Keyword Site Search

Riverfront/Center City Master Plan, Elgin, Illinois

Principles Tim King and Mark Underwood, Hitchcock Design Group

The Riverside Drive Promenade in Elgin, Illinois features tensile structures lit with Color Kinetics (Philips) RGB (red, green, blue) LED floodlights with 22? and 10? lenses. The two tensile canopies crossing the street are directly over speed tables, identified by wide rectangular colored paving (Pine Hall Brick English Edge 'Evanston Blend'), alerting drivers that pedestrians cross here to access the river overlooks. There is 6,900 square feet of permeable paving (Unilock's 'Eco-Optiloc') interspersed across the drive lanes and in the parallel parking spaces. The concrete pillars are veneered with Indiana limestone and have precast bases. The white cylindrical structures attached to them are coated fiberglass anchors for the tensioned fabric canopies (Span Systems, Inc.). An acorn luminaire is also attached to the cylinder on each pillar in lieu of placing poles there.
Photos by Mike Wilson

European immigrants settled Elgin, Illinois in 1835 along the Fox River.

Editor's note: Elgin (pop. 110,145) is about 35 miles northwest of Chicago. European settlers made their way here once the Indian Removal Act of 1830 relocated the area's Native American Sauk and Meskwaki populations, among other tribes. The last obstacle to white settlement was the Illinois Militia subduing Black Hawk's band of Sac and Fox Indians that had crossed the Mississippi River into northern Illinois to reclaim Indian lands. The so-called Black Hawk War began in 1832, but was swiftly resolved. A young man by the name of Abraham Lincoln volunteered for duty with the militia and was elected captain. To his chagrin, he never saw combat in the brief campaign, but later enjoyed wryly recounting "war" anecdotes, including "a good many bloody struggles with mosquitoes."

The canopy LED effects are controlled by a DMX512 (Digital Multiplex), the standard in stage lighting. The tensile structural designs, according to the manufacturer, "meet building code requirement for snow, wind and seismic loads as well as fire safety [and] energy conservation...wind behavior of [these] large, unique roof shapes and configurations is typically confirmed by advanced wind tunnel analysis."
Photo by Mike Wilson

Although the Fox River has played a major role in the founding, forming and shaping of Elgin, like most cities across the Midwest and nation, the downtown buildings turned their backs to the river, as the river was used and viewed as an industrial, transportation and utility corridor.

Editor's note: Early on, Elgin prospered by selling its dairy goods to Chicago. Gail Borden established one of his Condensed Milk factories in Elgin in 1866. But Elgin's real claim to fame was its watch factory. The National Watch Co., was founded in Chicago in 1864, but the location of its watch factory was in Elgin, thanks to four local businessmen who bought 35 acres to that purpose and donated the land. The company changed its name to the Elgin National Watch Company in 1874. For nearly a century, the Elgin factory was the largest site in the world dedicated to watchmaking. The factory stopped production in 1965.

The lighting for Riverside Drive Promenade is 100 percent LED; 78 LEDs were installed in all. The street/pedestrian lighting luminaires are 'Old Town' LED acorn style (Sternberg Lighting) on 14' tall Barrington fluted poles (Barrington). The LED bollards are the 'Harbortown' model (Sternberg) in black. The 82 promenade trees--'Autumn Blaze' maples; Ginkgos; Kentucky 'Coffeetrees'; "Bloodgood' London planetrees; 'Redmond' American lindens; 'Morton' (Accolade) elms; and 'Princess Diana' serviceberries--are uplit with in-grade adjustable LED fixtures (Allscape).
Photo by Mike Wilson

In the fall of 1999, the city embarked on an ambitious plan to rejuvenate and revitalize its downtown and riverfront. The Hitchcock Design Group team was engaged by Elgin to create a Riverfront/Center City master plan, a bold, multiphase redevelopment strategy for downtown Elgin and its over two miles of riverfront. The goal was to create a compelling destination, and position Elgin as a 24-hour live-work-shop-play environment. After the plan was adopted, Hitchcock Design Group assisted the city transforming the riverfront through environmental, recreational, cultural, and transportation enhancements. The goal for these projects was to create settings for year-round festivals and weekend events, casual recreation and the rebirth of the commercial district.

The seatwalls at the overlooks are cast-in-place concrete with precast caps. The taller walls by the pillars are precast enclosures to hide the electrical and power equipment. The walls are by Custom Architectural Precast & Cast Stone.

Festival Park
Festival Park was designed and constructed as part of the first phase of improvements along the riverfront. Since its opening in 2007, the park has become a regional destination for its use of nontraditional play equipment that ties into its overall festival theme.

Unilock's Holland stone was used for the pedestrian walk adjacent to the river. The decorative 34" diameter sphere bollards (aka concrete balls) are from Wausau Tile (left middle of picture).
Photos: Mike Wilson

Riverside Drive
In 2009, after a decade of construction and the installation of many additional exciting environmental, recreational, cultural and transportation enhancements along the Fox River, Elgin's riverfront was almost complete. The last piece of redevelopment was Riverside Drive. Riverside Drive was originally constructed in the 1950s as a utilitarian street accessing the service areas of downtown buildings, and a two-story parking deck constructed over the Fox River. The second story of the parking deck failed and was removed in the 1970s. Riverside Drive continued to function as a two-way street with one level of deck parking until 2002, when the city closed the deck because of its deteriorating condition.

Renderings were generated with lighting design software (AGI 32) to help the city visualize how the new streetscape would look at night. Riverside Drive Promenade is on the eastern shore of the Fox River in Elgin, Illinois. The Fox River flows 202 miles south southwest from southeastern Wisconsin (Waukesha) to the Illinois River at Ottawa, Illinois, although the water is interrupted along the way by 15 dams.
Photo by Mike Wilson

Riverside Drive Promenade
The city of Elgin retained the Hitchcock Design Group team to explore a variety of options to create a pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular amenity that would capitalize on the river and promote redevelopment of the adjacent properties consistent with the Riverfront/Center City master plan. With Elgin's growing emphasis on sustainability, Riverside Drive Promenade was to be the city's first "complete, living, and green street." As a result of numerous design charrettes and public workshops, a design solution was created that blended the aesthetics of the more traditional civic riverfront to the north and downtown streetscape to the east with the modern playful style of Festival Park to the south. The design also emphasized the importance of environmental quality through the use of sustainable design components and complete, living streets principles.

The decorative iron railings along the edge of the Fox River are the 'Old Town Aberdeen' fence style with 9" rings from Iron World.

Regulatory Permitting
Regulatory permitting proved to be a challenge for the project with over 1,100 linear feet of failing parking deck constructed over the Fox River. Simply removing the deck and restoring the riverbank would have been a viable option from an environmental standpoint, but would have virtually cut off all but vehicular access along the riverfront. The design team spent numerous hours coordinating with the various regulatory agencies to determine the most acceptable approach to provide vehicular access to the adjacent properties, connectivity along the Fox River bicycle trail, and still provide a compelling pedestrian environment. The sustainable improvements of the Riverside Drive Promenade proved to be an invaluable component in obtaining the permit for the project. After two years of negotiation, permits were issued for the project and construction began.

The plantings in the bioswales are 'Blue Flag' iris; 'Brown Fox' sedge; Virginia wild rye; 'Nodding' bulrush; and common rush.
Photo: Hitchcock Design Group

River Edge Redevelopment Zone
In 2009 Riverside Drive was designated as a River Edge Redevelopment Zone (RERZ) by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), which helped the city secure $8 million in funding towards the project. The city was able to secure an additional $1 million in appropriations from the Illinois Jobs Now! capital program. Elgin provided $1.5 million with revenue generated through its central area Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district, for a total project budget of $10.5 million.

Project improvements include a 15-foot wide pedestrian walkway along the river; 10-foot bike path; 2,750 square feet bioswales; three pedestrian river overlooks; and roadway and street improvements. Vehicle speeds have been reduced, making the roadway a "pedestrian first" environment through the installation of three table tops, 11-foot wide two-way drive lanes, parallel parking along the east side, and different drive lane materials. There is 6,900 square feet of permeable paving installed in multiple bands across the drive lanes and in all the parallel parking spaces. Stormwater from the roadway, adjacent buildings and parking lots is collected in the bioswales and filtered through the plant and soil matrix before being released into the environment, and ultimately back to the Fox River. Additionally, 82 trees were planted along the promenade, a once treeless stretch of the river, to provide much needed shade.

Project improvements include a 15-foot wide pedestrian walkway along the river; 10-foot-wide bike path; 2,750 square feet bioswales; and three pedestrian river overlooks. Vehicle speeds on the two-way road have been reduced by installing 11-foot wide lanes, installing three speed tables, adding parallel parking along the east side, and varying the drive lane hardscapes and colors. Stormwater from the roadway, adjacent buildings and parking lots is collected in the bioswales and filtered through the plant and soil matrix before being released into the environment, and ultimately back to the Fox River.
Rendering: Hitchcock Design Group

Hugh Lighting Design was involved early on in the schematic design for Riverside Drive Promenade to maintain consistency between other phases of the Elgin Riverfront, but Primera Engineers did the heavy lifting for lighting and electrical design. Certain lights, like the streetlighting, were "locked in," as that style was already used on the riverfront and throughout downtown. All those light fixtures were retrofitted with LEDs; any new lighting specified by Primera also was LED.

Lighting and electrical design focused on the roadway; pedestrian ways and bike paths; the landscapes; accent lighting; color-dynamic uplighting of the signature tensile structures; and for special events. Renderings were generated with lighting design software (AGI 32) to help the city visualize how the new streetscape would look at night. When Festival Park was designed in 2007, it was one of Elgin's first all-LED projects. The lighting for Riverside Drive Promenade is 100 percent LED lighting, while maintaining visual continuity with the city's existing streetscape standards, and connecting the project visually to recent upgrades to the north, south and east. Seventy-eight LEDs were installed, increasing pedestrian and vehicle safety while upgrading the look and feel of the area. Bold, dramatic lighting became a focal point of the downtown Elgin riverfront experience, especially the uplighting of the overlook tensile structures.

Since its grand opening in 2014, Riverside Drive Promenade has become a daily gathering place for residents and visitors serving as the "front porch" to Elgin's downtown. The promenade is an important multimodal connection along the river, making the once utilitarian, underused eyesore into a featured amenity. It provides generous pedestrian walkways, an important connection for the Fox River bicycle trail, vehicular access to adjacent properties, along with stunning overlooks of the Fox River. Because of its location in downtown Elgin and along the Fox River, the site hosts many events throughout the summer, including serving as the backdrop for the annual Elgin 4th of July Fireworks Show. The promenade has also become an attraction for people who come to watch the nightly LED light show during the summer months. It has helped spur business in the immediate vicinity as condominiums have been constructed on the north end of Riverside Drive. Outdoor dining has already opened to take advantage of the unique riverfront experience.

Project Team
Owner: City of Elgin
Project Landscape Architect: Hitchcock Design Group
Construction Manager: IHC Construction Companies

Civil Engineering: V3 Companies
Electrical Engineer: Primera Engineers
Environmental/Geotechnical Engineering: Terracon
Irrigation: TJ Emmerich Associates
Lighting: Hugh Lighting Design
Structural Engineering: Walker Parking Consultants
Water Resources Engineering: Hey & Associates

Widget is loading comments...

Search Site by Story Keywords

Related Stories

May 19, 2019, 8:17 am PDT

Website problems, report a bug.
Copyright © 2019 Landscape Communications Inc.