YORKVILLE – The city of Yorkville is making no small plans for its historic downtown.
An ambitious $4.6 million infrastructure project is designed to make the downtown a shopping and dining destination, attracting pedestrians with a variety of improvements that will make the area more walkable and attractive.
The project area extends about a block in each direction along South Bridge Street (Route 47) from the south bank of the Fox River on the north to Fox Road on the south.
A major focus of the project will be the East Alley, behind the Bridge Street buildings between East Hydraulic and East Van Emmon streets, where the city set up tables, seating, portable toilets and handwashing stations to facilitate outdoor dining during the pandemic.
The work there will be to replace a problematic water main, remove contaminated soils and eliminate unsightly utility poles by burying the power lines. A façade beautification program for businesses along the alleyway also would be included.
Community Development Director Krysti Barksdale-Noble said the improvements are designed to open up the alley for pedestrians and make the area more attractive for dining.
“It will clear out and declutter the space and create a designated area for outdoor dining,” Barksdale-Noble said.
The water main on Hydraulic Street also would be replaced and the roadway reconstructed from Bridge to Mill streets.
The plan also calls for improving the pedestrian crossings over the railroad tracks at both the East Alley and Heustis Street, including the installation of crossing gates for greater safety.
The improved crossings would provide a better connection between the businesses and Riverfront Park.
In the city-owned parking lot at the northeast corner of Bridge and Hydraulic streets, the city plans to install three or four pop-up sheds to be leased for small start-up businesses.
To the south, decorative overhead lighting will be strung along Van Emmon Street for a block in each direction from of Bridge Street.
Artists would be commissioned to paint gigantic murals on the expansive brick side walls of two prominent downtown builds.
One of the murals would be on the north wall of the Crusade Burger Bar building at 209 S. Bridge Street, greeting visitors as they cross south over the bridge and the railroad tracks into the downtown area.
The other would be painted onto the south wall of the Law Office Pub & Music Hall building at 226 S. Bridge St., welcoming motorists and pedestrians traveling north.
In addition, the entire downtown area’s wi-fi broadband service would be upgraded, allowing visitors to better use their mobile devices while relaxing at restaurants or working from offices.
“Wi-fi coverage is spotty the downtown,” Barksdale-Noble said. “When people are dining outside we want to encourage them to post pictures of their experience.”
The entire project is aimed at transforming the downtown into a dynamic district for shopping, dining and entertainment.
In fact, city leaders have dubbed the proposal with the catchy DYNAMIC acronym, for Downtown Yorkville Neighborhood and Mainstreet Improvement Corridor.
Much of the project is to be financed with a $3 million state economic development grant.
The city administration is expected to submit the grant request in January, after the Yorkville City Council gives its approval at the Dec. 14 meeting, City Administrator Bart Olson said.
Most of the city’s $1.6 million share will come from its water fund, covering costs for the East Alley water mains, soil remediation and other work that must be performed anyway.
About $1.4 million of the $3 million state grant would be applied to the water main and street reconstruction work on Hydraulic.
About $265,000 in new costs to the city would result from the local share for installation of the overhead lighting on East and West Van Emmon.
The lighting will not only be attractive but provide improved visibility for pedestrians on both sides of the busy intersection at Van Emmon and Bridge streets, Barksdale-Noble said.
Three or four of the pop-up kiosks are to be installed in the parking lot at the northeast corner of Bridge and Hydraulic streets and leased out to start-up businesses.
The sheds, similar to a successful program in downtown Batavia, would be equipped with electrical service but no plumbing.
Preference will be given to those whose businesses were affected by the pandemic, Barksdale-Noble said.
If the grant is approved by the state, engineering plans could get underway. Actual construction would be completed sometime in 2024, Barksdale-Noble said.