Report: Fox River plan likely to boost tourism in St. Charles

Creating a white-water rafting course, an upgraded riverwalk and other outdoor amenities along the Fox River could attract tens of thousands of additional visitors to downtown St. Charles each year, according to a preliminary economic impact analysis.

The financial implications of implementing the Fox River Corridor Master Plan have yet to be determined. But several city aldermen on Monday said they are encouraged by the project's potential for boosting tourism and transforming the area into a recreational destination.

"We as a city will benefit from folks coming down here, and not only that, but folks that will be developing (adjacent) parcels," Alderman Dan Stellato said. "I think you're going to find it's going to be a good deal."

The river corridor plan calls for removing the existing dam, constructing a new adjustable dam and building navigable rapids suitable for kayaking or rafting. Other potential improvements include new walking paths, a children's splash pad, a zip lining feature and a nature play area.

A study completed in 2017 determined the project would be feasible from an engineering standpoint. This past fall, the city hired Chicago-based HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities Consulting to help determine its economic impact.

During a city council workshop Monday, HVS managing director Tom Hazinski told aldermen the project has a high chance of being successful in St. Charles based on the town's demographic, business portfolio and existing attractions. Early projections show the number of visitors annually could increase from just under 184,000 this year to nearly 262,000 by 2027.

"You're very well positioned to do this development," he said.

Hazinski pointed to a handful of communities that have implemented similar river improvements, including Columbus, Georgia; Wausau, Wisconsin; and Yorkville, Illinois. Though the features of their projects vary, he said, they all reported the upgrades spurred development and generated additional tax dollars.

St. Charles also benefits from connecting with two major bike trail systems - the Fox River Trail and the Illinois Prairie Path. Alderman Steve Gaugel said he envisions cyclists traveling from throughout the Chicago area to check out the city's unique recreational amenities.

"You will have people that make this a cycling destination, and that's really exciting to me," he said. "We have to look at it as the entire draw on the entire redevelopment of this corridor."

The next step of the HVS study is to look at financial projections and complete a cost-benefit analysis, which focuses largely on the improvements planned north of Main Street and south of the railroad trestle.

Some aldermen said they wanted to reserve their comments until they can see the potential return on investment. Alderman Lora Vitek asked that consultants closely evaluate the costs of marketing the improvements and maintaining their quality over time.

Alderman William Turner said he would not consider moving forward with the project without financial support from the park district.

The complete HVS report will be presented to the planning and development committee April 8.

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