Progress being made on Allerton master plan

When Allerton Park compiled its master plan a few years ago, the crown jewel was thought to be Phase III’s addition of conference space and accommodations to the retreat center – the expansive Georgian mansion originally built in 1900 by Robert Allerton.

But as park staff near the completion of the plan’s first phase and start fundraising toward the next one, they are realizing Phase II efforts will be just as important to the park as mansion additions, maybe even more so.

“We absolutely want to expand our current buildings for more space and more revenue. But the more we talk about what had to happen before that, we figured out Phase II is more important. We have to use every space we have here first,” said Allerton Director Derek Peterson.

And that’s what the next effort will focus on, from converting maintenance sheds to artist-in-residence facilities to expansion of the newly-opened Greenhouse Cafe, Peterson said the effort being referred to as “All In For Allerton” is aimed at attracting more visitors and engaging the public in ways only Allerton can.

An $8 million fundraising campaign was announced at the park’s annual Spring Soiree on May 19. With $2.9 million already in the bank, the event ended with celebratory fireworks.

“We hope we have something to celebrate every year with fireworks,” added Peterson.

This summer the Dave and Debra Rathje Allerton Mansion Grand Drive, funded by a $1 million donation from the Rathje family, will be installed. The one-way lane off of Old Timber Road will see the return of the more scenic entryway to the mansion that once graced the stately home. Those attending events will be able to drop off visitors through a circle drive then proceed to the facility’s main parking lot.

“It’s going to be a beautiful project when complete, but construction will occur this summer. So expect to see construction,” added Peterson. He does not expect extensive closures of Old Timber Road, but said there could be detours on some of the walking paths around the retreat center.

Phase II also includes a re-thinking of the Visitors Center area to make it more accessible and engaging to the public.

On the west side of Old Timber Road sits maintenance structures that go unnoticed by many, mainly due to the fact they are not open to the public. Known as the ice house and paint shop, apartment-style lodging will be added to make them artists-in-residence facilities. They will also be used to expand the number of overnight rooms available during wedding seasons at the park.

“So during the busiest times of the year, they will serve as overflow lodging,” said Peterson. “Other times they can host artists in residence,” said the Allerton director. Those facilities could host painters, musicians, even naturalists who would be studying the flora and fauna of the 1,500-acre park owned by the University of Illinois.

Hopes are also to expand the newly opened Greenhouse Cafe and move Visitors Center amenities to the office building to the west, between the current Visitors Center and ice house. Offices will be moved to a pair of rooms at the Evergreen Lodge.

By the end of Phase II – Peterson hopes fundraising is done in four years and construction in 10 – the visitors center area could be a small village of its own, with patrons strolling between the existing formal gardens to the new artist-in-residence establishments.

Other maintenance buildings on the west of Old Timber will also be repurposed into areas that can be used for not only artists but Allerton youth camp participants.

Peterson said work at the park is aimed at keeping its historical significance yet expanding revenue opportunities that will make the facility financially self-
sustaining.

Phase I was termed an “engagement phase,” in which the park was made more accessible to visitors through trail maintenance, installation of a composting toilet in the parking lot of Buck Schroth Interpretive Trail, opening of the cafe, extensive work on the bulb garden and an expansion of parking near the visitors center.


 

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