DeKALB – Northern Illinois University President Douglas Baker and DeKalb Mayor John Rey announced plans Thursday to work together to make the downtown DeKalb area engaging and attractive to college students.
Standing in front of a photo illustration that combined the NIU campus and downtown, they announced they intend plan to further DeKalb’s City Center plans and said they will travel to the University of Idaho in September, when the NIU football team plays there, to tour successful university housing projects that were completed under Baker.
Baker, Rey and Acting City Manager Rudy Espiritu spoke to a crowd of about 150 at the annual State of the City address, which was held Thursday morning at the Hopkins Park Community Center. The city’s accomplishments, financial status and plans for the future were discussed, but the downtown area was featured most prominently.
“Mayor Rey and Rudy talked about the need for a close working partnership between the city and the university, and they really reaffirmed my commitment to do that as well,” Baker told the crowd. “It’s really music to my ears.”
The City Council first weighed in on DeKalb’s City Center Plan, which is incorporated as part of its Comprehensive Plan, in June. The part of the plan that focuses on the area west of First Street in downtown has been dubbed Communiversity Commons, but few details, except for a planned shuttle and expanded bike paths, have so far been released.
Baker presented his vision.
“One game-changing thing that the mayor mentioned – I’d like to reinforce – and that’s the creation of a kind of Communiversity Commons,” he said. “Most universities have a cool university district with shops and cafes and music performance spaces and galleries ... wouldn’t that be cool if that area was doing that?”
A survey of NIU students has factored into the plans, Rey said.
“The results of that survey was downtown DeKalb was the corner of Annie Glidden and Lincoln Highway,” Rey said. “We need to extend that perception.”
For his part, Espiritu spoke of the city’s economic and financial status, and gave updates on various city projects.
He reported that work on the DeKalb marquee on Third Street should be completed in time for Corn Fest’s return downtown later this month and that several industrial facilities have been leased around town.
Espiritu commended the DeKalb Public Library’s leadership for its success in securing grants from the state of Illinois, and Rey praised the library expansion project as a pre-eminent example of public-private partnerships, which he touted for the City Center Plan.
“The library expansion will serve as a stimulus as that gets underway in downtown DeKalb,” Rey said. “Seeing state, local and private sources come into that project is an excellent template – an example.”