Decatur City Council approves ‘road map’ for Jasper Street corridor | #citycouncil

Ali Begazo, a planner with Teska, adds a sticky note to a board of ideas during the 2022 Jasper Street Fest at Johns Hill Park in Decatur. 

DECATUR — The city council has given the green light to a “road map” for improvements to the three-mile stretch of Jasper Street between Pershing Road and Lake Shore Drive. 

The multi-faceted plan, developed over the past year by Evanston-based consulting firm Teska Associates in partnership with the city, neighborhood organizations, local business owners and residents, aims to revitalize the street and surrounding corridor through various streetscape upgrades, improvements to area housing stock and attraction of new businesses, among other strategies.

The Decatur City Council approved the 108-page framework 5-0. Councilmen Dennis Cooper and Pat McDaniel were not present for the meeting.

It is the first plan developed under the Great Streets, Great Neighborhoods initiative, an offshoot of the city’s larger neighborhood revitalization pillar.

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The plan catalogs demographic information about the neighborhood and details community feedback, using the information as a base for specific recommendations of steps forward under the buckets of neighborhood capacity, placemaking, transportation, housing and economic opportunities.

Some aspects of the plan are already taking shape. For instance, the goals of rehabilitating existing housing before deteriorating beyond repair and demolishing vacant and abandoned buildings that cannot be saved are already part of the city’s broader revitalization strategy. Several grant programs for home renovation and repairs already exist. And the city has invested millions, much of it one-time federal pandemic relief funds, in home demolitions over the past few years.

But others, such as a number of projects that would significantly reshape the transportation infrastructure of the neighborhood, will have have to come back to the council for final approval.

City Manager Scot Wrighton said the approved plan “sets a general direction and sets a context for improvements whether it’s water, sewer, roads or community development or anything else.”

“With as many different voices as there are in this policy development process, it’s important to have a roadmap; otherwise everybody’s going off in different directions,” Wrighton said. “The second is that many of the grant programs we will pursue require this kind of a roadmap, this kind of a plan.”

Scott Goldstein, principal at Teska, told members of the council that “as you proceed in individual projects, you can see the big picture” with the road map.

Among the ideas proposed: a road diet that would reduce traffic from two lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane; the improvement of sidewalks and the addition of ADA-complaint ramps; and the creation of a separate bicycle and walking path along the entire route.

All of the above can be done within the existing Jasper Street right-of-way, Goldstein said. 

Another plan: Restore the street grid between North Street and the railroad viaduct. Presently, Jasper and Illinois streets become a pair of one-way roads for traffic crossing Eldorado St.

Under the recommended plan, ramps carrying southbound traffic from Jasper  to Illinois would be eliminated. Traffic on southbound Jasper would continue straight on the same roadway that currently carries northbound traffic. Illinois and North streets would become a four-way intersection. Illinois Street would then end in a cul-de-sac just before the railroad tracks. 

The draft also calls for the creation of a “civic plaza” just north of the viaduct to provide a play area for children and open lawn space for a variety of uses.

City officials emphasized that the plan was crafted with significant community feedback and, in many ways, was driven by local stakeholders, who provided suggestions at two different “street fest” events, through an online portal and in brainstorming sessions.


Ramon and Jamillah Portee, of Decatur, watch a K-9 demonstration by the Decatur Police Department during the Jasper Street Fest at Johns Hill Park in Decatur on Thursday. 

The buy-in was evident Monday evening as several in the community signaled their support.

“This is something that can really transform this area, showing our citizens that we are investing in them, investing in the place where they live and work,” said Dr. Dana Ray, a former city council member and a pastor at Life Changers Church, which is just one block away from Jasper. 

Ray added that the plan “checks a lot of boxes” in terms of the city’s neighborhood revitalization goals while giving residents a “sense of ownership” over the future of their community. 

Kathy Williams of the Coalition of Neighborhood Organizations said it’s “a dream that’s coming true.”

“As neighborhood organizations, we’ve been working on this forever, it seems like,” she said. “So finally, it’s becoming true. We have strove for a long time. This is our vision.”

Jeremy Morris and his wife Juanita opened their business on Jasper Street seven years ago and have subsequently bought other properties in the surrounding area. 

“This program is near and dear to us because it incentivizes us in investing in our neighborhood,” he said. 

The ambition of the Great Streets, Great Neighborhoods initiative is not limited to Jasper Street. But Wrighton said they made the corridor their first target because “goes through the heart of some of the most distressed neighborhoods in the city of Decatur.”

The area of focus is between Martin Luther King Drive and 16th Street along the entire stretch of Jasper, which touches at least a half-dozen neighborhoods.

The target area had a population of 8,944 as of the 2020 U.S. Census, a decline of about 1,600 from 2010. The aim is to reverse population loss. 

Wrighton said that funding for the plan will come from a variety of sources, including existing Community Development Block Grant funds, remaining American Rescue Plan dollars and by pursuing grants.

The city is in the process of applying for a $10 million grant that would fund the roadway improvements. If granted, construction could be completed within three years. 

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