It’s going to be a dusty, raucous couple of months in downtown Riverside. The long-anticipated $2.3 million project to completely makeover the streetscape on East Burlington Street began on March 14 with the ear-splitting metallic whirr of a concrete saw, slicing through the old “Suwannee River” aggregate concrete sidewalks.
The 1980s-era streetscape, the child of local architect the late Edward Straka, has now started its exit. Although those sidewalks and the ground-level planters will still exist elsewhere in downtown Riverside for some time to come, the old design’s days are numbered.
The design of East Burlington Street, with a mix of permeable and impervious sidewalk pavers and raised stone planting beds, is to be the model for the rest of the downtown as money becomes available.
It’s going to look a lot different. And, at first, it might seem like a shock.
But before we get too nostalgic for what’s being replaced, residents might be comforted to know that the Straka design — particularly the ground-level planting beds — drew complaints from the start. Over time, Riverside grew used to the often barren planting beds.
Our guess is that the new design, while it might be a real eye-opener at first, will also grow on residents, particularly if downtown Riverside begins to show signs of life.
On the eve of the project starting, there are at least two new restaurants headed downtown — one on either side of the street. With the village’s openness to providing sales tax and other incentives to prospective business owners, it could open the door for more things to come on East Burlington Street.
Riverside is never going to be downtown LaGrange or Elmhurst. No one wants it to be that. But there’s a confluence of events right now that bodes well for that area. The village has seen an opportunity and is trying to take advantage of it.