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Berwyn’s Depot District to get $4.15 million ‘shot’

Published: Monday, July 15, 2013 4:59 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, July 15, 2013 6:12 p.m. CDT

BERWYN – The end game of a $4.15 million Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) grant is to make Berwyn’s Depot District a place where visitors will know they are somewhere special, according to city officials.

Berwyn officials accepted a letter of intent indicating IDOT’s assurance for a $4.15 million grant to be specifically used for streetscape improvements to the Depot District, which takes in the area near the Oak Park Avenue train depot.

“This is one of our largest single grant hauls in a long time,” Assistant City Administrator Evan Summers said.

The grant follows seven months of meetings between city and IDOT officials, where the project was presented to the state as a priority for Berwyn.

About $2.4 million of the grant is conditional on the city covering 20 percent of that amount, with IDOT providing the remainder. Berwyn will contribute $480,000 to the total $4.15 million. The city’s contribution will come from money earmarked in the 2012 bond issuance, as well as funds from the Depot District TIF.

Any underground work that needs to be done as a result of the project will not be covered by any IDOT funds and will need to be paid for with bond or TIF funds, Summers said.

The IDOT grant, the first of its kind to be used for Depot District projects, can only be used for the Depot District plans.

Last month, officials authorized Oak Park-based Terra Engineering to come up with a pedestrian-friendly design proposal designed to bring more foot traffic into the District through elements such as extra lighting, bench seating and shorter intersection crosswalks to make it easier for pedestrians to get around.

Terra Engineering was responsible for the design of the Roosevelt Road Streetscape plan.

For years the Depot District had been a diamond in the rough for the community. Over the past several years, it has been reinventing itself.

“It’s sort of turning into a commuter hub for us,” Summers said, not in small part to the addition of a parking garage and other parking being made available. Summers also credited the Berwyn Development Corporation (BDC) for a lot of “hard marketing” to fix a lot of vacancy problems in the District.

BDC Executive Director Tony Griffin said the Depot District has been a high priority for the city and the BDC.

“Being able to achieve that grant is a great shot in the arm,” Griffin said. “Consumers are changing their shopping patterns. The growth of retail has been 15 percent online as opposed to 5 percent in actual stores. The shoppers who are still shopping at physical locations are doing it for other experiences.”

The Roosevelt Road Streetscape Plan “paid dividends” to that shopping corridor, Griffin added.

MacNeal Hospital is viewed as a real resource in revitalizing the area as well, with it’s 2,600 employees and the steady amount of customers to the hospital that will be targeted and encouraged to dine and shop in the district, Summers said.

“You put $4.15 million into that district and you’ll know your entering something special,” Summer said.

Design work is expected to be completed this year leading to a construction date in spring 2014.

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