Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sherman unveiled its plans for a new hospital building at Big Timber and Randall Road this week. The design includes an "environmentally-friendly" geothermal HVAC system, which relies on a large lake. I hope that the final plan will call for a more naturalized lake than depicted in their illustration. In any case, if it breaks ground soon, I guess it will be the second environmentally-conscious large building under construction in Elgin. The other is Judson's Harm A. Weber building--currently under construction, which boasts a "natural ventilation system" that requires "little or no mechanical intervention for six or more months of the year." Whatever the environmental merits, it's an interesting design, and I look forward to seeing the final result.

Some downtown businesses are worried about losing customers when the hospital moves. That's a legitimate concern. The new developments in downtown should soften the blow somewhat, but I think they're right about the need for a significant institutional presence in the downtown area. One idea I'd like to see explored is expanding Judson across the Fox River via a bike/foot bridge. The Riverfront Master Plan already calls for some bike path to connect Judson to the downtown on the west bank, but I think connecting via the east bank and the existing Fox River Trail is a superior option. The only thing that needs to be constructed is a bridge at the waterworks, near the existing boat launch, where the river is very narrow. Benefits would accrue not only to Judson and people affiliated with Judson, but to the downtown, the northeast neighborhood and area biking enthusiasts, who would then have an alternate route to Tyler Creek Forest Preserve.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Construction continues at River Park Place.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sadly, the Council has approved the $5M for the second phase of Festival Park (Courier article). From the story:
...The climbing net will offer children a web of ropes to clamber over and there will be structures that can be made to sound musical notes and other less-than-familiar attractions designed to give the park an almost circus-like atmosphere.
Circus-like atmosphere...This is my general complaint about the Hitchcock design. If the latest one is anything like the original artist's illustration they produced, it threatens to convert a dignified city into an amusement park. This is the City of Elgin, not Six Flags Great America. We don't want a circus-like atmoshere. We want civic dignity, a tasteful design in the tradition of the Civic Center we boldly constructed decades ago.

The other problem is that festival park in its current dimensions will permanently seal the casino out of the downtown, when the objective should be to connect it to the downtown. Because River Park Place is completely residential, no help can come from the east side of Grove Avenue. The entire Festival Park plans should have been redrawn to narrow the park to the half of the grounds facing the river, leaving the other half that faces the street mixed-use construction. That would creat the corridor to connect the casino and its millions of visitors to the downtown.

The $5M would have been better earmarked for the demolition of the Unilever factory, and a request for proposals issued for the Festival Park site. I will have more to say about the problems of Festival Park later. Is it too late for them to change their minds?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Here's some big news from the Daily Herald by way of Steve Munson:
Unilever in North America announced Tuesday that it will close its margarine manufacturing plant in Elgin.

The company anticipates the plant’s production capacity will end by the second quarter in 2006, resulting in the loss of 100 jobs.

The foundry and now finally the factory. This is pretty much the final big piece. The work ahead is in making sure that the building will not be reoccupied but demolished in order to allow the downtown renaissance to extend to the river's west bank. The outcome will be the creation of many more jobs as businesses move into the downtown and new buildings are constructed.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

If you haven't seen Spring Hill Mall recently, check it out. The renovation has improved the food court and the atrium, which now has a water feature.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Some things in the news this week:

From the Daily Herald:
City staffers are negotiating with a property owner to buy a vacant 7¨-acre site south of Willard Avenue and Villa Street to become the future home of the Elgin Recreation Center.
Why do they want to call it the Elgin Recreation Center? Aside from the confusion that will arise between this building and the Centre--often referred to as the Elgin rec center, "God's Gym" is such a better name. It's probably the best name every devised for anything in Elgin...

Dave Kaptain's proposal to charge developers upfront fees has passed:
The council agreed Wednesday to charge developers up front for impact fees, making Elgin the first city in the area to adopt such a policy.

“The developer should hold the risk for the future of a development, not the taxpayers,” said Councilman David Kaptain, who first proposed the front-loaded impact fee idea. “It’s their gamble to build, not mine and not my neighbor’s.

Well done, Kaptain. I think it especially makes sense now because we're heading into the tail end of the housing cycle, and the risks are rising.

Here's an interesting article on Toll Brothers from today's New York Times. Toll Brothers is building Bowes Creek Estates in Elgin, a stone's throw north of the proposed Stony Creek project.
If someone on Yearley's land-acquisition team is in charge of three counties, he has to know every piece of land in every desirable town in each of those counties. He has to know every elected official. He has to carry around a color-coded map of every town in his or her area so as to know where sewer lines and power lines run, since both can determine the viability of any potential subdivision. "Every parcel that's more than 50 acres that has not been developed," Yearley added, "has to be identified." In urban areas it can be even smaller.
You think the forest preserve district is as aggressive? Maybe if they split it off from the county board it would be. I think DuPage has a forest preserve district completely independent of the county board. Kane voters should explore that option.

Here's another article courtesy of the New York Times, about state funding of universities. It says that 25% of U of I's budget comes from the state.
"At those levels, we have to ask what it means to be a public institution," said Katharine C. Lyall, an economist and president emeritus of the University of Wisconsin. "America is rapidly privatizing its public colleges and universities, whose mission used to be to serve the public good. But if private donors and corporations are providing much of a university's budget, then they will set the agenda, perhaps in ways the public likes and perhaps not. Public control is slipping away."
Examples set at Cornell, Harvard, Columbia and so on in the 60s have shown that students and professors can be far more dangerous to the health of a university than private donors and corporations. If the state can successfully privatize parts of the University of Illinois system, that should free up resources to establish new campuses where needed, namely the Fox Valley. Elgin would be a nice location...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Congratulations to Selim Bassoul and the folks at Middleby on their #10 ranking on the Forbes Magazine's 2005 Best Small Companies list. Middleby gave $60,000 in equipment to ECC's culinary arts school last year. We hope to see them grow.
What do you think of this description of Elgin from Lars Nilsen, a Judson College blogger:
Ok. I am currently living in Elgin, Illinois, which is about an hour West of Chicago. Most people have not heard of it, but it is a quite large subarb which is mostly populated be Mexicans. I have nothing bad to say about that. For some reason it has an affect on the amount of crime... but I personally think it is a great way for most Americans to come out of their protective shells and experience other cultures.
A St. Charles blogger posts some pictures of the old First Universalist Church in downtown. I left a comment saying the allegedly-condemned building would make an interesting venue for drama, comedy, or chamber music--though I don't know anything about the acoustics. The area can use a good comedy club though...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Pumpkin Monster

At Goebbert's Pumpkin Patch in Hampshire, the Pumpkin Monster opens pumpkin season with giant pumpkin-breaking feats, whilst I, Pumpkin Pie Monster, wait for Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Another thing I noticed when I went to the Hemmens is that after you listen to some beautiful music inside the auditorium, you come out and you hear this deafening drone from the Unilever factory. This is not even the tolerable din of a typical city, which its pulsing variety of sounds, but is a completely unnatural and constant drone. It makes Walton Island essentially unusable. I've experienced this on weekdays but I had no idea that even on a Sunday, the drone would break the quiet of downtown Elgin. This combination of serious noise pollution and negative visual impact makes the Unilever factory the single largest impediment to a downtown revival, in my opinion. In fact, the impact goes beyond the downtown and affects the image of Elgin as a whole. The Unilever factory is the leading candidate for Elgin's anti-image award.

Monday, October 03, 2005

I went to hear the Elgin Symphony Orchestra's Mozart/Bruch/Mahler program over the weekend, which gave me a chance to see what the Hemmens is looking like these days. In my opinion, the building doesn't do justice to the music. It has a clean exterior design in the modern International style, but the interior is dated. Its cinder block walls and painted concrete floors are more appropriate to a high school auditorium than a concert hall that is home to Illinois's second orchestra. Also, it may have been where I was sitting--the third row--but the acoustics were miserable. I was within ten feet of Robert McDuffie but I could barely hear his Guarneri del Gesu violin--I exaggerate slightly but you get the point. The space doesn't do justice to the music.

On the positive side, however, there's a lot of space between the rows, making it easy to navigate the rows without forcing those who are seated to stand up to get out of the way. In this regard, the Hemmens may have the most spacious seating of all the concert halls I've been to--if the Hemmens can be considered a concert hall, and I can see now how capacity can be added simply by adjusting the distance between the rows to what is more standard for a concert hall. A new concert hall hence would not need to be that much larger in dimension, because such an adjustment will add a good number of seats. Nevertheless it will still be very expensive as all concert halls are. As an investment in the image of the community, it would be a worthy expense.

And as for the music? The program was wonderful; the performance was enthusiastic; but for aforesaid reasons the sound was only good. I wonder if the Prairie Center in Schaumburg is a better venue to listen to the ESO. I'll try to find that out, but I know that until Elgin gets a new concert hall, we'll never be able to experience in Elgin what T.S. Eliot describes in his Four Quartets:

...Music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts...