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By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    The first part of a major streetscape, and other improvements, have Fairview Heights driving into the new year in fine fashion.
    State and local leaders gathered in November to mark the completion of the Phase I of Fairview Heights’ new cityscape project.
    The nearly $5 million project is designed to create a more distinctive streetscape to Market Place and Commerce Lane, the two perpendicular common roads serving shopping centers on the east side of Illinois 159, across from St. Clair Square.
    The city added curb, gutter and sidewalks as well as median treatments, street trees, plantings, additional lighting, signage and entry wall treatments.
    Construction on Phase I made improvements along Market Place from Illinois Route 159 to the rear of parcels for Petco and DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse.
    The second phase will construct a roundabout at the intersection of Market Place and Commerce Lane and is set to begin in 2019. Subsequent phases of this project will complete improvements between the roundabout and the end of Phase I, as well as north and south along Commerce Lane.
    Paul Ellis, economic development director of Fairview Heights, said the city has focused much attention on its smaller shopping complexes.
    One is Fairview Heights Plaza, the center on the north side of Interstate 64 where Gordman’s and Red Lobster are located.
    “To say it was on life support this time last year would be generous,” Ellis said. “The city brought in the Urban Land Institute, talked to property owners, and made some recommendations. From a variety of factors, it’s really turned around. The restaurants are now filled. We’ve seen some revitalization of properties.”
    Among other things there, the old Houlihan’s became TBD Social. And the former Sports Authority space has been leased to Urban Air Adventure Park, an anchor that will be opening in May.
    “That center has been there for four years without an anchor. It’s still in receivership, but I predict it will go back o auction and be bought by someone, and we’ll see even more improvements after that,” Ellis said.
    He also feels good about initial steps taken in the Lincoln Trail District where the city is now working with property owners to build momentum. He cited improvements to McKay NAPA Auto Parts, Perfect Finish Inc., a car detailing business, and the Meineke store, among others.
    The city is also looking forward in 2019 to the spring opening of the new Fairview Heights Recreation Complex on Bunkum Road.
    “It’s a game changer in our town for a lot of reasons, especially if you just look at the impression it’s making by seeing it along I-64.”
    Ellis is also looking ahead to the opening of an Aldi’s store in the Lincoln Place shopping area and an H&M anchor store in St. Clair Square.