The plan that will affect future development of the city of La Salle has been in the works since this past May, and now it is close to being approved.
So, what’s in this “comprehensive plan,” anyway?
There are several items — 58, to be precise — suggested by the Lakota Group, the land planning firm chosen by the city to draft the plan. The suggestions are organized under three key themes: focusing on the downtown area as the “community core,” developing the main road entrances or “gateways” to the city and maintaining natural areas.
“I think they’re all great goals,” Mayor Jeff Grove said. “As far as financing to support them, some might be loftier goals.”
Some items call for action on the city’s part, such as changing zoning ordinances and improving city property. But many depend on business and property owners to make improvements to their own properties and build their businesses.
Lakota Group vice president Nick Kalogeresis has presented the plan’s overview and details in a public hearing that has been ongoing since January.
The hearing is scheduled to reconvene at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 7 at La Salle City Hall, and a final draft of the plan could be approved by the city council in April or May.
The creation of the plan is funded by a grant from the Hurricane Ike Disaster Recovery Program administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
1. A permanent pop-up business downtown
This would be a storefront for a new business to stay for a determined length of time, such as six months to a year. The goal, Kalogeresis said, is to help grow a business that will take up other storefront spaces downtown.
“We used to call it ‘incubators,’” said La Salle’s economic development director Don Aleksy. “I think that’s something that can be easily done.”
Kalogeresis called the proposed storefront a “showcase space” that would attract shoppers with its novelty while providing an opportunity for entrepreneurs to develop a new venture.
“You hope that they build their business and then move on into another space downtown and give someone else a chance,” Aleksy said.
2. Upper-story beds-and-breakfasts downtown
Converting the floors atop downtown businesses to beds-and-breakfasts could attract out-of-town guests looking for a unique lodging experience.
“There are people who want to stay near the interstate, and there are those who want to stay in a historic downtown,” Kalogeresis said.
He said the goal is to fill vacant spaces — not to push out apartment dwellers.
Kelly Klobucher, executive director of the Hegeler Carus Foundation, said she likes that the plan’s focus is on “keeping La Salle unique” as opposed to trying to trying to attract chain motels.
3. Kaskaskia Hotel revitalization
If the Kaskaskia could reopen as an operating hotel, that would be ideal, Kalogeresis said. But if that doesn’t happen, the plan suggests converting the building to apartments — possibly for seniors.
“That building is such a key part of the downtown, and it needs to be reactivated,” Kalogeresis said.
He called the Kaskaskia a “catalyst” for the downtown area’s future development.
Hotel owner and developer Blouke Carus said he was confident he would be able to operate the Kaskaskia as a hotel once more, provided he had the financial backing, but said the idea of conversion to apartments “makes a lot of sense … if the hotel didn’t work out.”
4. Design improvements on U.S. 6 and Route 351
Developments would include more signage along the city’s “gateways” directing visitors to points of interest such as the downtown area and the Hegeler Carus Mansion.
Klobucher is especially interested in pulling from the bountiful Starved Rock tourists and other would-be passers-by to boost La Salle’s economy.
Visitors are “looking for a place to get out and stretch their legs, buy coffee and get lunch,” she said. “That’s tax dollars that benefit the rest of us.”
Klobucher is in favor of informational signage that attracts visitors.
“If you get off at 351 off of 80, or 6 at 39, there’s nothing that says, ‘If you go 2 miles, you’re going to see some really great stuff,’” she said.
Kalogeresis also suggested crosswalks, landscaping and banners to improve the overall appearance of the two main roads.
5. Waterfront master plan
The comprehensive plan suggests the city create a plan for utilizing the area on the Illinois River. Kalogeresis said further study should be done on the waterfront, but recommended halting any further industrial development and heading in a recreational direction.
Possible developments could include walking/biking paths along with more green space.
Second Ward Alderman Jerry Reynolds said he’d like to see a path from the canal to Rotary Park, as opposed to paths along the roadways, which he said could be more dangerous.
“It would be more scenic, and it would develop some additional property,” he said, adding that he’d like to see the quarries in the area be cleaned up and made into grassy area.
Kalogeresis mentioned the idea of La Salle and Peru jointly coming up with a waterfront development plan, since both cities share the same riverside.
Rachel Stella can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or email@example.com.