'Make it one big, usable space': Des Plaines' Metropolitan Square Plaza project moving forward

Years after being proposed, plans to revamp the public plaza at the Metropolitan Square development in downtown Des Plaines are moving forward.

After a detailed presentation and discussion Monday night, the city council gave a consultant some fresh encouragement and an informal go-ahead to update the designs with new suggestions - including possible spaces for an ice rink, movie screenings and cultural events.

"So much of our success down here revolves around this working out the right way," Mayor Andrew Goczkowski said. "We should consider being ambitious and making sure that this is done right."

Set about a block north of Miner Street, Metropolitan Square opened in 2006 and contains commercial and condominium buildings, a public parking garage and a public plaza. Retail tenants include a Giordano's restaurant, a Shop & Save Market and the relatively new At 7 Bar & Grill.

But nine out of 22 storefronts are vacant; at least one never has had tenants.

In 2015, an urban planning and architectural firm called the Lakota Group developed improvement plans for the complex, including changing traffic patterns, adding play features for children, building entertainment stages and installing outdoor seating.

None of its recommendations were implemented, though, and the project was shelved.

Goczkowski, who was elected mayor last year, revived the discussion. The council makeup has changed considerably since the plans first were unveiled, he's said, and the city's economic outlook has improved because of the renovation of the nearby Des Plaines Theatre and other factors.

Making Metropolitan Square Plaza a welcoming space where people want to spend time "is imperative," Goczkowski said.

Kevin Clark, the Lakota Group's principal and design director, presented his company's ideas for the site during the council's meeting Monday.

He proposed two concepts. In one, the auto traffic pattern near the semicircular plaza would be modified and some parking spaces would be eliminated to create more open space and encourage pedestrian activity. In the other, the current traffic pattern and parking areas would remain.

Goczkowski and the council members overwhelmingly backed the plan reducing auto traffic.

"Make it one big, usable space," 2nd Ward Alderman Colt Moylan said.

Although he agreed with he peers about traffic, 3rd Ward Alderman Sean Oskerka suggested leaving some street parking for patrons of the Sugar Bowl restaurant on Miner Street and other area businesses who might not want to walk to and from the garage.

"It's kind of a hike," he said.

As far as the next steps in the process, Lakota will create new concept drawings. Then the council will have to approve a budget for the project, Clark said, and his team will develop design and construction documents. That could take nine months to a year, he said.

If the project progresses, the entire effort could take about two years to complete, a city spokeswoman said.

Including roadwork and streetscape improvements on Metropolitan Way, the project could cost more than $6 million to complete, Clark and officials said.

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