St. Charles river task force sees final design presentations
The final two design teams pitched their visions for making St. Charles an international destination for water-based recreation Thursday by adding cautionary notes about how a project with big potential can become a big dud if it's mishandled.
The Active River Task Force, with funding from several local taxing bodies, interviewed four design team finalists this week in hopes of selecting one team and a backup team as part of a pitch for wider support of and funding for making the Fox River the cornerstone of the city's downtown.
But some members of the design teams cautioned the early steps toward making the river a draw for large water sport competitions aren't sexy. Bike and trail connections and improving water quality, drainage and flood relief all may be necessary years before a white water course could be installed or multiple islands on the river can be created.
But the potential is huge. All the design teams agreed the part of the Fox River flowing through St. Charles has the right amount of speed and drop to create any kind of white water course imaginable.
John Houseal, co-founder of Chicago-based Houseal Lavigne Associates, told the task force the river has the potential to host large scale river surfing, canoeing and kayaking competitions.
"If you put in a venue that can bring in 200,000 people to an event, that's a game-changer," Houseal said. "But if the community isn't willing to accept and want it, it doesn't matter."
A full spectrum of community buy-in is key, because more than 70 percent of the visitors to active river attractions come only as spectators, according to one of the design teams.
Design team members familiar with Batavia's exploration of removing a dam to bring in active river uses said nothing ever materialized. Residents didn't want large crowds of visitors coming to the city.
Active River Task Force Chairman John Rabchuk said he doesn't think that will be the case in St. Charles.
The formation of the task force by members of the community who already believe in the potential of the river is evidence of that. Rabchuk said development on Randall Road and the city's east side is pulling away the focus from downtown.
"One of the impetuses for this task force was to pull the focus back to the downtown and make it the focus," Rabchuk said. "If we don't, the city will lose the charm, the ambience. It just won't happen anymore."
Task force members hope to select the design team and start hosting public hearings on the plan by early March.
In the meantime, Rabchuk said he'll push aldermen to hold off on any plans for the vacant First Street property along the river for about seven months. That will give the task force time to explore the potential of using that property for part of the active river revitalization, Rabchuk said.