Welton became known for shepherding a growth spurt in the village that included Six Flags Great America and Gurnee Mills.
Plans for the taxpayer-owned land had 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 Mayor Kristina 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. Kovarik said that prompted her to pursue Welton Village Plaza.
Officials said they intend to minimize the amount of public money spent to build the plaza. Private donors will be tapped for in-kind or cash donations.