News - Kane County

St. Charles looking at possibly scaling back plans to expand First Street Plaza

Alderpersons on Monday will receive an update on the expansion of the First Street Plaza in downtown St. Charles.

With fundraising efforts falling short, plans to expand First Street Plaza in downtown St. Charles may be scaled back.

But first, St. Charles alderpersons want to see how much it will cost to finish the project. In 2020, alderpersons unanimously voted to purchase the former Manor Restaurant site at the southeast corner of Main and First streets for $1 million in order to expand the First Street Plaza.

The first phase of the expansion project was completed this past spring, which included building a retaining wall along the Fox River and filling in the hole where the Manor Restaurant had been located following its demolition. The second phase of the project includes a plaza featuring a solar pergola trellis along with the installation of public art.

Plans also call for closing a section of First Street to vehicles to create a pedestrian walkway. Completing the project is expected to cost the city $2.5 million, a number that several alderpersons balked at.

“I like the project,” 4th Ward Alderperson Bryan Wirball said during the St. Charles City Council’s Planning and Development Committee meeting Monday. “I don’t have an issue with completing the project. For me, it’s about funding. To me, it’s about priorities. Where are our priorities? I have constituents that ask about their streets. It’s hard for me to justify spending $2.5 million when I have roads that need replacement or sidewalks or things of that nature.”

Site acquisition, design and construction costs for the first phase were about $2 million. With grants and donations totaling $794,171 – including a $600,000 grant from Exelon and a $56,153 Kane County Riverboat Grant, the city paid $1.2 million in net costs.

The project’s second and final phase is estimated to cost about $3.2 million. With donations received or pledged so far at $671,621, the city would pay about $2.5 million.

The St. Charles Initiative, an independent advisory committee under the umbrella of the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley, is raising funds for the project.

First Ward Alderperson Ron Silkaitis had similar concerns.

“I do appreciate what the St. Charles Initiative has done,” he said. “They raised a lot of money. I remember when we had a meeting years ago. We were told that if the city provided our part of the financing within the first phase, which we did, the initiative would raise the rest of the money. No taxpayer money would be involved in this. Now I see we’re short $2.5 million. My first question is where is this money going to come from? I don’t remember budgeting for it this year or next year.”

St. Charles Finance Director Bill Hannah said the city has been setting aside money in its capital projects fund for the past couple of years.

Several alderpersons said the city’s priority should be creating the pedestrian walkway. They wanted to see how much it would cost just to do that portion of the project as well as what it would cost to complete the entire project.

The city plans to go out to bid for phase two in January and plans to open the bids in February. As proposed, the City Council would approve the bids in March.

As proposed, construction would begin in March. It is estimated it would take nine months to complete the project.

If part of the work is delayed, that could result in costs rising because of inflation.

“We’re dealing with some inflationary costs now that are around 8% a year,” St. Charles Public Works Director Pete Suhr said. “Hopefully that starts to settle down, but if this goes into two or three years of phasing then you’re going to continue to get additional increases in costs for the total project.”

City Administrator Heather McGuire said the city would want to wrap up the project sooner rather than later to minimize disruptions to businesses.

“Certainly outdoor dining has become a huge thing,” McGuire said. “Because of the construction schedule being about nine months, we know this is going to be an interruption to the businesses and the entire city while we’re doing it. So rather than trying to split this over two years and interrupting outdoor dining seasons and outdoor weather seasons for our residents, we’re going to try and minimize that and make this as efficient as possible.”

McGuire said fundraising efforts will continue.

“The initiative would absolutely love to hand the city a check for 100% of the project,” she said. “I believe all of the fundraising efforts will continue even it the city decides to fund this project.”