The Greater Freeport Partnership’s 2019 strategic plan specifically calls out improvement to Downtown Freeport as one of its goals. Why focus on downtown? What about the rest of the County? Because downtowns are generally considered to be the “heart” of a region. A thriving entertainment district attracts residents, particularly young professionals. As Freeport and Stephenson County look to reverse our population decline, we need to support amenities that are desired by this demographic. More activities increase sales and food/beverage tax revenue to support vital City services and increases property values. Creating a place of choice for people to live and play is a worthwhile investment in our future.
Many past efforts have laid the groundwork for this and Freeport is poised to move forward quickly. In late 2015, a dedicated group of individuals, led by Dean Wright (FACC), Chris Schneiderman (State Bank of Freeport), Jessica Modica (Freeport Art Museum), Peter McClanathan (City of Freeport Alderman/Fishburn, Whiton, Thruman Law Offices), Dave Young (NIDA) and Brian Borger (SBC), and supported by over 15 community members, assembled to create an ambitious plan to facilitate redevelopment of Downtown Freeport. The plan, called City Centre Freeport, envisioned “the transformation of downtown Freeport into a residential, commercial, shopping and entertainment district in beautiful Northwest Illinois.”
The strategies called out in this plan included the following:
- Building Redevelopment
This strategy necessarily started with a review of existing conditions, including buildings, utilities and regulatory issues.
- Christopher Fye & Associates conducted an exterior conditions assessment of 129 buildings in the core of the Tax Increment Financing District.
- Fehr Graham & Associates directed an assessment of utility infrastructure in cooperation with the City of Freeport.
- Winter Design identified challenges and hurdles of undertaking the adaptive reuse of historic buildings, which focused on recommendations to the City’s fire, building and community departments to make such projects more feasible.
This strategy also envisioned a public loan fund to assist in financing for new building projects. As of May 20, 2019, the City Council has approved the Downtown Revitalization Loan Fund for this purpose, to be administered in partnership with local banks and the Greater Freeport Partnership.
- Retail Business Development. Funding and structure for a small business development consultant was developed to assist in new business support. As of today, that function exists within the Greater Freeport Partnership, which has made connections to the Small Business Development Corporation staff, local real estate agents and developers and the Northwestern Illinois Community Development Corporation local banks. The Partnership intends to be the resource for new and existing businesses to find assistance to grow.
- Streetscape Design & Placemaking. Winter Design created a Downtown Streetscape Master plan for Chicago Street, encompassing the proposed Arts Plaza at Douglas Street and ending at Jackson Streets. This plan has been reviewed and approved by the City Council and awaits additional federal, state and local funding.
Originally published at GreaterFreeport.com.