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Mattoon community planning effort moving forward

Mattoon community planning effort moving forward

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MATTOON -- Participants in Mattoon in the Motion have completed their organizational sessions and are now preparing to hold a town meeting to spotlight the community planning goals that they have developed.

The approximately 60 participants also have divided into action teams to work on projects and strategies related to the six goal areas -- workforce training, economic development, tourism promotion, youth development, parks and recreation upgrades, and housing improvements.

Mattoon in Motion is part of the MAPPING program, offered through the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University. Institute staff members helped lead the five organizational sessions, including the final one Thursday night at Lake Land College's Webb Hall. Participants met with representatives of organizations that offer resources for helping meet community planning goals.

For example, Director Don Elmore of the Illinois Small Business Development Center in Champaign said his office offers counseling and other support services for prospective entrepreneurs and existing businesses. Elmore said he is glad to see that Mattoon is engaged in community planning.

"This is a great thing. You should really take advantage of this," Elmore said, adding that community planning can yield good ideas. Elmore said he also was interested to hear discussion at Thursday's session about developing sidewalk seating at downtown restaurants. He said sidewalk seating has worked out well in downtown Champaign.

The participants also heard a presentation from Sherry Phillips, district engineer for local roads and streets with the Illinois Department of Transportation in Effingham. She discussed some of the grants that are available for roadway, sidewalk, and boulevard improvements.

Mattoon in Motion participant Rick Hall, who serves on the Mattoon City Council, said the city wants to work with IDOT to install street lighting along Illinois Route 16 from Interstate 57 west to Logan Street. He said this roadway is extremely dark at night due to the lack of street lighting. He said lighting is needed to draw motorists off of I-57 and improve safety for pedestrians crossing Route 16.

During the session, Mattoon in Motion's six action teams gave presentations about their proposed projects and strategies.

As an example, tourism team member Steve Pankey talked about their strategy to enhance an existing resource -- the youth baseball and softball tournaments that draw thousands of families to Mattoon every year. He said offering more activities for these visitors will encourage them to stay in Mattoon longer and leave their hotel rooms to go to local restaurants and shops.

City Administrator Kyle Gill asked that the tourism team also consider projects related to Amtrak. Gill said he and Mayor Tim Gover met this week with an Amtrak representative about the new passenger coaches that will go into service within the next two years. Gill said these coaches will have additional bicycle rack capabilities, which could help bring riders to Mattoon to use the local bike trail that is being expanded.

Mattoon in Motion participants are tentatively scheduled to hold a "maintaining the momentum" session for their projects at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 11 in Lake Land's Webb Hall. They then hope to hold a town meeting in early March to spotlight their goals and get more residents involved with this effort.

The Mattoon Chamber of Commerce has recruited participants from businesses, churches, civic groups, education, health care and other sectors to take part in this planning effort. The Mattoon Area Community Foundation helped arrange for the MAPPING program to be offered locally. Monetary donations from the community are paying for the program costs.

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