Riverside residents believe an effort should be made to beautify downtown buildings facing the scores of commuter trains that rumble by each day and take fuller advantage of its riverfront location – at least that’s what most people attending a recent downtown planning workshop indicated.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) kicked off its planning effort for Riverside’s central business district with a public meeting on April 11 in the auditorium of the Riverside Township Hall.

Approximately 60 people attended the meeting, where CMAP’s lead planner for the project, Trevor Dick, asked attendees to identify the biggest issues facing the central business district.

In addition to the unappealing view from the train and underuse of the riverfront as an asset, residents who attended also said they would like to see the village explore a mothballed “boardwalk” concept for East Burlington Street, to leverage the village’s history and Brookfield Zoo to attract visitors, to provide more parking, to increase the sales tax base and be more-pro-business in general.

Among the things holding the business district back, according to those who offered suggestions, were bland architecture, the lack of destination shopping, poor signage and the fact that Burlington Street and Quincy Street are cut off from one another by the busy rail crossing.

“We need to change the perception of Riverside from outside of the community,” said one man, who specifically referred to the view of the downtown from the trains. “We have to change the perception, that Riverside is open for business.”

One woman said that the village could do a better job of highlighting its architectural heritage, particularly its association with Frank Lloyd Wright.

“I think we’re barking up the wrong tree, trying to make Frederick Law Olmsted the big attraction here,” she said. “Not that many people are really interested in landscape architecture. … What is amazing to me is that not one person here has mentioned the fact that we have Frank Lloyd Wright houses, and that’s a huge draw.”

Robin Snyder Mooney, who co-owns Arcade Jewelers on East Burlington Street, also decried a lack of places for people to stay when they visit Riverside, saying the village could use a bed-and-breakfast, for example.

One man suggested that one of the things holding the downtown area back is a lack of space for redevelopment. With a fully built-up downtown, there’s no room for contemporary commercial development, he said.

However, when it came time for attendees to vote on how issues stacked up against one another, creating space for redevelopment rated low on the totem pole.

Still others, women in particular, said that the dim lighting downtown at night is a drawback.

“You get off the train and it looks like Riverside is already asleep,” said one woman.

Nearly all of the members of the village board were at the meeting, scattered throughout the crowd, providing some input of their own and hearing what residents had to say.

The point of the meeting was to gather input about existing conditions in the village. That information, along with information CMAP has gathered through interviews with key stakeholders and a steering committee comprising members of village advisory commissions, will become the basis of a report rolled out later this summer.

Once that report is filed, residents will again get a chance to provide input on a vision for the downtown. A final report, including recommendations for implementing a downtown plan, is expected to be complete by early 2013.