WHEATON – City officials have to scrap plans to improve Martin Memorial Plaza in downtown Wheaton because of restrictions put in place by Union Pacific and the Illinois Commerce Commission.
"The current lease that's in place does have limitations on the design, either through Union Pacific or through the Illinois Commerce Commission," Wheaton Assistant City Manager John Duguay told Wheaton City Council members during a planning session Oct. 9. "Specifically, the limitations are a 3-foot height limitation and also a limitation of no structures. Obviously, with the proposed design that we currently have, that can be problematic. The initial feel we get back from the UP is that it is not a positive one. We don't have a lot of confidence that they will allow this design as we've proposed, although they haven't officially said no."
Martin Memorial Plaza is currently at the southwest corner of Front and Main streets. In the summer, the Downtown Wheaton Association Board of Directors had voted unanimously to recommend the plaza remain in place on the south side of Front Street. The majority of City Council members, including Mayor Michael Gresk, had said they also preferred to see the plaza remain on the south side rather than on the north side of the street.
Leaving the plaza as it is isn't an option because of the grading and slope work that needs to be done to make the area accessible to everyone, Duguay said.
"It's mandated, so Martin Plaza will be demolished," he said. "The question is, what goes in its place?"
During the Oct. 9 meeting, the consensus of the City Council was to move ahead with plans for a plaza on the north side of Front Street. Design Workshop will now develop some concepts and bring them back to the council in about a month.
The streetscape budget for the plaza is about $750,000.
"I'd like to stay within the budget that we have," councilwoman Suzanne Fitch said, in offering her thoughts about plans for a northside plaza. "I don't think that we need a fire pit personally, especially if it puts us over budget... I do like the cafe-style seating. I don't know if we need the bar top seating, especially if that puts us over budget."
Fitch said she would prefer to see bicycle parking on the south side of Front Street, closer to the Prairie Path. Councilman John Rutledge said he would like to see a "relatively simple" water feature as part of any new plaza.
Councilman Michael Barbier said the public also should have a say in what the plaza looks like.
Officials are finalizing plans for the first phase of a project to give downtown Wheaton a facelift. Phase one of the city's Downtown Streetscape Plan includes improvements to Front Street between West and Cross streets. That includes infrastructure improvements, wayfinding signage, benches, trees and improved lighting.
Utility work along Front Street recently started, while streetscape work is set to take place in the spring and fall of 2018.