“North Downtown” Streetscaping – A Proposal for DRI ‘Welcome Sign’ Windfall

The city of Geneva announced in late January that the proposed “Welcome Sign” DRI project would be scrapped, and the funds originally allocated for the sign would instead be added to the existing $1.75 million downtown streetscaping DRI project.

The following proposal would not only create improved streetscaping at the north end of the downtown business district, but it would also help connect the residents of the north side with downtown and the lakefront, while fulfilling some of the goals from three out of five prioritized “Initiatives” in the City of Geneva’s Comprehensive Plan.

North Downtown”

The Geneva Business Improvement District (BID) map has defined the borders of the city’s downtown since the 1980s. All property owners within the BID pay an annual fee, which is to provide those property owners with certain benefits and services.

Exchange Street from Lake Street to Middle Street is still not always considered a part of “downtown.” But at least twelve different local businesses, including four restaurants, exist in this area of “North Downtown,” with some commercial spaces currently vacant as well. “North Downtown” is also the gateway between the north end (Wards 5 and 6) and the lakefront.

Exchange St and Middle Street (on left) entering downtown

The City’s Comprehensive Plan identifies a “Downtown Target Investment Area,” which will enjoy $4.75 million in total improvements from the DRI award, including $1.75 million for streetscaping Exchange and Castle Streets.

Now that the prioritized area of downtown is assured of getting the attention it needs, it’s time for the city allocate the newly-available funds (at least $142,000) to extend the streetscape project into the northern end of downtown.

Exchange St. going north, Railroad Pl. on right

Perhaps most importantly, this proposed streetscaping of “North Downtown” strongly aligns with numerous goals and recommendations within the City of Geneva Comprehensive Plan.

Comprehensive Plan Initiative “Downtown Critical Mass”

One of the five “Initiatives” in the Comprehensive Plan is “Downtown Critical Mass,” which aims to cultivate a “critical mass of quality public space and residential and business activity.” Streetscaping in North Downtown will create downtown that is more accessible to residents, and more friendly to existing and future businesses.

“Enhanced accessibility” and “downtown streetscape maintenance and improvements” are high priorities for this Initiative, and Geneva is fortunate to have $1.75 million of DRI funds towards accomplishing this goal on Castle and Exchange. But the success of downtown and Geneva must involve the entire downtown business community and nearby residents.

Comprehensive Plan Initiative “Exchange Street/Hamilton Street Gateway Corridors”

Improving Route 14/Exchange Street between the city limits to downtown is another high priority of the Comprehensive Plan, in order to “instill greater pride in the adjacent neighborhoods, boost quality of life, and create a more positive experience for residents and visitors.”

The Exchange Street initiative calls for streetscape improvements “along Exchange Street and North Exchange Street to improve the street’s safety and appeal,” suggesting upgrades such as “benches, bus stop shelters, waste receptacles and bike racks.”

Comprehensive Plan Initiative “Great Geneva Amenities”

This Initiative aims to “make the lakefront and other key amenities more present in the life of the city by integrating them into the fabric of adjacent neighborhoods and ensuring high levels of maintenance,” and includes several recommendations related to the “Exchange Street/Hamilton Street Gateway Corridors” initiative.

Streetscape work in North Downtown would certainly “integrate Geneva’s lakefront into the fabric of adjacent neighborhoods.” Residents of Wards 5 and 6 would find an inviting and accessible path for the final ½ mile of the walk to the lakefront.

In fact, one of the specific goals of the initiative relates to facilitating “access to Lakefront Park from the East Lakeview Neighborhood by providing residents with a safer and more pleasant experience along a pedestrian and bicycle route that would utilize Exchange Street and the enhanced lakefront intersections.”

Applying Geneva’s Values for Decision-Making”

The Comprehensive Plan section about Geneva’s values states “Our values are the community’s most deeply held beliefs and they explain, and in many ways are, the basis for the vision.”

The above list includes numerous examples of our shared values, as stated in the Comprehensive Plan, that are in alignment with the North Downtown streetscaping proposal.

The Geneva Foundry Neighborhood

Finally, there’s a connection with the Geneva Foundry neighborhood within the North Downtown streetscape proposal. A section of the Foundry contamination zone is located within the area of the proposed streetscaping.

Beautifying and improving one street within the Foundry zone does not directly address the fears and needs of those impacted by the Foundry disaster in any way.

However, improving the walkability and appearance of Exchange Street in the Foundry zone would at least be a positive gesture by the city towards the affected neighborhoods. It would, at least in some small way, improve the quality of life for those whose lives have been upended by no fault of their own.

No Welcome Sign Needed

Not only would the North Downtown streetscaping project make residents of the north side feel more connected to downtown, it would let all visitors traveling the Exchange Street corridor to downtown and the lakefront feel welcome.

If you support this proposal, please share it widely and let your City Councilors know that you’d like to see the “extra” DRI dollars spent in a way that truly benefits both residents and visitors to our lakefront and downtown.


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