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Local

A more vibrant downtown

Developers planning 3-block-long 'alley of lights'

STERLING – The owner of a downtown business is teaming up with a local nonprofit development group to create a new entertainment venue.

Sterling Today board member Heather Sotelo told the City Council on Monday about plans to develop Light Street, the alley that runs from Second to Fourth streets.

The project ties into renovations Sterling Today is coordinating with Denny Strader, owner of Champs Sports Bar & Grill at 11 E. Third St.

Under the proposal, each end of the alley would be gated. The alley would be lined with festival streetlights and wrought-iron fencing, which Sterling Today would pay for, she said.

The project would mesh with improvements Strader wants to make to the easternmost part of his building, adjacent to the alley, where he plans to install a full-panel glass garage door. In warmer months, the door will be opened to allow patrons to "be one with nature," Sotelo said.

Champs would use the alleyway Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The developers are asking the council to lease it to Strader. Members agreed to have the city attorney draw up a lease, which the council could approve at its next meeting.

"The idea was brought up as what is done in many progressive communities, where alleys are turned into lighted areas, outdoor eating establishments," Sotelo said. "Many of us have been to these in other communities.

"It's something that you go, you sit outside, you eat, you drink. It's something that we don't have at this point."

Survey finds city should focus on promoting economic opportunities

STERLING – About 2 months ago, Sterling city officials asked people a simple question: When you think of Sterling, what three words come to mind?

It turns out, people still strongly associate Sterling with the way the city was when the steel industry was at its peak. The top response to that question in the survey was Northwestern Steel & Wire Co.

This question was part of a survey given to residents and non-residents, intended to help the city determine what its priorities should be. The survey was led by Hadley Skeffington-Vos, assistant to City Manager Scott Shumard.

Overall, 328 people completed the survey; 27 percent were ages 55 to 64 while 22.5 percent were 35 to 44.

What are Sterling's greatest challenges? The loss of jobs and industry; crime, and blight and run down neighborhoods, respondents said.

How would outsiders describe Sterling? "In economic decline," low income, unemployment, one-way streets were the answers.

The greatest opportunity for growth in Sterling is to attract more businesses, participants said. Along the same lines, the greatest challenge facing Sterling is the lack of industry and jobs.

More jobs would have the most economic impact.

Heather Sotelo, executive director of the Greater Sterling Development Corp., said she already is working on how to better promote job opportunities in the area.

She said she has heard from area employers struggling to fill skilled and unskilled jobs. For example, she said there are a handful of jobs posted on the career page for Wahl Clipper, including six engineering jobs.

Sotelo and Skeffington-Vos said they will continue to have conversations about promoting jobs and creating awareness of economic opportunities already in existence.

To learn more

The results of the Sterling community branding survey will be posted on the city’s website, sterling-il.gov, along with a link to the original survey and tonight's presentation.

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