KANKAKEE — As plans continue to take shape for the East River Street portion of the proposed riverwalk along the Kankakee River, the cost of the project rises with it.
During a Zoom meeting Tuesday evening, hosted by the Kankakee Riverfront Society — the organization charged with seeking private funding for The Currents of Kankakee project — designers said the price tag for the first 1-acre segment of the project has grown from an initial estimate of $1.7 million to a projected $2.5 million to $3.5 million.
The current thought is 60 percent of project funding would be generated by the recently created Tax Increment Financing District. Twenty percent of the funding would be gained through philanthropy and 20 percent through state and federal grants.
The riverwalk development is a plan to transform the approximate 4-mile stretch of Kankakee River frontage property into a recreational and leisure destination, not just for residents, but have it become a regional destination.
The proposed area begins at the East River Street site and follows the river banks to the Riverside Medical Center campus.
Based upon Illinois Department of Natural Resources guidelines regarding grant funding, this portion of the project needs to be completed by September 2025.
The goal is have the final design plan submitted in January to the Kankakee City Council for its approval. The riverfront society is already working on plans to gain private funding.
The first portion of the project is the 1-acre property at the southeast corner of the East River Street and South Schuyler Avenue intersection near downtown Kankakee. The goal is to turn what is largely an unused property into a thriving public gathering location and where the Kankakee River serves as the main attraction.
Two conceptual plans were presented to a Zoom audience of about 50. Designers from Hitchcock Design Group, the consulting team spearheading the creation of the walk, noted the concepts are simply a first look at what is possible, meaning the designs are far from finished products.
Richard Hitchcock, who has been at the forefront of this project dating back about three years, noted renderings featured river “overlook’’ platforms where spectators can get long-distance views upstream and downstream. The concepts also allow for boat docking, some vehicle parking, plenty of green space and some way of incorporating the existing boat house or some version of it. He noted a boat dock would allow boaters to walk downtown, bringing more business opportunities.
This area stretches from the senior apartment complex to the east and to the South Schuyler Avenue bridge to the west.
The goal of the park is to draw the eyes of the public from the road to the river. Hitchcock noted other than local residents, most people would not even know the Kankakee River is there because it is so hidden by tree.
Regarding the growing costs of this phase of the project, Hitchcock explained the first cost estimate was very basic, very generic. As designers work through their concepts, he said the site has great potential and it is key for the first portion of the project to make an impact.
Staci Wilken, president of the riverfront society, echoed Hitchcock’s thoughts. She said the cost project should not alarm anyone. She noted this first project needs to be powerful as a way to energize and excite those who are being sought to help fund the riverwalk development and to create real interest as to what this project can be.
“Anytime developers are working with riverfront they are trying to pack a punch. I do believe there are still folks who don’t think this is possible,” she said. “We are trying to educate as many groups as we can as to what this can be. Do we want to put out a sidewalk and plant a couple of trees and say that’s good enough? No, we don’t.
“We have a lot, a lot of potential here. It’s up to us to capture that potential.”