Kankakee Riverfront Society Reveals East Riverwalk Concept


Kankakee Riverfront Society Reveals East Riverwalk Concept


March 23, 2021

During a virtual public open house on Monday, March 22, the Kankakee Riverfront Society, the not-for-profit organization spearheading The Currents of Kankakee and the transformation of the downtown Kankakee riverfront, revealed its Preferred Concept for the East Riverwalk. According to Chairperson Staci Wilken and other panelists who participated in the online event, the East Riverwalk will become a stunning gateway to the downtown riverfront, set the standards for a series of future riverfront improvements and foster nearby private-sector investment and redevelopment. When complete, by 2025 or sooner, the East Riverwalk will feature a collection of landscaped plazas, overlooks and pavilions that incorporate materials reflecting the city’s heritage, all linked by spacious, barrier-free, street and river level pathways.


Street level:

  • Both the Schuyler Avenue and East River Street frontages will feature new streetscape amenities that compliment recent downtown improvements and greatly enhance the presentation of the site.


  • The Entry Plaza will anchor the intersection and provide exceptional exposure to passing motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.


  • Gently curving pathways will invite pedestrians to explore multiple street and river level park features.


  • The Gateway Overlook and its prominent sculptural centerpiece will draw pedestrians toward the river and treat them to exceptional, long views of the Kankakee River.


  • The upper level of the former Stone Boathouse will be reimagined as a small, shaded pavilion that can be used for picnicking, seasonal concessions or small events.


  • Most days, the semicircular parking lot, carefully tucked out of the featured line of sight, will accommodate a small number of riverfront patrons who choose to drive to the park and seasonal food trucks. Its attractive permeable paving will be environmentally friendly and will double as a hard surface space for periodic special events. A small restroom building will support everyday park patrons.


  • The Event Lawn will provide a grassy space for relaxing, small scale performances and occasional special events. A spacious pavilion perched on top of the slope will provide an outstanding venue for small family and organizational events.



River level:

  • A wide curving pathway, about 3 feet above normal water level, will hug the 300-foot river frontage and provide future connections to both east and west extensions of the Riverwalk.


  • A large section of the river level pathway will include bollards or cleats to safely secure powered boats. One end of the pathway will feature a removable device that accommodates all types of access needs for kayakers or canoeists. A gravel “beach” will provide a traditional pull-out for boaters with non-motorized craft.


  • A broad, gently sloping pathway will provide a barrier-free route between the river and street level for pedestrians and kayakers needing a safe and convenient portage route around the downstream dam. A spacious staircase, adjacent to the bridge, will provide an alternative vertical connector for patrons. A stone arch, inspired by the existing arch artifact on the property, will grace the top of the staircase and showcase the alternative route.


  • The lower level of the Stone Boathouse will be used for storage and seasonal concessions.




Tim King, Principal at Hitchcock Design Group, estimated that the East Riverwalk will cost a little less than $3.5 million to design, engineer, permit and construct. King pointed out, “The current estimate is greater than our 2017 construction cost opinion because at the time of the land acquisition grant submittal, the project was much smaller in scope and complexity.” Hitchcock Design Group authored the 2018 Kankakee Riverfront Master Plan and are the designers of the East Riverwalk.


Rick Hitchcock, former President of Hitchcock Design Group and author of 19 midwestern riverfront plans, said that the single most important factor in the success of the riverwalks that he has designed, and countless others around the country, is the early establishment of a solid public/private partnership for both funding and operations. “The Kankakee Riverfront Society is off to a great start,” said Hitchcock. “I anticipate that about 15% to 20% of the East Riverwalk capital funding will come from local, private sector gifts and the balance will come from Tax Increment Financing and state and federal grants.”


The online open house was the third of at least four scheduled public events that are associated with the preliminary design of the East Riverwalk. Early in the presentation, Mayor Wells-Armstrong, Vice Chairperson of the Kankakee Riverfront Society, celebrated important progress in the multi-year initiative, “The inaugural East Riverwalk will be constructed at the southeast corner of Schuyler Avenue and East River Street on three properties that the City acquired last fall. The corner property was generously donated by Joe and Scott Franco, and the two adjacent properties were purchased using a $134,000 Open Space and Land Acquisition grant awarded in 2019 by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.” 


Wilken echoed the Mayor’s excitement by adding, “In addition to the land acquisition, we have already created a powerful brand and brand standards, the hydro plant lighting plan and this East Riverwalk Concept. Throughout the process, we have actively engaged the public and we have received guidance from many influential community organizations. Now we are focusing on riverfront marketing, funding and operational strategies.”


Matt McBurnie, Kankakee Riverfront Society board member, encouraged the community to be an advocate for the East Riverwalk and The Currents of Kankakee saying, “We’ve all benefitted from this area’s visionary leadership of the past. This initiative shows today’s vision for the future which will benefit us for decades to come.” He also indicated that the Society has recently formed committees and invites the public to be a part of the efforts to bring this project to life. “We are eager to have really broad community involvement.”


Following input from the public open house, the Kankakee Riverfront Society and consultant team will finalize the East Riverwalk Concept for presentation to the City’s Economic Development Committee on Thursday, March 25, 2021. A City Council presentation is planned, but not yet scheduled.


The Kankakee Riverfront Society, Inc. (KRS) is a not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) organization dedicated to the implementation of the 2018 Kankakee Riverfront Master Plan. KRS includes City of Kankakee and Kankakee Valley Park District officials and other community leaders whose mission is to make The Currents of Kankakee an extraordinary riverfront experience that will transform the region’s image, raise its marketplace appeal and enhance its quality of life.


The Currents of Kankakee brand for the Kankakee Riverfront was created and is owned by the Kankakee Riverfront Society.


Preliminary Design of the East Riverwalk is funded by a Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is administered by the City of Kankakee Economic and Community Development Agency.


Please see the attached Project Synopsis or visit the Project Website at www.hitchcockdesigngroup.com/kankakee-east-riverwalk/ for more information.


For more information about The Currents of Kankakee, please contact Staci Wilken by email at thecurrentsofkankakee@gmail.com or by phone at 815-935-7390; or Tim King by email at tking@hitchcockdesigngroup.com or by phone at 630-698-5960. 


cc:                    Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, City of Kankakee

                          Jasmyne Humble, City of Kankakee

                          Barbi Brewer-Watson, Kankakee ECDA

                          Rachel Schramm, Kankakee ECDA

                          Staci Wilken, Kankakee Riverfront Society

                          Tim King, Lacey Lawrence, Rick Hitchcock, Hitchcock Design Group


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