DANVILLE – The year ahead for the city will see a mayor elected in April, a different Fair Oaks public housing complex with fewer buildings, the possible return of city positions and progress on other projects.
Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. said one of his strong points is grant writing and he really wants to work on riverfront development and explore possible funding sources.
Williams will be acting mayor until at least May this year. He was voted by the city council to fill in the remaining months of former Mayor Scott Eisenhauer’s term. Williams is facing four other candidates for the seat in the February primary election.
Williams said he was taken on a tour recently by Danville Community Development Director David Schnelle to see the dam removal work being performed and saw again how beautiful the riverfront area is. There is so much potential there, Williams said.
That’s one area Eisenhauer wished he’d seen more happen with the riverfront plans. Eisenhauer has said the riverfront still will be an economic benefit to the city.
Danville Area Transportation Study officials adopted a Greenways and Trails Plan last year that will serve as a reference for future planning and introduces preliminary transportation planning, land-use discussions and economic development concepts.
The document included plans for Danville's riverfront, having a connection to the Kickapoo Rail Trail into Danville and uncovering Koehn Creek to restore it to a more natural state above ground.
The Riverwalk project has seen some brush and trees cleared and an access road behind the David S. Palmer Arena to the initial boardwalk area that’s been developed.
The Danville City Council in July 2016 adopted a Re-Envisioning Danville’s Downtown Riverfront Conceptual Plan. The riverfront plan, created by University of Illinois students, lists strategies of what the riverfront could be and has recommendations in phases including paths and trails, overlooks, pedestrian bridges and an amphitheater. The city could seek grants and donations, such as from foundations, for funding.
The fate of possible expanded gambling in the state remains unknown. Williams said he thinks it could be “very good for the economy for Danville” if a riverboat casino would ever come here.
Eisenhauer long believed the city would benefit from the jobs and revenue of a riverboat casino. He still thought earlier this year there’s a chance it could still happen. Discussion continues in the Illinois Legislature, but no definitive policy has been developed.
In other areas, the city will continue to work on projects such as with safe routes to school with grant approval; and Denmark Road and the northwest pump station. Other city engineering projects will include Ferndale and Boiling Springs roads replacement projects, Townway storm water management, Fairchild and Hazel intersection and railroad quiet zone and Bowman Avenue corridor projects.
First Friday events will continue downtown. Potterfest, which is all about Harry Potter and attracted large crowds last year, is expected to return this year.
Balloons Over Vermilion officials this month will award money to a local organization and they will announce its next class to serve as ambassadors for the annual hot air balloon event at the Vermilion Regional Airport. This year will mark its fourth year.
“We wanted it to be not just a weekend event, but also a community partner,” said one of the co-chairmen Pat O’Shaughnessy.
O’Shaughnessy, who also is board chairman of the Housing Authority of the City of Danville, said the public housing demolition of six buildings at Fair Oaks is “long overdue.” He said it’s wonderful that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had the confidence in HACD executive director Jaclyn Vinson and the staff in what they’re doing.
“Those living conditions have not been good for many, many years,” O’Shaughnessy said.
He said they will be able to provide better housing.
“It’s a small step, but we hope for better housing built,” he added.
Housing authority officials will be waiting to hear in the spring regarding Illinois Housing Development Authority tax credits to rebuild affordable housing sites on city-owned property in the downtown area.
O’Shaughnessy said public housing is supposed to be a stepping stone for people in need. He added that local officials also had looked to demolish some public housing in Georgetown in the past. That will again be considered.
Williams said some other changes in city departments could be coming. Budget talks will be the main focus at the start of the year for the city.
Williams said one of his goals for the New Year is returning to having a fire chief and police chief “for the future of our community.”
“It’s important to re-establish (those positions),” he said.
He also added with three assistant chiefs in the fire department and one going to the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System in the New Year, the city may work with the union to restructure and re-establish the fire chief position.
Williams also has several board, committee and commission appointments to make due to vacancies. Those positions include on the arena board, airport authority board and others.
Corporation Counsel David Wesner also is leaving his position with the city on Jan. 8. The position opening already has been posted.
Williams added that that he’s “really excited about” Carl Carpenter. He said Carpenter has been doing a fantastic job filling in as interim public works director.
“He’s honest, he’s fair and he’s tough,” Williams said.
Williams said other employees respect Carpenter, who has shown knowledge going line item by line item in the budget and Williams thinks Carpenter could serve as official director on a more long term basis.
Williams said in house, they’re also trying to improve hiring procedures and have departments work more effectively and efficiently.
“We don’t have a job without the people in this community,” Williams said.