Wheaton city council, neighbors weigh in on Memorial Park redesign
Wheaton's oldest park has a historic character, but in some areas it's also looking its age.
Before it became Memorial Park, Elbert Gary, the son of the city's co-founder Erastus Gary, built his home on the site as well as a carriage house, a structure that remains today.
Nearly a century after acquiring the land from the Gary family, Wheaton Park District is planning a roughly $5.7 million renovation, focused largely on infrastructure and a new band shell.
As the district seeks permitting from the city for the band shell, some neighbors are questioning if the changes will disrupt the serene landscape.
Here's a look at some of the issues ...
Concert venue vs. park?
With the investment in Memorial Park, the district wants to introduce a summer concert series for the second and fourth weekends in June, July and August.
On those weekends, performers would take the stage at 5:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with the last song playing at 9:30 p.m. Beer and wine sales also would conclude at 9:30 p.m., and the park would close 30 minutes later.
The district would not hold events on the first, third and fifth weekends without special approval. The exceptions are the Taste of Wheaton, Brew Fest and Octoberfest.
Director of Parks and Planning Rob Sperl says the district set the limitations after fielding feedback from neighbors.
But several residents fear the new events will worsen on-street parking just north of the downtown.
"We've already got 10 events in the summer right now, and that doesn't include all the Sunday church services and the runs and the proposed weddings and things like that," said Pam Bassi, who lives on Franklin Street.
Bassi complimented the overall look of the redesign, but said a busier event schedule would diminish the park's essential character.
"This is not really a park anymore. This is a commercial concert venue," she said. "That I think is the big issue around here."
A new band shell
About a half-dozen neighbors weighed in on the project during a city council hearing this week on a request for a special-use permit to allow the district to demolish the band shell and replace it with a $3.7 million structure. Council members now have a month to vote on the permit application.
"The programming is kind of a separate issue, and the city has always worked collaboratively with the park district in the permitting process," Councilman Todd Scalzo said. "And there will probably be some trial and error and some growing pains, but hopefully we'll get to the right balance and improve the park and maximize its use while being respectful of the residents and the surrounding area."
The district plans to remove the park's tennis court due to declining popularity, allowing the band shell to move slightly to the west at the corner of Wheaton and Karlskoga avenues. The shift also will provide more lawn space for park users and concertgoers who want to bring picnics.
Andrew Dogan, an architect for the park district, says the new 2,413-square-foot performance stage will be about 15 percent larger. The structure also will house a "very small" concessions operation.
"What the park district really wants to do is encourage people to patronize the businesses downtown to eat before, during and after concerts," he said.
Plans show a canopy extending past the stage to provide shelter closest to the band shell, but the district may bid that element as a project alternate.
The district still wants to expand the raised terrace to the south of the Mary Lubko Center -- the original carriage house -- to provide a VIP area, but also may decide to add that element at a later date, depending on bid prices.
The materials for the band shell are similar to those of the original: masonry, steel and metal roofing, creating a look "that harmonizes with the elements within the park, is respectful to the scale of the existing community but also provides a very functional and attractive element for the community to enjoy performances of a lll types," Dogan said.
The district will fund the project with capital reserves and a $400,000 state grant from the Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development program. It also was awarded a $65,000 DuPage County grant to make water quality improvements at the park.
Landscape architects are proposing to remove 14 trees and add 23 shade and 11 ornamental trees.
"We have hundreds and hundreds more smaller shrubs and herbaceous material that are going to be in this park," Sperl said. "This park is going to be beautified tremendously."