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Twin Cities Talk: 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? Respondents to Sterling’s community perception survey consistently said the downtown is not the asset it could be.

Hadley Skeffington-Vos, assistant to City Manager Scott Shumard, presented the survey’s results at the council meeting on March 4.

At the same meeting, Heather Sotelo, a board member for the development group Sterling Today, introduced a new project that could very well spice up things 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 their proposal, each end of the alley would be gated, and the alley itself lined with festival streetlights and wrought-iron fence, creating a weekend gathering place, a spot to dine, and an inviting stroll to and from several venues.

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.

The momentum already in is there, Sotelo said, noting plans to serve food, drinks and movies at the renovated Sterling Theater when it opens in the spring.

It’s that kind of experience Sterling now lacks.

Mayor Skip Lee said he wasn’t in favor of such a development at first. But the survey responses clearly show the downtown isn’t a point of pride for residents.

“Times are a changing,” Lee said after the proposal was introduced Monday, adding that such improvements are a good thing for the downtown.

The city conducted the community perception study to determine what its priorities should be moving forward. This project 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 or at 800-798-4085, ext. 529.

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