Residents get first look at Riverwalk extension plan
By David Sharos For The Sun January 22, 2013 7:52PM
Rick Hitchcock of the Riverwalk Commission talks with East Highlands resident Chuck Koch about an artist's rendering of a proposed southern expansion of the Riverwalk from Hillside to Martin Avenue during an open house at Highlands Elementary on Tuesday, January 22, 2013. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 24, 2013 6:36AM
The Riverwalk is seen as one of the great public treasures in Naperville.
On Tuesday night, that public got a chance to voice their opinions on plans to extend the Riverwalk from Hillside Road to Martin Avenue at an open house sponsored by the Naperville Riverwalk Commission.
The event included two presentations on the proposal, which Riverwalk Administrator Jan Erickson said began this summer following a proposal by McDonald’s to develop a property at 702 S. Washington St.
“When McDonald’s proposed their plan to the City Council this past summer, one of the members asked if the area of the Riverwalk there should be developed as well,” Erickson said. “That sort of got the ball rolling and the commission felt we should begin to look at that.”
Erickson said that Tuesday was the first public meeting regarding a possible extension and that at this point, the only approved action is a feasibility study on the plan.
“We want to hear what people think and what their ideas are regarding improvements and amenities,” she said. “At this point there are no discussions about specific plans or costs. We need to first see if there is enough interest.”
The small meeting room that was provided at Highlands Elementary School at 525 S. Brainard St. was fairly packed by 6 p.m. when the first of two presentations was given. More than 40 people including Jim Chakour of Naperville listened to an overview of the proposal, which would include about 1,000 more feet for the Riverwalk.
“I live right on the Riverwalk and use it all the time,” Chakour said. “I think it’s one of the main amenities here in Naperville and adds to the ambience and character of the community. My hope is that if they develop it some more, they keep things low key and peaceful and have it be the same as it is now.”
Dick Galitz of Naperville said that for him, any expansion would be a two-fold proposition. Like Chakour, he said the path needs to retain its current feel and character.
“It would be beautiful to see this expansion, but the Riverwalk has to maintain its charm,” he said.
“I like the peace and quiet and I’m a big proponent of maintaining open space. I’m interested in seeing what the public feedback will be.”
Former chairman of the Riverwalk Commission Rick Hitchcock agreed that the McDonald’s proposal was the catalyst that started talk about the expansion, but added the proposal isn’t entirely new.
“The idea now would be to build a walkway under the bridge so that people could cross to the other side and not have to go across the street,” Hitchcock said. “If approved, this phase would actually be just a little bigger than the first phase that connects with Eagle and Main.”
Naperville’s John Nepywoda seemed to sum up the feelings of just about everyone that an addition to the Riverwalk would be welcome.
“I love it and think the more that we can get of it, the better,” he said.
“The Park District does an outstanding job planting flowers, trimming trees and hasn’t slipped at all in maintaining it. I am hoping they extend it past Gartner.”
Gary Weber, a landscape architect who owns his own firm Gary R. Weber Associates of Wheaton, said that his firm has been involved as a consultant the past seven years with the Riverwalk Commission and that Tuesday’s meeting was just the beginning.
“At this point, the commission is just looking for ideas, as this just seems to be a natural extension of the existing Riverwalk,” he said.
The Riverwalk Commission will continue to work on a plan. Depending on resident interest, it could be presented to the Park District and the City Council this summer.