WHEATON – As construction work on Front Street in downtown Wheaton wraps up, Wheaton City Manager Michael Dzugan on Nov. 16 updated Wheaton Chamber of Commerce members about the city's Downtown Streetscape Plan.
The work on Front Street involved replacing aging water main and sanitary sewers.
"That's about $1.2 million worth of utility work," Dzugan said during the chamber's monthly membership luncheon. "They actually pulled out a sanitary sewer that was 100 years old."
Streetscape work is set to begin in the spring on Front Street, from Cross to West streets, he said. The work will include wayfinding signage, benches, trees and improved lighting.
"The remaining street segments will be done over the next four years," Dzugan said. "The total cost that we are looking at is $35 million. That, by far, is the largest public works project this city has ever done."
The city's two tax increment financing districts will pay for the majority of the streetscape improvements. The project includes relocating Martin Memorial Plaza, which is currently at the southwest corner of Front and Main streets. Leaving the plaza in its current location isn't an option because of the grading and slope work that needs to be done to make the area accessible to everyone, city officials said.
"It's mandated, so Martin Plaza will be demolished," Assistant City Manager John Duguay previously said. "The question is, what goes in its place?"
City officials are considering a new gathering space on the north side of Front Street. The budget for the plaza is $750,000.
During his presentation, Dzugan also noted the city's business and residential occupancy rates "are some of the highest in the country."
And he said it is hard for the city to prevent those vacancies that do exist.
"Beyond some zoning and some property maintenance enforcement efforts, there's really not much that the city can do to fill that vacancy," he said. "We don't own the property, we're not trying to rent the property... There are a variety of reasons for the small number of vacancies that we have experienced on an annual basis. Really, the city can't fix them. It takes motivated property owners and tenants to get it done, and there are many examples of that actually happening throughout our city."