Area Destroyed by Tornado

Utica, Illinois was hit by a major tornado in 2004. The tornado killed nine people and destroyed part of the historic downtown. The entire plan with graphics can be reviewed at the Utica Village Hall or Library.

In the pages that follow, you will find Utica’s community vision for rebuilding in the aftermath of the April 20, 2004 tornado, which caused widespread destruction and claimed the lives of eight local residents.  Responding to the severe impacts of the tornado, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) instituted a Sustainable Recovery Initiative designed to provide an extra measure of support for Utica’s recovery effort.

The Utica United Recovery Plan is the product of a highly intensive four-week process involving a multitude of meetings between the FEMA Sustainable Recovery team and local officials, business owners, civic groups and citizens.  Hundreds of your neighbors either turned out for our public meetings or stopped by the Sustainable Recovery Office to share their ideas on how to rebuild Utica.  In addition, the Rough Draft version of this plan was hand-delivered to every home and business in Utica, and a substantial number of comment sheets were returned in less than a week, providing an invaluable source of feedback used to refine and prioritize the projects.

Utica was a special place before the disaster, and that has not changed. Your unshakable community spirit, and your resolve to build back better and safer, will continue to serve you well as you move forward with implementation of this plan.  At the heart of the Utica United Recovery Plan is a simple guiding principle – keep the things that have always made Utica a great place to live, work and own a business, and then suggest ways to build upon the strengths of the community in order to make it even more prosperous, appealing, and livable.

Within this Recovery Plan, you will find 21 projects that form the foundation of a revitalized Utica.  These projects are divided into three categories based upon their “Recovery Value”: High, Moderate, and Community Interest.  The High Value recovery projects are the most urgently needed and all available resources should be focused on immediate implementation.  The Moderate Value projects, although not essential to recovery, are likely to produce substantial benefits for the community, and should be pursued as time and funding permit over the next few years.  And the Community Interest projects are those that are of relatively less significance, but are still probably worthy of more discussion and thoughtful consideration as recovery proceeds.

Unlike a traditional planning document that presents general guidance to a community, this Recovery Plan is an action-oriented menu of key projects intended to be used for making critical funding and resource allocation decisions.  In addition to the projects, you will find letters of support from federal, state and local officials who have been steadfast advocates for Utica’s recovery effort, and are now encouraging funding agencies to assist to the maximum extent possible.  Also included are cost estimates for each project, based upon the best available information at this time; however, in most cases only preliminary engineering work has been accomplished, so considerable contingency allowances have been built in.  Each of the total project costs shown in this plan is backed up by a detailed cost estimate, which is on file at Village Hall and with the Village Engineer.

Now that the Recovery Plan has been completed, the challenge is to find funding for the key projects.  As we have discussed from the outset, the FEMA Sustainable Recovery Initiative does not come with a dedicated project-funding source, so we must rely on our partners in the federal and state governments to help. Since most of the major government agencies have actively participated throughout this planning process, and have expressed a strong willingness to aid Utica, there is much reason for optimism as recovery advances.  It is important to remember that not all projects are of equal importance, and not all need to be initiated simultaneously.  Recovery from a disaster of this scale is a process, not an event, and it will continue for several years; although, as funding is committed to the first few high priority projects, progress in Utica will become evident in a relatively short time period.  Based upon our experience on similar recovery projects, Utica can expect to see a significant amount of activity during the first year post-disaster, and then gradually transition into a more normal growth and development pattern.

One of the first things that we talked about is how disasters create opportunities, and now with the Recovery Plan in-place, Utica is well positioned to take full advantage of the chance to rebuild a more vibrant community.  Always remember that “Utica United” is one of your recovery slogans, and is vital to your ultimate success – you cannot expect to be unanimous in all your decisions, nor should you necessarily agree with everything that is proposed, but you should stay united as a community and do your best to maintain a common vision for the future of Utica.

Utica United Recovery Plan - Review of Community Responses

Copies of the "Rough Draft - Utica Recovery Plan" were hand-delivered to every family, business, and local official here in Utica between June 28 and June 29.  It provided descriptions of 20 projects (Housing was included subsequent to the Rough Draft) and each project was categorized as either "HIGH," "MODERATE," or "COMMUNITY INTEREST" based on its importance to Utica's long-term recovery.

In order to further assess how the community would prioritize the recovery projects, each copy of the draft included a Comment Sheet asking the respondent to choose their top 5 projects.  We requested public comments to the Rough Draft.  108 responses were submitted by July 6th, and 7 more on July 8th, raising the total to 115 comment sheets received.  

Below is a breakdown by percentage showing community priority preferences.  The left panel lists all 21 projects as they appear in the Plan.  The right panel shows the percentage of votes each project received.  While 4 of the 5 priorities chosen by the community are in the HIGH category, one is in the MODERATE category.


Patrick Flynn
Village Trustee

“One of the first steps to restoring our community is t get into a new Village Hall.  The recovery process will place extra demands on the Village and we need an adequate facility to work out of and conduct business in.  Seeing the seat of government reestablished will be an important confidence builder.”

Recovery Value

Rebuilding Village Hall will restore essential governmental functions and services within the Village. In addition, a well-designed Village Hall built in or near downtown could provide an anchor for downtown revitalization.

Construct a new Village Hall outside the 500-year floodplain consolidating with the Township Community Building, if practicable.

Project Description
The Village Hall was a 2,300 square foot, two-story cement block and wood frame building located on the NW corner of Mill and Grove Streets, in the 100-year floodplain.  The second story housed the Mayor’s office and Police Department, while the garage beneath the main floor was used for parking and record-storage.

Sound floodplain management practices strongly encourage placement of federally funded buildings outside of areas with a designated flood risk. For critical facilities, Executive Order 11988 establishes a process for identifying and evaluating alternative locations outside the 500-year floodplain.

Build a replacement facility outside the 500-year floodplain.  This approach protects the structure from future flooding and allows for commercial development of the original building location.  A well-designed building can set the architectural standard for downtown development.

Utica Elevator Building
Relocate the Village Hall into the existing Utica Elevator building:  This two-story facility has a full basement and sufficient parking space. It is suitable for renovation and is located outside the 500-year floodplain.  Utilizing this building allows for commercial development at the original location, and also presents an opportunity for the Village to lease excess space within the Utica Elevator Building for commercial use by co-tenants.  Lease income received by the Village would reduce building operation and maintenance costs.  The availability of the property and the cost to acquire and renovate this building needs to be determined.

Note: Co-Location with Utica Township (For either option above): A co-location approach, between the Village and the Township, consolidating “under one roof” could reduce acquisition, construction and annual maintenance costs for both entities.  This alternative would allow for commercial development on the two downtown lots.

Convert the Multi-Purpose Building
The Village multi-purpose building is currently a partially constructed 4,800 square foot wood-frame structure with metal exterior finishes, located within the 100-year floodplain.  Building-out this structure as the new Village Hall could allow for commercial development of the previous downtown location; or alternatively, since the tornado destroyed a significant amount of retail space in Utica, this property may have significant commercial value.

Note: Options above anticipate consolidation of the City Clerk’s Office, Police Department and Village Hall functions into one facility.