Proposed expansion of First Street Plaza in St. Charles continues to move forward

The first phase of a project to expand the First Street Plaza in downtown St. Charles could be done in time to welcome in the Christmas season as part of the city’s Holiday Homecoming event.

Plans to expand First Street Plaza continue to move forward. At the City Council’s Government Services Committee meeting on Monday, aldermen unanimously recommended approving a $182,805 contract with Professional Services Agreement with Serena Sturm Architects to prepare construction documents for the entire project, including phase one and phase two.

The project site is defined by Main Street on the north, Fox River on the east, the Alter Brewing building on the south and the entire First Street ROW from Main Street to Walnut Street. 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.

The St. Charles Initiative has agreed to pay $100,000 of the cost of the construction documents, which represents about 55% of the total cost. As proposed, the city would contribute $82,805 toward the cost.

Last year, aldermen 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. That purchase included a $400,000 donation from the city and a $600,000 donation from Exelon.

As part of the project’s first phase, a structural wall along the existing Manor wall would be constructed.

“That would be used to fill the Manor hole that sits there today to create a safe and usable outdoor public space,” St. Charles Public Works Director Pete Suhr told aldermen. “The space which is currently fenced off and not usable to the community will be accessible.”

A railing would be placed along the Fox River as part of the project. Phase one could be completed by November, he said.

Future plans include a paved plaza in addition to a solar pergola structure that would help power the plaza and the structure. Public art would also be installed as part of the project and plans also call for closing a section of First Street to vehicles to create a pedestrian walkway.

As St. Charles Public Works Director Pete Suhr told aldermen, the project remains on schedule.

“The design development phase of the project which was approved back in February is now complete,” he said.

As of now, the project would cost $3.4 million to complete, Suhr told aldermen, which is about a 15% increase since plans were discussed last October. However, he said city staff is trying to mitigate those costs.

Part of the increase can be attributed to the escalating cost of wood and steel, Suhr said.

“We will continue to look at the market conditions, especially in the near future,” he said. “Maybe it will settle by the time we bid most of this project.”

In addition, he said staff will continue to look at reducing the project’s scope without jeopardizing the idea behind the project.

“I think there are ways to do that, especially with things that are underground or things that you can’t see,” Suhr said. “One way we can do that also is to use bid alternatives and potential phasing of the project, more than we are considering now. We’ll be working with our consultants and establish alternatives, which can be bid separately, almost like a shopping list.”

Fundraising opportunities will also be looked at, he said.

“We’ll be continuing to work with the St. Charles Initiative to determine if any cost increases can be tolerated or not,” Suhr said.

That also includes the possibility of more fundraising for the project, he said. However, the first phase of the project is fully funded.

Eric Schelkopf

Eric Schelkopf covers St. Charles and writes entertainment stories for the Kane County Chronicle.