Advisory committee addresses signage and streetscapes

By Marissa Novel

Upon exiting Union Station, it is obvious, even to visitors, one is in Chicago. When stepping down from a train in Carbondale, some community members think more can be done to welcome newcomers and residents.

The Downtown Advisory Committee had its fifth meeting with the focus area of signage and streetscapes in the downtown area Wednesday at the Eurma C. Hayes Center.

City Manager Kevin Baity presented information about regulations on sidewalk sales, outdoor cafes and liquor consumption at the cafes.

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He said many sidewalk sales and cafes would be unlikely to fit city code because little area would be left for pedestrian traffic. Baity said some restaurants have the room for outdoor cafes but are unable to serve alcoholic beverages to patrons sitting because of city restrictions.

Three committee members, Meghan Cole, Jeremy Clow and Kristin Gregory also presented.

Cole presented information about streetscape opportunities, citing the practical yet risky renovation techniques Lancaster, Calif. used in its downtown, as well as the job and revenue growth that followed.

“Streetscapes are not just a view of the street, and they’re not just a pictorial view,” she said. “They have to be usable.”

Cole also presented information about current and recommended signage height and proximity regulations for businesses in place of Dan Terry, who had to testify in Springfield unexpectedly.

Jeremy Clow said more landscaping near sidewalks could increase pedestrian safety. He also said downtown needs more disability accessible sidewalks and green energy technology.

Clow said information provided by signage, especially near the Amtrak station, is minimal.

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“If I were to get off the Amtrak train here, I don’t know where anything is,” he said. “I have no idea if I’m on the right side of town, where I can rent a car, I don’t know where I can get a taxi cab. There’s no way to get anywhere unless you ask a local.”

Clow said this problem could be fixed by posting directional signage and kiosks in the area.

Kristin Gregory presented the results of other college towns, such as Kent, Ohio and Normal, in terms of job and business creation and revenue after renovating their downtown areas.

Several city council members were in attendance and expressed their concerns as community members.

City Councilman Lee Fronabarger said the primary concern of the committee should be removing overhead utility lines.

“I am a strong advocate for streetscaping downtown, but no matter how many plants we put downtown, or benches or lighting there we have got to do something about overhead utility lines,” he said.

“Either bury them or put them in the back behind the buildings or else it’s going to look as tacky then as it does today.”

Mayor Don Monty said removing the lines would be extremely expensive, especially because utility companies are very unlikely to cover the costs themselves.

He said Normal recently worked with Ameren and petitioned the Illinois Commerce Commission for a special tariff to pay for the removal.

“I think that’s something definitely worth pursuing because something of the magnitude of what may be several million dollars is probably beyond the financial reach of the city right now,” Monty said.

City Councilwoman Jane Adams said appropriate lighting in the downtown area is a main concern because students think the downtown—and Carbondale in general—is a dark place.

Luke Henson, a junior from Springfield studying architecture, said as a student he can relate to Adams’ comment.

“Light is a huge issue with a lot of students in Carbondale,” he said. “I know that I feel that way and I know since public safety incidents that have happened on campus recently I don’t feel that Carbondale is a safe place at night.”

Marissa Novel can be reached at [email protected]on Twitter @marissanovelDE or at 536-3311 ext. 268.

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