STERLING – The city has a three-tiered plan for making the riverfront a recreational destination, and starting Monday, leaders will get to work on bringing it to fruition.
With the progress made in cleaning up the mill site, the city has been able to turn its attention to redeveloping the riverfront for public use.
Last summer, City Planner Dustin Wolff was tasked with developing a plan for making the riverfront more accessible and enjoyable. Wolff brought a plan back to the City Council in September that was loosely based on a master plan that had been done several years earlier.
“We had presented alternatives for redeveloping the city’s land on the riverfront before the holidays, and now we want to talk about some of the details,” Wolff said.
Wolff will be at Monday’s council meeting to pick up the riverfront conversation, with an emphasis on accessibility and safety. Part of the safety issue is figuring out how to curb vandalism.
The city wants to put in walkways, and in addition to lighting, is considering safety elements such as videocameras, public Wi-Fi, and emergency call boxes.
“We are initially looking to get people safely from Wallace Street to the water’s edge,” Wolff said.
The first phase, which wouldn’t necessarily be done first, would be focused on getting people from Wallace to the riverfront and from Gateway Plaza to the overlook.
“This phase builds on investments that have already been made, such as the plaza, curbs and sidewalks,” Wolff said.
The second phase of the project features a multi-use trail that loops from the riverfront to the plaza. Another path that can hold water converts to an ice rink and skating ribbon, and there would be a nearby warming house.
The third phase calls for a splash pad and fire ring area.
While the city has plenty of parks, the riverfront plans aim higher. The goal is to equip the area for many uses – everything from a simple timeout for solitude to accommodating special events on a large scale.
“We want more than 9 to 5 activity down there – people want to work and play in the same space.”
For the bigger events, an amphitheater would be the star of the show on the west side of the downtown riverfront area. It would be paired with an abundance of green space, including a city garden, and parking areas that would be linked with a pedestrian bridge.
Large parking areas would be located on the east and west sides, which would be linked by a pedestrian bridge. It’s possible that a walk bridge could be built to connect the new recreational area with Lawrence Park.
When Wolff presented the plans to the council, they came without a price tag. Those numbers should be ready for Monday’s session.
“We need to get to a point where we figure out what’s next with this,” City Manager Scott Shumard said. “We’re going to talk about amenities, and we’ll also find out how much each section will cost.”
There’s no timeline for doing the work, but answering the question of how to pay for it will go a long way in making that determination.
The city is just getting started on the next budget, so officials don’t yet have a handle on what is available from city funds. Sales tax money could be used, but most of that has been dedicated to sewer and road projects. Riverfront TIF funds are another possibility, but the revenue streams are limited.
As the city gets a better handle on the scope of the work, money could be saved by doing some of it internally.
“There are things we could do ourselves, but that takes time away from other things that Public Works needs to be doing,” Shumard said.
All of the amenities previously discussed are still on the table, and the city would like more input from residents.
“We’d like more feedback to help us prioritize what’s in the plans,” Shumard said. “We need more specifics from residents so we know how much to invest where.”
Unrelated to the riverfront, Wolff also will address a resident’s safety concern about the intersection of First Avenue and Miller. A request was made to put a stop sign at the intersection. The police officer who had done traffic analysis for the city has retired, so Wolff will handle the request.
The City Council will discuss the riverfront park plans when it next meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 212 Third Ave., in the first-floor Council Chambers.
Go to sterling-il.gov or call City Hall at 815-632-6621 for an agenda or more information.