KANKAKEE — The Currents of Kankakee, the organization charged with steering the development in and along the 4-mile stretch of the Kankakee River in Kankakee, will need a front person to guide this plan.
At the group’s recent annual meeting, Staci Wilken, the president of the Riverfront Society, the organization which is charged with gaining private donations for the proposed multi-million project, said the project needs a director.
And the project development is moving to its next phase so time is of the essence. The group is now focusing on a second development area, this one being called the West River Walk.
Wilken, who is the full-time director of the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau, has largely been doing much of that work, along with some of the board members.
However, she said, it is simply more than anyone can handle as a second job and the riverfront development is so important it needs someone who can devote all their energies to it.
She said as the project moves forward a constant presence is needed.
“This is the board’s vision as well,” she said. “We must have someone who can help carry out this mission.”
Wilken said the hope is this new person could be in place prior to the end of 2021 and noted a salary range has not yet been determined.
“This project deserves an executive director to continue this work on a daily basis,” she said.
The targeted 4-mile stretch of riverfront being eyed for development stretches from the Frank Lloyd Wright home in the Riverview area going west along the river to Riverside Medical Center campus.
The development is being eyed as a way to attract private and public developments along this expanse to help revitalize the region. Proponents of the plan have stated the river has been underutilized as a tool to bring in development.
The initial phase of development by The Currents will be the approximate 1-acre plot of land at the southeast corner of East River Street and South Schuyler Avenue, just south of downtown Kankakee.
The East River Walk site is targeted for an estimated $3.5 million development creating a park-like setting as well as a canoe- and kayak-launch area.
The goal is to have this project started no later than September 2023 and completed no later than September 2025, due to Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grants which will a funding source for this project.
Concerning the West River Walk, this section of open-space development will be border by South Washington Avenue on its east side; West River Street on its north side; the Kankakee River of its south side; and the Legion Park area on the west.
Initial plans call for an outdoor classroom area, an amphitheater, bandshell, covered picnic area and a “nature based” playground, among other features. In-depth planning will likely take place in perhaps 12 months.
This portion does not yet have a cost associated with it. Officials also noted there are three properties within this area to be acquired. The hope is all properties will be purchased by the summer 2022.
At the meeting, Kankakee Mayor Chris Curtis noted he is often asked if he is committed to the riverfront development. He said he assures those who ask, that he is.
“I’m behind this plan and pushing it forward. This is good for Kankakee and Kankakee County,” he said. “The advantage [the City of Kankakee has] is this water and the riverfront.
“... We want to create a destination and help spur on economic development. We are 100 percent behind this. We will do everything we can to make this work.”