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Bypass could change face of downtown

(Daniel J. Murphy - )
A row of shops line Route 31 in downtown Algonquin.

ALGONQUIN – From its humble beginnings in the 1890s to today, the face of downtown Algonquin has undergone significant of transformation, but at the same time has maintained its charming character.

Perhaps the largest change in the downtown in recent years was the construction of Riverside Square, a large condominium building and retail space at Routes 31 and 62, overlooking the Fox River.

The building first caused some ire among residents and downtown business owners as it sat unfinished after falling into foreclosure.

Riverside Square was the subject of years of legal wrangling between the village and banks.

The project was stalled for so long that residents called it Tyvek Tower, referring to the water-resistant construction wrapping that hugged the building’s exterior.

The building was purchased by John Breugelmans of Riverside Plaza Developers, and the first condominiums and retail center are slated for completion this year.

The Tyvek wrapping has been covered by rich, dark colored bricks.

And once again, the downtown is about to get a face-lift when the Illinois Department of Transportation starts work on a western bypass that will divert traffic away from Routes 31 and 62.

The bypass has some village officials calling it “a two-edged sword.”

“The bypass has a lot of pros and lot of cons,” Algonquin Community Development Coordinator Russ Farnum said. “It certainly is going to be very beneficial in terms of moving traffic through the downtown. ... Trucks will have to go around the downtown instead of through the middle of it.

“On the flip side,” he continued, “all that traffic isn’t any longer going through downtown, and retail stores that rely on that traffic to make business work aren’t going to see that traffic.”

The western bypass is expected to be completed by the end of the 2013 construction season.

Officials are looking at another bypass boon, one that puts Main Street back into local hands, meaning the village will have more control of what its downtown looks like.

So to help refine its vision, the village recently started asking residents for input as it moves forward with a downtown redevelopment study. The online survey eventually will be the groundwork for a long-range plan for the downtown.

Officials are asking residents to rate their satisfaction with the downtown from different perspectives including shopping, dining, traffic, parking, pedestrian access, bicycle access, special events and safety.

The goal is to make the downtown a walkable, mixed-use business district.

“The downtown is the heart of the community, and although we often get accused of spending more of our attention on Randall Road, we are committed to making our downtown successful,” Farnum said. “We’ve really spent a lot of time and energy and resources on our Main Street, and we want to have a plan for what to do to enhance it in the future.”

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