ST. CHARLES – Questions remain on how a multi-million project to replace the existing dam in downtown St. Charles with whitewater and recreational channels, a recreational zipline above the Fox River and other improvements will be funded.
Aldermen discussed the project during the St. Charles City Council's Planning and Development Committee meeting on April 8. Fifth Ward Alderman Ed Bessner said that before the project moves forward, he would like to see if other entities are committed to helping fund the project.
"When this vision was originally out there, there were at least three entities that seemed pretty excited about doing something together," said Bessner, chairman of the Planning and Development Committee. "And so I think we should consider how much further we should move along either knowing or not knowing if we're going to be the only one funding this project."
Third Ward Alderman William Turner wondered how much interest there is to build the project, especially in light of the fact the project was first discussed five years ago.
"In five years, nobody has knocked on the City Hall's door and said, 'I want to build," he said.
Fifth Ward Alderman Maureen Lewis said officials first need to hear what residents have to say during an open house the city will hold on April 24. During the open house, they will be able to comment on a planned update of the city's 2013 Comprehensive Plan, which serves as the city’s long-range guide for development.
The update will be specific to a focus area north of Main Street between Second Avenue on the east and Fourth Street on the west.
Other aldermen also wanted more information before moving ahead with the project. Last October, aldermen approved a contract not to exceed $72,000 – plus a maximum $5,500 in out-of-pocket expenses – between HVS Convention, Sports and Entertainment Facilities Consulting and the city for an economic impact and cost benefit analysis of the Fox River Corridor Master Plan.
As part of a cost benefit analysis of the project, the consulting firm considered the estimated cost of construction for the two-channel park design, the estimated cost of building a zipline that runs across the river and the estimated cost of maintaining the two channels, the zipline, and the additional park space.
According to the analysis, the present value of the combined capital and operating costs over a 25-year period is approximately $24 million and the present value of the economic impacts is approximately $24.5 million.
"It looks sort of [like a] break even [situation], " HVS managing director Thomas Hazinski told aldermen. "But as you recall, that is not the only impact that we are considering."
Hazinski said the project would also have several unquantifiable impacts, including floodplain reduction and helping make downtown St. Charles a destination. In addition, he said the removal of the dam would increase the amount of fish habitat as well as improve the biodiversity and cleanliness of the river.
The proposed improvements could boost the annual number of visitors to St. Charles to 261,880 by 2027, up from last year's 183,850, Hazinski said.
"It's going to become a regional destination and maybe for kayaking, a national destination," he said. "You could do national kayak events here."
The project would include:
• Replacing the existing dam in downtown St. Charles with whitewater and recreational channels, separated by a man-made island that is accessible by pedestrian bridges.
• A 750-foot zip line connecting the east and west banks of the Fox River, which would run above the river and be operated and managed by a professional staff to ensure the safety of participants. As proposed, the zip line would run from two elevated platforms on either side of the Fox River, approximately 750 feet apart. Users would pay for a ticket to ride across the river and back.
• Improved trail connectivity through downtown St. Charles. A riverside path that runs under Main Street would connect the riverfront park to other parks in St. Charles.
• A play area for children that offers a space to interact with natural play elements.
• Adequate support spaces, including a large changing area for whitewater and recreational channel users, adequate shelters to protect users from adverse elements, an equipment rental outlet, picnic areas, viewing areas, and park pavilions.