AP NEWS

Bike sharing to return with spring’s arrival

March 4, 2019

It still might feel like winter outside, but, rest assured, spring is on its way.

To prove that point, the rent-a-bike program, Bike 609, will be putting the bike racks and bicycles out for the public use in early April.

Staci Wilken, executive director of the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the organization which oversees the 50-bike program, said Zagster, the owner of the bike- sharing program, will sponsor a bike station this year as well.

The 11th bike rack will be placed in the Kankakee River State Park. No additional bikes will be added to the program, however.

In addition to the 11th bike station, Wilken said four bike stations from last year’s program, which kicked off in July, will be relocated as the program continues to learn the habits of the recreational biking public.

First, the bike station sponsored by Bradley at a hotel at Northfield Square mall will be moved to Helgeson Park in south Bradley.

Second, the station sponsored by Riverside Medical Center, which was near the hospital, will be moved to the YMCA campus in Kankakee.

Third, the Bourbonnais-sponsored bike station which had been in front of DressWell Boutique, 409 S. Main St., the location of the former Biggby Coffee, will be moved to Riverfront Park in the Briarcliff subdivision.

Lastly, the bike rack which had been in the front portion of the Olivet Nazarene University campus has been moved further inside the college campus.

Wilken is anticipating far greater usage numbers this year which seems very likely to happen, not only because of another station, but because the program will start three months sooner.

In 2018, the 26-inch Fuji Breezer bikes were ridden for 568 hours. This number should easily be surpassed and more than likely doubled.

First-year usage shows the bikes were being used for recreation, rather than simply basic transportation, which is why Zagster opted to place an additional bike rack at the state park.

In addition to Zagster, the bike-share program is sponsored by the visitors bureau, Riverside, Amita Health St. Mary’s Hospital, Bourbonnais Township Park District, Kankakee Community College, Kankakee Development Corporation and the governmental bodies of Bradley, Bourbonnais, Manteno and Kankakee.

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At the Kankakee County Is Home luncheon hosted by the county tourism agency last month, Wilken asked the 250 people in attendance for a single word to describe Kankakee County.

The responses might surprise some. There were no negative, sarcastic replies.

The top response: Home.

Other top responses: Growing. Exciting. Rising. Happy. Opportunity. Beautiful. Fun. Family.

In other words, people feel the region has much to offer and they feel positive about the place they call home.

“This was exactly what I was hoping to hear,” Wilken said. Granted, she acknowledged, people at the luncheon would largely be described as people who have a positive outlook on things.

“This lunch was about being positive,” she said.

The event was held at GatheringPoint, 897 W. Bourbonnais Parkway, near the new Interstate 57 interchange. The location tied in to Wilken’s message of opportunity has arrived here.

“We are at a pivotal time in our community with so many transformational projects just getting started. I realize one thing: You are here because you’re just as committed to this community as we are to marketing it,” she said.

The agency, which has an $845,000 budget funded through Kankakee County hotel/motel rental taxes, has a staff of four full-time employees.

According to the Illinois Office of Tourism, Kankakee County had travel revenue in 2017 — the most recent available figures — of $142.2 million. That figure helped generate $3.8 million in local taxes.

Wilken noted that for every $1 invested in Illinois tourism, it generates $9 in state economic impact.

Illinois had an estimated 111 million domestic visitors in 2017.

Kankakee County has more than 1,000 hotel/motel rooms. On average, 57 percent of those rooms are occupied each and every day.

“That means there are at least 570 new people here spending money in our restaurants, at our gas stations and in our stores,” she said. “It also means we always need to be ready for company.”

By that, she means, residents should look at the county through the eyes of a visitor.

Are weeds pulled? Is business signage up to date. “Don’t just hide the dirty dishes in the oven. Let’s put our best foot forward every single day.”

Wilken said some regions have specific missions. Some tend to convention visitors, some to corporate meetings, others to professional sports. Kankakee County is learning its role.

The region obviously caters to the outdoor enthusiast. She said plans are being developed as a way to capitalize on the region’s massive and unique agricultural business.

But at the end of the day, she said everyone’s goal should be the same.

“We should be famous for how we treat people. We know we are never going to be Disney World, but we everyone here always has the opportunity to leave a lasting impression,” she said.