GURNEE – When Richard Welton became mayor of Gurnee at 29-years old in 1973, the life-long resident had a vision to build the kind of community where people don't leave after high school.
"I wanted to build a community where people would stay – where our kids would stay. A community of opportunities," Welton said.
Welton's work is being honored by the village of Gurnee with a resolution designating vacant property at 4575 Old Grand Avenue as the Richard A. Welton Village Plaza. The village board unveiled plans for the plaza, with a seating area and eating area, at its Feb. 24 meeting.
Welton said he's "grateful, humbled and honored" by the dedication.
Mayor Kristina Kovarik said the gesture is a reflection of the village's admiration for Welton's contributions to the community.
"The location is perfect since it is in the center of the village, highly visible and the original site of the village hall where Mayor Welton dedicated so many years to building this community," Kovarik said in a news release from the village.
The major projects of Welton's career – the opening of Mariott's Great America and Gurnee Mills, the development of Pembrook and HeatherRidge and founding of the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency – set the tone and provided the revenue to grow a community of 3,000 into a community of 30,000, Welton said.
Bronze plaques outlining those moments in Gurnee's history during his 1973-2001 tenure will fill the plaza.
Welton said he'd like the markers to "pay tribute to the developments that made Gurnee a balanced community with nice housing, good jobs and plenty of shopping."
Kovarik said, "I want it to be somewhere people can relax and enjoy time with their neighbors."
Management analyst Erik Jensen said the village has $50,000 planned for the park in the coming year. Funds will come from the village's capital fund, he said.
"We hope to work with Gurnee Park District and Warren Township on continual site maintenance and seek in-kind donations and contributions from local businesses and private donors to help offset taxpayer expenses," Jensen said.
The village is working on engineering and designs for the area, which is located on a flood plain. The parking lot is the first priority because it's in bad shape due to flooding, Kovarik said. The village will not build rain gardens, but will plant natural vegetation that can withstand flooding, she said.
Susie Kuruvilla, executive director of Gurnee Park District, said though the village is doing most of the planning, the park district is excited to have another park.
"We're happy the community will have a park honoring a truly deserving person," Kuruvilla said. She added that the park will add a gathering space and parking to the Farmer's Market.
Welton serves on the village's Economic Development Committee, the PACE Suburban Bus Board and participates with local civic groups. He said he hopes the park will serve as a reminder that "Gurnee wasn't always the strong economic community it is today."