Elgin downtown group celebrates rebuilding along Fox
Aurora is developing a new park along the Fox River.
Batavia's downtown is being transformed by a streetscape project.
Geneva is known throughout the region for its development of Third Street.
St. Charles, too, has spent time and money beautifying its downtown and harnessing the Fox River as a natural resource worth looking at.
"I think it's just amazing what's going on in all of our communities up and down the Fox River," said Tom Armstrong, chairman of Elgin's Downtown Neighborhood Association design committee and a retired Elgin city planner.
The association gathered community members and visitors from St. Charles and Geneva to its monthly Out to Lunch event Monday, drawing attention to its own work along the river while eliciting advice for its next steps.
The monthly meetings are a chance for the association to highlight something about Elgin's downtown. This month's event included a tour of Elgin Artspace Lofts, an artist housing development that opened in October with gallery and commercial space as well as 55 rental units, the last of which was filled in recent weeks.
Armstrong said the project has already been a catalyst for downtown development with the opening of an art gallery nearby.
A bus tour from the Gail Borden Public Library to Artspace included views of Elgin's streetscape improvement project, now in its sixth year. The goal of the extensive redesign has been to make the city more pedestrian- and bike-friendly while replacing underground infrastructure and creating design consistency from one block to another throughout the downtown.
"It was really a strain on businesses when each project was under way but there have been many businesses who have opened in downtown Elgin because of our new look," Armstrong said.
The last stop on the tour was the construction site for the Elgin Riverside Drive Promenade, which is expected to be completed this fall.
Paul Evans, business development specialist in Geneva, said he gained a greater appreciation for the beauty in downtown Elgin during the tour, even if he didn't get any new ideas to bring back to his own community.
Michael Mertes, the economic development coordinator in St. Charles, said he speaks with other economic development professionals frequently, sharing notes, getting tips. At Monday's event, Downtown Neighborhood Association staff members got more information about initiatives in neighboring towns and advice on developing special taxing districts in which development costs are paid for by the people within the so-called special service area. The association is planning to become self-sustaining through an SSA in the next couple of years.
Mertes said communities along the Fox River are often working on similar projects, which means communicating across town lines is helpful to everyone.
"At the end of the day," Mertes said, "we're not individual communities, but a region."