A streetscape project will create new gathering spaces in downtown Wheaton this summer as part of a revitalization plan years in the making.

The city council early next month will vote to award a $4.5 million contract to Landmark Contractors, Inc., a Huntley-based company that submitted the lowest bid. The cost of the proposal is roughly $900,000 below original estimates, Assistant City Manager John Duguay said.

The city is preparing to break ground later in March on the project along a busy stretch of Front Street lined with shops and restaurants that will remain open during construction.

Urban design architects have laid out a multiyear plan to turn the downtown into a vibrant, more pedestrian-friendly destination with rebuilt streets, wider sidewalks, reconfigured parking, new landscaping and amenities.

Building materials selected for the Front Street improvements will serve as a template for later stages in the ambitious plan to bolster the central business district. The council has not settled on a scope or finalized funding, but officials previously pegged the cost at $34.7 million.

Last summer, contractors replaced aging water mains and sanitary sewers that run from Front and West streets near the Metra station to Front and Cross streets near the Wheaton 121 apartment complex.

Along that same segment of the downtown thoroughfare, the city plans to replace elements of the streetscape such as lights, bike racks, planters, trash receptacles and trees.

Many of the trees are stunted because their roots don't have enough room to grow. To address that issue, crews will dig a trench on each side of Front Street except for the intersections and fill the channel with structural soil designed to help trees take root and develop a lush canopy. Permeable pavers will be placed on top of the material.

A new gathering space at Front and Main streets will replace the Robert J. Martin Memorial Plaza, a special events venue named in honor of Wheaton's former mayor who served until 1990.

The council previously intended to rebuild the plaza at the current site on the south side of Front Street along the railroad tracks.

Leaving the narrow plaza as-is isn't feasible because crews will reconstruct the road on the segment between Hale and Main street, and the plaza site's slope doesn't meet accessibility standards.

For the north side of the street, architects have designed a space inspired by the city's railroad history and a former train depot. The concept by Design Workshop also calls for stringing catenary lights and planting trees in the middle of the space to provide shade without blocking storefronts.

Water and fire features would add to the ambience and an obelisk would mark the entrance.

The city plans to keep at least one lane of Front open to traffic during construction, though there will be occasions that will require a full closure.

The contract with the construction company will include provisions requiring crews to install temporary sidewalks that patrons will enter from the intersections to access shops and restaurants. That access would be cut off on days when crews are pouring concrete for sidewalks.

"We did everything we could to try to ensure that the business can remain open," Duguay said.

Under the terms of the contract, general contractors would have to complete the Front Street work by Aug. 31, or pay the city a $3,500 penalty each day the project extends beyond that deadline.

As for funding of the broader plan, tax increment financing could provide an estimated $23.7 million. But last October, council members were at odds over how to pay for other improvements that don't fall within the boundaries of the two tax increment financing districts.