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Wheaton City Council considers $64M downtown plan

The $64 million project focuses on the creation of "festival streets" on Liberty Drive, Hale Street and Front Street.
The $64 million project focuses on the creation of "festival streets" on Liberty Drive, Hale Street and Front Street.

WHEATON – Downtown Wheaton could come to look drastically different during the next several years after a massive $64 million plan was presented to the city council Monday night.

The Wheaton Downtown Strategic and Streetscape Plan outlines a set of possible projects to improve the area north and south of the railroad tracks throughout the next 20 years.

The goal, said Britt Palmer of city consultant Design Workshop, is to draw economically from surrounding suburbs.

"Essentially, we're in an older suburban area here relative to the entire Chicago area and we can't really grow by adding more residents on the outsides of Wheaton," Palmer said. "So the main strategy here is to basically grab a bigger market share from your neighbors."

The crux of the plan centers around a few "catalyst improvements," Palmer said.

Under the plan, the city would create festival streets on Liberty Drive between Hale and Cross streets, Hale Street between Karlskoga Avenue and Front Street, and Karlskoga Avenue south of Memorial Park.

Each street would undergo a large-scale beautification process and cityscape improvements, eventually serving as an open, flexible space for large events to be held.

"We think that, if really done well and done properly and designed and executed properly, you really could stand out in the suburban market against other communities in the area," Palmer said.

Palmer's report also suggested that the city create a central park alongside Liberty Drive and the Prairie Path that would include an ice rink and outdoor amphitheater, among other features.

One of the most exciting elements of the recommendation is the creation of a permanent structure in which to host the Wheaton French Market, Palmer said.

"This permanent structure not only creates much better environmental business and farmers market activity, but it creates more of an iconic, permanent landmark in a downtown area," he said.

The first suggested phase of the plan is the upgrading of Main Street from Roosevelt Road to the railroad tracks to take advantage of the new Mariano's development, according to documents from Design Workshop. This would create a new "front door" to Wheaton from the south, leading into the heart of downtown.

In conjunction, Liberty Drive's festival street and central park would be completed around the same time to add to the new, more appealing entry to the city.

The first phase of the plan would cost $15.9 million.

"I think the report is excellent. I like the ideas here," council member John Prendiville said. "The question for the council is what our priorities will be and how will we be able to finance it?"

Palmer stressed that the council and future city councils could pick and choose, solely implementing the parts of the 129-page plan they preferred.

Regardless, he said, recent development in the area is a sign of good things to come. Palmer expressed hope that the council would formally adopt the plan in the coming weeks.

"I think that activity is picking up and will continue to pick up," he said. "I think it's the question of really how you tie it together and get the most bang for the buck in the future."

The council has final say on how the project will be funded. Suggested funding m ethods include expanding Tax Increment Financing d istricts in the downtown area and renewing the TIF designation on existing districts to help offset the cost, a ccording to do c uments provided by Design Worksh op.


Outline of base plan

• Phase 1: Upgrades to South Main Street, Liberty Drive and central park – 3 to 5 years, $15.9 million
• Phase 2: Completion of signage and gateway enhancement – 3.5 years, $800,000
• Phase 3: Completion of Hale Street – 5 to 10 years, $4.1 million
• Phase 4: Completion of Karlskoga Avenue – 10 to 15 years, $2.2 million
• Phase 5: General upgrades to existing pedestrian streets north of the railroad – 10 to 20 years, $11.9 million


By the numbers

A study conducted by Design Workshop indicates that Wheaton can add 80,000 square feet in retail, 50,000 to 75,000 square feet of office space and 1,000 residential units during the next 20 years.


Suggested improvements

• Bicycle path
• Remove parking meters
• Prairie Path improvements
• Creation of "green alleys" with outdoor dining
• Improved pedestrian crossing
• Emphasis on culture, history and art of Wheaton
• Explore expansion of festivals in downtown

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