Shopkeepers along North Illinois Street will give you sharply different opinions on the roadwork project tearing up the busy road through town.
Some business owners see a brighter future because of the changes; others are not happy and fear the construction will hurt their business — permanently.
For Mayor Mark Eckert, the plan is designed to create a “streetscape” entry to the city that will impress visitors headed into Belleville and spur economic development.
“This is going to be a big lift,” Eckert said. “It’s going to look good. It’s going to take the fresh look of downtown and go north and it’s going to take that new entranceway we did a number of years ago and it’s going to blend it into the downtown.
“I think it’s going to make people notice Belleville is once again taking an area and totally renewing it,” Eckert said. “So when people come here for the first time for Art on the Square or Chili Cook-off or the Christkindlmarkt or whatever reason brings them to town, that they’re going to have another really attractive entrance ... into downtown Belleville.”
Eckert believes the project will help spur economic development along the North Illinois corridor. After the work is finished, he looks forward to the possibility of new businesses moving into vacant buildings or taking over vacant lots. Also, he said current businesses may decide to paint or renovate their buildings.
The project, which is scheduled to be finished by next December, goes from Richland Creek on the north end south to A Street. There will be new pavement, turn lanes, sidewalks, curbs and antique-style streetlights. Also, on-street parking will no longer be permitted.
Business owners’ reactions are mixed
Kevin Rogers fears the streetscape project will hurt his family owned store, A-1 Vacuum at 617 N. Illinois St.
“It’s going to virtually run us out of business,” said Rogers, who is general manager of the Belleville store and the A-1 Vacuum in Collinsville. “We won’t have any parking for us or any of our patrons.”
Since the lane restrictions went into effect about Nov. 1, Rogers said, “We’ve really seen a drastic reduction in business.” He said members of his family have operated vacuum stores on this block for 50 years.
A couple blocks down the street at Home-Brite Ace Hardware at 400 N. Illinois St., you’ll get another reaction to the multimillion dollar construction project.
“I think when they’re finished, it’s going to be absolutely beautiful,” said Lyle Rowden, who owns the hardware store established by his grandfather in 1941.
Rowden said his business has actually increased since the roadwork temporarily blocked the North Illinois Street entrance to his store. He said customers have been using the High Street entrance and the weather has been nice so people have been buying a lot of Christmas lights.
“I’m excited about it because we’re going to have a turn lane in front of the business which we’ve never had before,” said Rowden, who has a parking lot for customers.
“Adding the turn lanes help with capacity,” City Engineer Tim Gregowicz said. “You don’t have people waiting behind somebody wanting to turn. It allows for a better flow.”
Rowden said he’s “thrilled” that new sidewalks are planned for the front of his store, too.
Gregowicz acknowledges it’s a hassle to deal with the construction zone but, “It’s worth it when we’re done.”
Eckert said, “I think it will be fine. It’s like anything else, when you have construction like this, you’re never going to make everybody totally happy.”
“Change will always hit different people differently,” Eckert said. “Some will embrace it and say, ‘Hey, I’m good with this.’”
“It’s going to be smoother and neater and cleaner and more attractive and then you’ll get some that will say ‘Well, they’re inconveniencing me and this is not the way it used to be.’”
Gregowicz said the Illinois Department of Transportation required that on-street parking be removed from the area being renovated.
“I think after a reasonable period of time, a lot of people will forget that there ever was parking on North Illinois,” Eckert said.
Rogers said he and his family are trying to figure out where customers can park. He said the land behind the shop is “very hilly.” Some customers have been parking on G Street while others have been going to the Collinsville store at 300 E. Main St. “People are finding a way in,” he said. But the roadwork is “making it very difficult.”
“We’re not going to turn our backs on our businesses but I understand IDOT’s point of view by getting parking off the street,” Eckert said. “It is going to make that flow better, those turn lanes, and it’s going to be safer.”
To make improvements to the intersection of F and Illinois streets, the city had to buy some properties and tear down buildings. Consequently, there may be space there to “possibly create a little parking and once things kind of settle down, we’re still going to look at,” Eckert said.
“We are looking at creating some additional parking at a couple of spots along the way,” he said. Also, he said the current parking lot off B Street may be repaved.
Eckert said the city does not envision additional lanes of traffic on North Illinois.
“It’s been looked at,” he said. “It’s been talked about.” But he noted, “It’s virtually impossible with some of those buildings on that stretch of Illinois Street built up against the sidewalk.”
The total cost for construction and pre-construction services is about $4.85 million, which was covered by local, state and federal funds.
Hank’s Excavating of Belleville won a $3.2 million road construction contract for the project. The contract calls for the work to be finished by Dec. 31, 2016, but Gregowicz hopes it will be done sooner than that.
As with any road construction project, the weather affects how fast it can be completed. Gregowicz said he hopes for a “short winter.”
“There’s only so much you can do in cold weather.”
Eckert said the project was initially approved before he became mayor 11 years ago. The construction cost had been estimated at $3 million but it ended up being $3.26 million. Eckert said after delays in the project, the price of construction inevitably went up with the passage of time.
Some of the causes of the delays included discussions over the historical significance of buildings in the area and difficulties in property acquisition, Eckert said.
Here’s how the road construction will be paid for:
▪ $2.19 million from the federal government.
▪ $800,000 from the city’s TIF 3 fund. The City Council approved $600,000 on June 1 and will be asked to approve $200,000 for the project next year, Gregowicz said.
▪ $273,800 from the state.
Before construction, the city spent about $907,700 for buying land, paying for land acquisition services and engineering services, according to Finance Director Jamie Maitret. The total cost for these items was about $1.65 million but the city received about $745,700 in reimbursements from the federal and state governments.
Highlights of the streetscape construction project.
- Widen the northbound side for right-turn lanes onto Lebanon Avenue and onto F Street.
- Widen the southbound side for a right-turn lane onto F Street.
- Lengthen the existing center turn lane.
- Shut down access to E Street on both sides of North Illinois Street.
- Repave entire section and build new sidewalks.
- Install antique-style streetlights. These will be similar to the lights installed on Main Street in the downtown business district streetscape.
- Remove parking spots on North Illinois Street, which also is known as Illinois 159.