You might have thought that getting the state to hand over $750,000 for a major streetscaping project in downtown Riverside would be the most difficult part of the process.
But less than a year after submitting an application to the state for the work (Riverside had already received another grant to resurface Burlington from Longcommon to Harlem), the governor last Saturday announced that the state, apparently, couldn’t give Riverside enough money.
In addition to about $820,000 in grant funding, long sought to repair the roof of the downtown train station, the state was also directing another three-quarters of a million dollars for the Burlington Street project.
While the train station work will take place later this year, it’ll be another year before any ground is broken on Burlington Street — and that’s a good thing. While the village put together a preliminary design for the grant application in less than a month last summer, it’s certainly just that — preliminary.
This will be a significant change (Village President Ben Sells calls it “historic”) for the central business district and will set a template for changes elsewhere in downtown Riverside, on East Quincy Street and Riverside Road south of the railroad tracks and in the area around Centennial Park.
As a result, Riverside needs to get the East Burlington Street design right, and make as many people happy as possible in the process while retaining Riverside’s quaint feel and look. We’re guessing this won’t come without some pushback from folks who would rather downtown Riverside stay roughly the way it is.
The kind of change being proposed is big. It widens the southern sidewalk to accommodate outdoor seating for businesses, includes benches, water fountains, bike racks and raised flower containers.
This is the kind of change that envisions a downtown where people are gathering, one that’s active. That vision of downtown Riverside is sure to excite many in the village. But it’s also going to make some people, who view Riverside as a place to escape that kind of activity, unhappy.
As usual, it will take firm leadership, but also flexible leadership to navigate the final design process. The public, it has been promised, will get its say. But the message is clear with the acceptance of this grant.
Riverside’s downtown is changing.