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Linking survey results to action

Question: What are most visitors to Sterling attracted by?

Answer: Special events; the Rock River; parks; retail; Westwood and finally, downtown Sterling.

Question: What are most residents in Sterling attracted by?

Answer: Family, small-town atmosphere; affordable cost of living; schools; parks and green space; great/ convenient location and finally, downtown Sterling.

Question: What is the most defining asset of Sterling?

Answer: Small-town feel came in first; downtown Sterling was ranked last.

See a pattern? Consistently throughout the responses to Sterling's community perception survey, respondents felt downtown Sterling was not an appealing asset the city possessed.

Hadley Skeffington-Vos, assistant to City Manager Scott Shumard, presented the results to the survey during the council meeting on Monday night. During the same meeting, Heather Sotelo, a board member for Sterling Today, introduced a new project that could very well spice things up downtown.

Sterling Today is working with Denny Strader, owner of Champs Sports Bar & Grill, to develop Light Street, the alley that runs from Second to Fourth streets.

Under the proposal, each end of the alley would be gated. The alley would be lined with festival streetlights and wrought-iron fencing, Sotelo told the council.

The idea is to create a festive downtown atmosphere, similar to cities in the suburbs, such as Naperville, Sotelo said.

I grew up in Naperville and spent a lot of time downtown. There are ample places for people to gather and enjoy the water and scenery while dining. Sotelo painted a similar picture once the Light Street improvements are completed.

The Light Street improvements are being coordinated with upgrades Strader plans to make to his establishment. He wants to make improvements to the easternmost part of his building, adjacent to the alley, where he plans to install a full-panel glass garage door

Champs would use the alleyway on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Having a festive alleyway downtown, especially on Fridays, could build on the crowds that already attend Fourth Fridays: Where People and Arts Collide.

Sotelo noted the momentum already in place downtown. Plans are moving ahead to open the renovated Sterling Theater this spring.

Such an experience in Sterling is something the city doesn't have now. It is a change from the already existing atmosphere, which may not please some people.

Mayor Skip Lee himself said he initially wasn't in favor of such a development. But the survey responses clearly show downtown isn't a point of pride for Sterling residents right now.

"Times are a changing," Lee said after the proposal was introduced on Monday. He said the improvements to the area downtown are a good thing for Sterling.

The city conducted the community perception study to determine what its priorities should be moving forward. Downtown was underrated throughout the survey. The project proposed Monday seems to take the information garnered and provide a concrete way to improve the climate downtown.

Sauk Valley Media reporter Kiran Sood covers government and happenings in Sterling and Rock Falls. She can be reached at ksood@saukvalley.com or at 800-798-4085, ext. 529.

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