Could public art and sidewalks help revitalize Wheeling's Restaurant Row? Consultants think so

Wheeling officials can revitalize Restaurant Row by installing public art, adding sidewalks on both sides of Milwaukee Avenue where gaps exist and promoting the businesses there through marketing campaigns, consultants said in a new report.

Those were just some of the suggestions in the 84-page plan from the Chicago-based Lakota Group. Company representatives publicly unveiled the plan during Monday night's village board meeting.

The company's other suggestions for invigorating Restaurant Row include:

• Adding painted or paved walkways and pedestrian islands to key crosswalks at Dundee and Wolf roads.

* Working with the Illinois Department of Transportation to add midblock pedestrian crossings.

• Creating a Restaurant Row brand with signs, banners and merchandise.

• Building an outdoor community gathering place on vacant land at Astor Lane along the Des Plaines River that could include a performance pavilion, trails and other features.

Some of the recommendations would be relatively inexpensive and have quick turnarounds, the report indicates. Others could cost millions of dollars and take years to implement.

County, state and federal grants could help pay for many of the recommended projects, the report says.

Kevin Clark and Hannah Bader of the Lakota Group presented the plan to the board Monday. Clark stressed the goal is to refresh an attraction that's been well-known for decades.

"You guys have a known brand," Clark said. "But everybody (involved) recognized that we need to move forward - what's the next step?"

Two community workshops, a community survey and stakeholder interviews were part of the research process.

Maintaining Restaurant Row as a source of community pride was a priority in the strategic plan trustees adopted last year. Restaurants there and across the nation have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, and customers' tastes and budgets have evolved, too.

On Monday, Village Manager Jon Sfondilis called Restaurant Row an important part of Wheeling's history, and he said officials want to preserve it.

"We've already started taking action on some of the (recommendations)," Sfondilis said without citing examples.

After the presentation, the board voted unanimously to formally accept the plan. Trustee Mary Papantos thanked the consultants for their work.

"I think the most important thing you did was listen to the businesses and the residents of Wheeling and say what ... they really want," she said.

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These are a consulting firm's designs for possible decorative banners along Restaurant Row in Wheeling. Courtesy of Village of Wheeling
This rendering from a consulting firm depicts a possible plan for a public park at Milwaukee Avenue and Astor Lane along Wheeling's Restaurant Row. Courtesy of Village of Wheeling
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