Utica trustees want to build portable retail shops

Village seeking grant to develop north end of Mill Street

Utica hopes to build an arcade of portable retail buildings to the north of the tornado memorial — and the village is prepared to put $250,000 behind it if awarded a grant.

Monday, the Utica Village Board voted 5-0 to enter into an agreement with North Central Illinois Council of Governments to help the village apply for more than $1 million from the Rebuild Downtown and Main Street Grant Program.

If awarded, Utica would develop some of the village-owned parcels in the flood plain north of downtown and establish retail shops — modeled after the seasonal shopping arcade in Batavia and Muskegon, Mich. — all elevated above the flood plain.

“They (the city of Batavia) own the property and they lease the space,” said Utica Mayor David Stewart. “We would do the same thing.”

And in a companion vote, the village board agreed to committed $250,000 (20% of the projected costs) to the project — if and only if the grant is awarded.

Village Engineer Kevin Heitz said the plans are preliminary and fluid, but he envisions 12 small buildings — working title: Mini Mill Street Shops — to be located north of the tornado memorial. Projected costs are between $1.2 million to $1.5 million, with the village investing $250,000 to show the grant authority they are committed to the project.

The grant, if awarded, would include improvements to the portion of Mill Street north of Church Street.

“Although I really see this taking off,” Heitz allowed, “I’d like to keep these portable in case brick-and-mortar construction comes along.”

Stewart asked trustees to reach out to business owners and constituents to submit letters of support and help make the case for a grant. The grant application deadline is Jan. 10.