A complete reconfiguration of downtown’s Fountain Square, with an estimated price tag of about $4.7 million, is expected to be completed in 2017. An ancillary project – widening sidewalks and replacing the water main along Sherman Avenue between Davis and Church Streets – is scheduled for 2018, said Dave Stoneback the City’s director of Public Works Agency Director.
Funding for the project will come from the soon-to-expire Washington National tax-increment financing (TIF) district. City Chief Financial Officer Marty Lyons said the TIF has a current balance of about $6 million but must make $3 million annual payments toward the Sherman Avenue parking garage. Any funding not covered by the TIF would come from water or general obligation bonds, he said.
Fountain Square, originally called Six Corners, has been the symbolic town center essentially since Evanston was founded. Centennial Fountain, now in the Merrick Rose Garden, was dedicated in 1876, and the plaza was renamed Veterans Memorial Plaza several years ago. The space was last renovated in 1976, and the current configuration displays both its age and a ’70s aesthetic feel.
Mr. Stoneback said the three fountains have “major maintenance issues that need to be addressed.” The public space also cries out for “a new look,” he added. The proposal presented to Council called for a request for proposals (RFP) for “consulting design services.”
The project has been in the visioning stages for more than a year. In the spring-summer of 2014, the City hired Teska Associates to conduct “a visioning process in order to work with the public to reimagine the site…” The process began with focus group meetings in August 2014, a Halloween outreach over four days in October 2014, a public open house in March 2015, Downtown Evanston and Parks and Recreation Board meetings in May 2015, and a joint First and Fourth Ward meeting in July.
Common themes from the visioning session will be incorporated into the RFP, said Mr. Stoneback, including the need for a space usable year-round and no restroom. The Veterans Memorial will remain in some form in the square, he said.
The new Fountain Square will “include the south side of Davis, the little triangle” of public space between Sherman and Orrington Avenues, said Mr. Stoneback. The City plans to plant a permanent holiday tree in that triangle, eliminating the need to purchase and install a tree every year. Davis Street between Orrington and Sherman Avenues will likely contain pavers rather than asphalt to promote pedestrian friendly aspects and improve aesthetics when the street is shut down for public festivals.
The new water feature will come first, in 2017, said Mr. Stoneback, with the RFP issued by year end, and construction contracts signed in 2017. “If funding is available,” he added, the project will “go on to Sherman Avenue.” The water main there is 100 years old, he said, and the road is broad enough to handle a widened sidewalk on the east side of Sherman Avenue without losing a lane of traffic or any of the angled parking spaces.
The fountain portion of the project is expected to cost about $3 million, with the water main and sidewalk adding $1.7 million to the total.