July 12, 2011

Illinois Supreme Court ruling renews hope for Riverside Drive Promenade

Published July 12, 2011
A court ruling Monday may free up funding for the Riverside Drive Promenade project. (Hitchcock Design Group)
By Ted Schnell • BocaJump
The first thing you might notice while walking along the old Riverside Drive parking deck that juts out over the eastern shore of the Fox River in downtown Elgin is the element of decay.

Weeds have grown upward from cracks in the pavement. A concrete barrier bars vehicles from most of the deck’s former southbound lane, because the deck’s underpinnings have weakened with time and may not support a vehicle’s weight.
In fact, a fairly large area, where the decking is in disarray, has been cordoned off by a tall, chain-link fence, lest an unwary pedestrian or bicyclist be swallowed by the deteriorating structure.

Even along the Riverside Drive’s eastern edge, where vehicles and pedestrians are allowed, there is a sense of deterioration, despite new buildings that have gone up along it in recent years. City officials long have wanted to transform this area into an $8 million riverfront showcase called the Riverside Drive Promenade.

Monday’s unanimous Illinois Supreme Court ruling sets the stage for the release of $8 million in state funding pledged to the Elgin riverfront project and will allow the city to call for bids for the project this fall.

The promenade is a key part of Elgin’s riverfront revitalization effort and is intended to encourage more redevelopment, public space and transportation projects. Riverside Drive Promenade involves the complete redevelopment of the Riverside Drive right-of-way and the adjacent parking deck into an urban riverfront plaza connected to Elgin’s Festival Park. It will create a large urban park right next to the downtown retail corridor with the goal of adding new commercial buildings to nearby empty lots.

Last October, hopes rose that it soon would happen when Gov. Pat Quinn announced that the state would provide an $8 million River Edge Redevelopment grant to the city. The project to create an urban riverfront plaza was to be funded through the state’s $31 billion Illinois Jobs Now! capital program.

The money would be used to demolish the old Riverside Drive decking and to build a new, environmentally sensitive . Officials said the project would create an estimated 100 construction jobs and nearly 120 permanent, private-sector jobs.

Any celebration of the announcement was short-lived, however. The state’s financial woes already were well-known, and city officials pledged at the time that no contracts would be signed until the state grant money was in hand.

Then came Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Illinois Jobs Now! Capital plan. One court ruling threatened the future of the $31 billion capital bill and its funding for the Elgin project.

No longer: The Illinois Supreme Court on Monday handed down its unanimous decision that the capital bill passed constitutional muster. That sets the stage for the release of the funds pledged to the Elgin riverfront project.

While relieved at the ruling, city officials are sticking to the same, cautious approach they’ve learned to heed when dealing with state monies in recent years.

“Where we’re in the phase right now is where we can begin issuing bids in the fall,” said Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal said Monday.

“We can move forward with it – we won’t award bids until we have the money,” City Manager Sean Stegall added. “We’re a lot closer. We can put it out to bid.”

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