Rita Crundwell. The name made national headlines for months and put a spotlight on Dixon, Illinois. However, now that the former comptroller is in jail for stealing more than $50 million from the city, Dixon is under redevelopment.
On Thursday, May 22nd, 2014, News 8 visited the small community to see a big, multi-million project that's in the works - a $6 million streetscape renovation.
"We're going to be replacing sidewalks, curbs, gutters, streets, lighting, and trees," said Jeff Kuhn, Dixon's Commissioner of Streets & Public Improvements. "It's just going to revamp the whole downtown area."
The project started on Tuesday, May 20th, 2014. It encompasses five blocks of 1st Street and three side streets, with a projected completion date set for sometime in October or November.
"The downtown area has been neglected for quite awhile due to the financial problems we had and right now we're bringing rebirth to the city of Dixon," says Kuhn.
Kuhn adds that the area under construction is a TIF District and participating members are paying for $5 million of the project. The other $1 million is coming from the $40 million the city recovered from the Crundwell case.
"This, to me, is like - alright, it's over," explains Kuhn. "The woman has gone to prison and we have recaptured a lot of the money. We're putting it back into the city -- the utilities, the curbs, the gutters, the infrastructure -- it's being done the way it should be done and it's going to make a great city out of all of this."
David Nord agrees. Nord was hired in November 2013 as Dixon's first City Administrator to provide more oversight of the city's finances.
"Hopefully, the administrative position brings consolidation and responsibility into one area," he explains. "I mean every department is run by very fine people that have worked for the community for a long time. Unfortunately, everybody was sort of doing their own thing and not really centralizing so everyone else knew what was going on, so that's a main objective of the city administrator - to make sure that everybody is talking to each other, that we don't have overlap, that we don't have conflict, and to try to make operations run smoothly and cost effectively."
Nord says they are in the process of revamping the city's personnel manual and employee practices to prevent something like the Crundwell case from every happening again.
"The city was very fortunate to recover the amount of money that it did and is putting it to good use as far as expenditures through its operations," he says. "The council has been very, very cautious about the funds as far as to how it's going to be spent and are very careful about every expenditure before they actually undertake it."
Nord says the streetscape project signifies a downtown that is coming back. Even though the downtown is 90% occupied, Nord says the project is "beautifying the downtown" and has many new things on the way.
Some examples include a new French bistro-style restaurant set to open in mid-July. Before that, the downtown area will host the music portion of the 50th Annual Petunia Festival, set for July 2nd-6th. Also, in August, Lyle Lovett is coming to town.
"It's a lot easier to get things done now," says Josh Albrecht, Executive Director of Dixon Main Street and Riverfront. "Our job is to do things and so now it's a lot easier to bring events and programming to our community and even to recruit new businesses. Having a city administrator on board really helps get that process going. You have someone who is actively doing that on a daily basis."
Albrecht says the streetscape project is "tangible proof" that the city is moving forward.
"We've got an influx of money coming back into our community and this is a great first step of returning that money to the citizens and for the community and for the growth of our community," he explains. "This project is definitely about 15, 20 years from now. It's not about right now. It's about what's going to happen in the future of Dixon."