Downtown DeKalb to get makeover

By Jessie Kern

DeKALB | Downtown DeKalb is undergoing changes to help in transitioning the area as the centerpiece of the city.

City officials have been working to revitalize downtown DeKalb since developing plans with Hitchcock Design Group, a planning firm from Naperville, that began in 2007.

The Downtown DeKalb Revitalization Plan was developed in 2007 and rebuilt in 2013 as the DeKalb: City Center Plan, according to the city’s webpage.

Jason Michnick, City of DeKalb economic development planner, said the revitalization plan called for an increase in residential buildings to help the mass population grow and support businesses, but the plan did not indicate where the projects would be taking place.

“I would say that having mixed-use with residential, more residential and new restaurants and businesses, was part of the plan for downtown,” Michnick said. “It just didn’t necessarily call out the specific locations.”

Michnick said the two projects are Cornerstone and Plaza DeKalb.,

Cornerstone is the building under construction on the corner of First Street and Lincoln Highway , Plaza DeKalb is the building in the process of demolition on the corner of Second Street and Lincoln Highway.

“I think it’s a total of 74 new units that are going to be available between July,” Michnick said. “Over the next year or so, you’re going to have 74 new units in the downtown.”

The building at 203 E. Lincoln Highway will be converted into an apartment unit from the second to fourth floor with a specialty grocery store on the ground floor, according to the city of DeKalb webpage.

“Construction on the building on the corner [of Second Street and Lincoln Highway] is probably not going to start until later this summer, and it will take probably until next year,” Michnick said. “My guess would be late spring is when you might see that wrapping up.”

Michnick said the Cornerstone building is almost complete, and those working on the project are hoping to have people moving in no later than early August.

“I assume there will be some students that are going to move in there,” Michnick said. “They can afford it. It’s not going to be as affordable as some of the other student housing that’s available in the community. I think comparing it to somewhere like University Plaza it will be pretty similar rates.”

The units currently available at University Plaza, 900 Crane Drive, range from $465 to $870 a month, according to its webpage.

Michnick said a mix of young professionals, retirees looking to downsize and graduate students, about 100 people in total, have expressed interest in the apartments that will be made available through the Cornerstone project.

“I think given that they’re fully furnished and all of their utilities are included when you account for all that being included in the price, it’s pretty comparable to some of the other nicer housing in the community,” Michnick said.

New Venues

Of the venues being introduced downtown there will be a grocery store, restaurant and tavern, among other businesses.

Michnick said the grocery store will be a Mediterranean-themed specialty option located on the first floor of Plaza DeKalb.

“So you’re going to have your wine, cheeses, olive oils, fresh produce, breads,” Michnick said. “There is going to be a deli there with some Mediterranean food that’s offered. So very similar to the operator that’s proposed for the grocery store is the same owner of Jamrah, which is a Mediterranean restaurant on Sycamore Road.”

Michnick said there will also be a local restaurant, but he is unsure of what kind of food venue it will be because nothing has been made official yet.

“Then the one at First [Street] and Lincoln Highway, it’s going to be called Tavern on Lincoln,” Michnick said. “That’s going to be kind of your higher-end pub food and craft beer kind of concept with sandwiches and pizzas, stuff like that.”

Michnick said he hopes to engage students and see them use the VeoRide bike sharing program to spend more time and visit downtown DeKalb more often.

“We’re really hoping that students come back with a lot of energy and wanting to stay in town on the weekends and have fun and patronize not just the downtown, but area businesses throughout the city so we’re excited,” Michnick said.

Junior illustration major Elizabeth Russo said she doesn’t think the new venues downtown will impact whether students stay on campus during the weekends.

“I’ve been downtown quite a bit actually just for something to do,” said Hollee Lockwood, freshman pre-physical therapy major. “I think it actually might be exciting. There’s not a lot of stuff down there, and it’d be better to look and walk around [downtown].”

Junior nursing major Jovitha Katla said new venues might impact students staying on campus instead of going home for the weekends if they are made aware of them.

Katla said if students know about the new venues coming downtown she thinks it can have an impact on students staying in town more often, rather than going home for the weekend.

“We’re really hoping that we can engage with students in the fall, and it will be exciting for them to come back to for the ones that are returning for school,” Michnick said. “It’s going to be a totally different place.”