The demise of the Riverside Central Business District project comes as no surprise (“Downtown Riverside facelift delayed ’til 2016,” News, Aug. 12). It was a badly designed project from the start and took our eye off real economic development. And now prices are 60 percent to 100 percent over budget?
This administration started out with great promise. The focus on the CMAP study as a tool for economic development was the perfect way forward and was strongly supported by the residents.
But then a politically connected engineering firm came to town dangling grant money in front of our elected officials and they took the bait — hook, line, and sinker. And who can blame them? That’s a lot of money.
But the way towards real economic growth is not a vanity project for the downtown but a thoughtful, deliberate and persistent plan based on the successful model of Berwyn using CMAP as the blueprint.
Let’s not waste this money. Instead, let’s change course and use it to implement the CMAP plan: restore our riverfront, partner with a local bank to provide interest-free loans for restaurant build-outs, facade improvements and “first month rent free” programs. Establish a concert series and build a real visitors center. A restaurateur doesn’t need new sidewalks, they need financing. The bike shop that wanted to rent the Arcade building didn’t need bike racks, they needed help with the rent.
Then follow up with a marketing campaign that will bring people to Riverside to shop in our stores and to buy our houses. A restaurant in the Village Center, historic façade renovations, and a bike shop in the Arcade building would do more for the appearance of our downtown than new sidewalks ever could.
I urge the board to please reconsider this project. Let not this be your legacy; a study on the shelf collecting dust. But instead, take a bold step forward and move Riverside in a positive direction.