Engineering work starts on downtown Wheaton streetscape plan

The first stage of a much-anticipated plan to transform Wheaton's downtown could begin this fall with the replacement of underground infrastructure on Front Street.Creating a more vibrant downtown with new gathering spaces and streetscape could cost more...

Engineering work starts on downtown Wheaton streetscape plan

The first stage of a much-anticipated plan to transform Wheaton's downtown could begin this fall with the replacement of underground infrastructure on Front Street.

Creating a more vibrant downtown with new gathering spaces and streetscape could cost more than $27 million and take four to five years to complete. But city council members have chosen to focus first on a segment on Front Street -- between West and Cross streets -- before finalizing the project's scope and budget.

Front Street also became a priority because of deteriorating infrastructure. The city has approved a $537,090 contract with Primera Engineers to do three rounds of designs for improvements along the east-west road.

The council will review the firm's proposals over the spring and summer. Work to replace and repair aging utilities such as water mains and sewers could start in October.

Reconstruction of Front Street and its sidewalks would not start until spring 2018 if the council agrees to proceed. Crews would move down Front in a "linear fashion" and then snake around back to help minimize the disruption for businesses, City Manager Mike Dzugan said.

New streetscape on Front -- trees, lighting, signs -- would provide a "template" for the other arteries downtown, Dzugan told the council in August. The second phase of the project would address Wesley Street. The city would then redo West and Main streets in the third phase. The final year of the plan isn't "set in stone," Dzugan said, and has involved some debate about building a permanent structure for the outdoor French Market.

Economic development officials have approached the operators about making a contribution to the construction of the structure in exchange for a long-term lease to run the market along Liberty Drive.

Some city council members have made clear they want to invest in the area south of the railroad tracks to help spur redevelopment. A parking lot just west of Main Street also could be converted into a park. And Liberty could become a "festival street," lined with trees, native plantings and curbs flush with the road to encourage pedestrian traffic.

"There's still a lot to happen in order to define what these spaces will look like," Dzugan said.

The city has proposed earmarking most of the funding, about $18 million, from a downtown tax increment financing district. In a TIF district, as redevelopment boosts property values, the extra tax revenue that otherwise would go to taxing bodies can be used to pay for improvements to the area for up to 23 years.

Wheaton officials have spent more than four years developing the plan with the city's consultant, Design Workshops, business owners and homeowners.

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