DANVILLE – The city demolished the buildings along the south side of West Main Street west of the David S. Palmer Arena more than four years ago to make way for riverfront development.
It was an exciting time then as University of Illinois architecture students also presented their study for a future Riverfront Park that could include an amphitheater, trails, fishing points and a floating bridge.
Other suggested designs included a year-round market and bike rentals, boardwalks, a walkway connecting to the downtown area, sunken plaza and retail and food court areas near the arena and ice skating area.
Bike trail and other recreation connections with the local county and state parks and the Kickapoo Rail Trail, which saw its first Vermilion County section open last year, also were incorporated in the potential designs.
There were big ideas for the riverfront area south of Main Street along the Vermilion River from Ellsworth Park to the bridge that crosses Interstate 74 near Bowman Avenue. The city also owns 47 acres of land on the south side of the river.
The Danville City Council in July 2016 adopted that Re-Envisioning Danville’s Downtown Riverfront Conceptual Plan.
These ideas also followed riverfront plans developed by city staff and high school students in the Vermilion Advantage program High Tech Edge in 2006. The high school students made a scale model of proposed riverfront development that included a drive-in movie theater and another live music venue.
Due to limited grant and other funding since that time, only a wooden boardwalk section was started. Aldermen in 2017 also didn’t earmark Community Development Block Grant money for the riverfront development area as city officials had proposed.
Now with $1 million in pledged upfront funding from proposed casino operator Haven Gaming LLC, city officials will be back to the drawing board this winter to look at past plans, options and what would be best to proceed with in developing the city’s opportunity-filled riverfront.
Danville Parks Superintendent Steve Lane said they will look at the U of I student plans, estimated costs and see what to prioritize, and have updated drawings and designs completed.
“Now that the dam is removed, the contractor did leave a pretty nice access road down to the dam,” Lane said.
He said he, City Engineer Sam Cole and other city planning and engineering staff will get together to discuss the riverfront area and what the city can do with it.
“We’ll come up with some concepts,” Lane said. “We’ll be reviewing what (the U of I students) did and taking that into consideration. This winter we will get something going.”
He said the flood plain area will limit some of the development there. But he anticipates definitely making some more river access for canoeing, kayaking or just wading in the river and skipping rocks and doing other things.
“It’s a safer area with the dam removed,” he said. “There will definitely be some trails, natural areas down there. We have a lot of ideas bouncing around.”
Cole added too that they will be looking back at the U of I student's final recommendations and concepts to come up with a plan. The city will be looking at making public space and enhancing the land on the south side too.
Lane said a city Kickapoo Rail Trail connection also is “certainly on our radar.” He said there’s no new developments on that yet. The city doesn’t own all the railroad property to provide that connection. He said some day the ultimate goal is to bring the bike and pedestrian trail that connects to Urbana-Champaign into Danville’s Ellsworth Park.
Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. agreed, saying the city would see tourism benefits with that connection into the city. City staff will continue to look at ways to connect the riverfront and Ellsworth Park to the KRT, he said.
It was two years ago when the city received a $5,000 Keep Vermilion County Beautiful/Keep America Beautiful grant to start the first section of a boardwalk trail in the city's riverfront area.
Lane in 2017 said the city was to construct a natural rustic trail at the river bottom in the flood plain. Part of the trail goes through a swampy area where there is usually a lot of standing water.
Some of the funding went toward native plantings of small trees and shrubs near the boardwalk.
The trail is located down the hill from where the buildings were removed for the riverfront area along West Main Street, west of the arena. Some clearing also was done to open up some views.
The city received additional trail grant funding from KVCB and KAB to extend the boardwalk and double its 200 feet length.
Lane last month said “we’re getting ready to install the support posts for that.” The city also had to remove some ash trees due to the emerald ash borer.
“We’ll be getting on that this winter,” he said about more boardwalk work.
Other parks projects coming up in the New Year include working with Danville AMBUCS, which is in a fundraising campaign, for an upgrade to the AMBUCS Playground for Everyone at Winter Park.
Also the city will install new playground equipment at Garfield Park, off Fairchild and Griffin streets. Lane said they have plans to replace the entire playground, but this will just be one phase of it.
“It’s very heavily used with the Boys & Girls Club and basketball courts,” he said.