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Morris aims for tourism, development opportunities with long term plan

Morris’ comprehensive urban plan to focus on marketing, streetscape

Morris officials will dive deeper into plans to use one of the city’s most valuable assets to its benefit.

Last week, the city council approved an agreement with Teska Associates Inc. to develop a master plan for downtown Morris.

“We are able to take and incorporate this into our existing comprehensive plan, it will be its own chapter. But it will then become part of the city’s plan overall,” Mayor Richard Kopczick said. “So we’ll have one specifically for the downtown.”

The city’s development review committee works with the Morris Downtown Development Partnership on downtown development, and Teska will work with the MDDP on the comprehensive plans.

Teska will conduct a market study to include a background review, tours, interviews with key stakeholders including MDDP leadership and business owners, creation of a focus group, surveys, a best practices assessment, and a final report.

The plan will identify ways to upgrade and benefit downtown via streetscape changes, development opportunities, promotion, design, and planning and implementation strategies.

The initial report from Teska indicates that downtown Morris “remains a successful and viable downtown” but notes that upgrades, changes, and long-term plans would benefit downtown business owners and the city as a whole.

Teska’s initial report reveals the following:

• A critical mass of shops in downtown are enough to make the trip worthwhile for both locals and out-of-town guests.

• Businesses have potential growth for outside dining.

• Street furnishings such as planters, trash receptacles and benches are a bit dated.

• Downtown signs and murals look nice, however, some of the older directional signs are due for upgrades, as some signs are faded.

• Signage directing travelers to downtown Morris from I-80 could be a part of a larger community wayfinding effort directing motorists to parks, schools, and other major community attractions.

One area that the initial report suggests could be added to the comprehensive plan is an effort to boost tourism, possibly marketing Morris as a weekend destination for Chicago-area residents.

“The linkage to the I&M Canal trail, and celebration of that history, is very nicely done. However, additional opportunities to enhance linkage to the Illinois River should be explored,” according to the report. “Additional focus on tourism opportunities seems appropriate given the excellent assets Morris can promote, and proximity to the greater Chicago region for weekend getaways. Better alignment with ‘Starved Rock Country’ or other regional tourism draws can be considered.”

The plan will also focus on possible enhancement to the Route 47 corridor adjacent to downtown, addressing underused or vacant properties and adding more events such as history walks.

An open house will for the public will be scheduled in advance of the plan’s final adoption.

The agreement with Teska will not to exceed $39,700, and runs through Aug. 1, 2020.

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