Downtown revitalization taking shape

Downtown revitalization taking shape

Improvements and beautification of central McLean keep coming.

The revitalization of downtown McLean has been an ongoing project for the community and civic leaders for some time. This year progress is starting to be seen and residents are getting tangible glimpses at what central McLean may look like once the project is completed.

The revitalization project, which has distinguished itself as the forerunner to all the other revitalization efforts in the county, received a $50,000 stipend from the county recently, which will be put into action in the coming months. “We took half of that and got 10 benches, 10 trash cans and 10 planters,” Jack Wilbern of the McLean Citizens Association said. This year those items will be scattered along the local bus route to facilitate use of mass transit and foot traffic.

One of the most visible projects is the facelift being given to the Giant supermarket in the heart of town. The entire shopping center was redesigned several years ago to make it a two story facility and to update the architecture to something more fitting with McLean.

The ultimate goal of the revitalization, as put forth my the MCA, is to make McLean a more attractive and pedestrian friendly town than it currently is. Creating that environment will pull from a number of different areas, according to MCA members. In addition to improving walkways, the group is working on undergrounding utilities, retrofitting lighting to comply with dark-skies rules and stepping up landscaping around town for beautification.

While undergrounding utilities in the entire revitalization area will take some time and a considerable amount of money, a section of town adjacent to the Palladium should be the first to have the underground utility lines. MCA’s Dan Duvall said that preliminary engineering studies are currently being done and should be received by the county midyear if everything stays on schedule. “Our hope is that construction will begin in 2005. Hopefully not a whole lot more than six months [to complete],” said Duvall.

Instituting pedestrian walkways downtown emerged as the front-runner for residents’ concerns. “From my way of thinking, it’s more important than undergrounding utilities,” said Bill Frazier, president of a local homeowners association.

An example of the walkways MCA envisions can now be seen in front of the remodeled Exxon downtown. Exxon’s remodeling is ahead of the rest of the downtown revitalization and is already in compliance with the brick walkway and dark-skies (lower watt) streetlights.

Old “cobra head” lighting fixtures will, over time, be replaced with the dark-skies-compliant fixtures that the community stated it wanted. “It’s low-hanging fruit to swap out the heads because it’s cheap,” said Wilbern.

A lighting ordinance was passed last year requiring the new heads, but there is no retroactive enforcement capability for city officials.

Some pedestrian-friendly measures have already come about on the edge of the revitalization district toward McLean High School. Crosswalks have been marked in the area where there previously were none. A brick median and rumble strips are also planned for that area in the near term, according to Wilbern.