How Batavia plans to draw more visitors to North River Street businesses
Outdoor dining tables, umbrellas, lighting and additional signage are among the fixtures Batavia officials believe could help beautify and draw visitors to North River Street.
Supporting downtown businesses amid the coronavirus crisis is a top priority for aldermen, who directed staff members last week to invest in immediate aesthetic improvements to the woonerf-style roadway in hopes of generating more foot traffic on a street already designed to draw pedestrians and bicycles while slowing vehicles.
The city also is exploring converting North River Street into a one-way street for southbound traffic, a change that requires review and approval from the Illinois Department of Transportation. The move would maintain visibility for businesses that rely on a mix of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, while also providing space for additional outdoor seating, City Administrator Laura Newman said.
"It presents an opportunity for a compromise that allows the maximum number of folks in that area to get what they want," she said. "One-way is a much more satisfactory situation for everyone involved."
In response to COVID-19 restrictions, the city council agreed to temporarily close both lanes of North River Street from Wilson to State streets earlier this year. Restaurants and shops have used that extra space for alfresco dining, trivia events, open-mic nights and other social gatherings in hopes of drawing patrons to the corridor, business owners told aldermen last week.
"We're doing everything we can to make it someplace people want to go," said John Hamel, owner of Pal Joey's and Bar Evolution. "We appreciate everything you've done. But we've got to keep going on it."
Orange and white barricades and concrete barriers were put up at the entrances of the roadway to signify its temporary closure. The blockades are an eyesore, aldermen and business owners said, and they send mixed messages to passersby who might be unaware the street is still open to pedestrians and patrons.
One simple, immediate solution would be creating a more aesthetically pleasing atmosphere, Alderman Marty Callahan said.
Rather than using picnic tables donated by the park district, as is done now, he suggested securing outdoor dining furniture similar to what has been donated and placed along South Water Street.
Festoon lighting attached to building exteriors, or even twinkle lights on trees, could indicate there's still activity on North River Street, he said. Aldermen also suggested adding signage to emphasize shops and restaurants are open.
"I think we need to put a little more into it financially for them," Callahan said.
"I know they're spending their time and talent and programming into that area to try to make it a success, and we have some means to try to assist them."
Bob Hansen, who owns Funway Ultimate Entertainment, has since offered to rent out his outdoor tables for North River Street businesses and customers, saving the city money and the hassle of finding a place to store them at the end of the season, Newman said.
City staff members are looking into hiring a lighting contractor and purchasing umbrellas, both of which would return to the city council for approval.
The money would come from state funds retained by the city at the end of a previous economic development program.
The fixtures are meant to be nimble improvements that offer some flexibility, aldermen said, noting additional upgrades could be discussed at a later date.
City officials have begun the lengthy process to make North River Street a one-way street, Newman said, noting changing traffic patterns require a higher level of review by IDOT.
Meanwhile, signage will soon be added to direct drivers to public parking lots near North River Street, she said. All signs indicating the roadway is closed to traffic also will have a partnering sign saying businesses are still open.