Assessing the Water Street development in Naperville

Several Naperville political and business leaders talked yesterday of the impact of the now open Water Street development:

There were lengthy delays, caused by the recession and by repeated rounds of changes to the plans. First there were condos, then a Holiday Inn, and finally developers proposed what actually got built: a 158-room Hotel Indigo that incorporates elements of Naperville’s history into its design.

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico thanked the residents who supported public officials as they took “tough votes” in support of the hotel, shops and riverfront improvements…

Investors Peter Foyo and Dominic Imburgia, for whom the new plaza and fountain are named, told the crowd they were honored to put their money toward a project that created jobs in their hometown and beautified a public place for a bustling future…

Pradel said by the looks of it, he’d never guess the new Water Street District was in Naperville. Not the Naperville where he grew up, seeing the strip of land south of the waterway remain relatively underused for decades upon decades.

It is quite a sizable project along the Riverwalk in downtown Naperville; it is hard to miss. And I wouldn’t expect many local leaders to say bad things about a just completed project. However, here are some questions I would ask about the development moving forward:

  1. Is it a portent of things to come in downtown Naperville and elsewhere in the community? Naperville has very little open land remaining so for population and business growth, redevelopment is key. But, redevelopments can take a myriad of forms, including new larger structures. Is Naperville ready for more structures of this size?
  2. Who benefits the most from this new development? It would be worth keeping track of the jobs and taxes generated by this new development. In the long run, are the developers or the city residents benefiting? (Of course, both could benefit but the construction of a larger structure came at the expense of other options. And growth machines – collections of local politicians and business leaders – tend to do things that are in their financial self-interests.)
  3. How many residents will use the new structure and visit the business establishments? The construction of a downtown hotel is an interesting move, suggesting that there may be an interest for visitors to stay downtown rather than at the numerous other hotels in the community (particularly along the business corridor along Diehl Road and I-88). In other words, is this for the use of residents or others?

See earlier posts about Water Street in Naperville here and here.

Build a tower in Naperville, possibly tear it down 17 years later

Naperville hasn’t experienced many major failures in recent decades but the Moser Tower along the Riverwalk is in trouble:

The Riverwalk Commission on Wednesday began reviewing an assessment of the structure before formulating a recommendation to the city council about what should be done with the 17-year-old Moser Tower, a 160-foot-tall spire that houses 72 chiming bells and has become an icon on the city’s skyline…

The city could fix the structure and maintain it as is for $3 million; fix it and enclose the base to help prevent future corrosion for $3.75 million; maintain it for a while and then tear it down for $1.6 million; or tear it down immediately for $660,000.

This tower has never received much support. It took longer than expected to complete and this contributed to the current issues as it couldn’t be fully enclosed with the money that was raised.

Additionally, it doesn’t receive much interest from residents today (from the article cited above):

But in a survey of Riverwalk users completed earlier this year, preserving the Moser Tower and Millennium Carillon came in last among four potential projects. When people were asked to choose their top priority, it earned 16 percent of votes.

Projects people preferred include building a park at 430 S. Washington St., just south of the DuPage River near the Burger King, which received 38 percent of votes; extending the Riverwalk south to Hillside Avenue, which got 27 percent of votes; and constructing ADA ramps at the Eagle Street Bridge, which got 19 percent.

All this on (1) the tallest structure along the Riverwalk, a recreation space regularly touted by Naperville leaders as an enduring symbol of the community’s civic-mindedness (started by citizens in the late 1970s), and (2) the largest structure in honor of Harold Moser, Mr. Naperville, who helped develop a significant portion of modern Naperville. Perhaps this will end up being a lesson to Naperville and other suburbs about embarking on unnecessary but nice commemorative projects?

A side note: the tower bears an odd resemblance to a tower from the Lord of the Rings movies.

Is the Naperville diamond interchange working?

The relatively rare concept of a diamond interchange opened at the Naperville intersection of I-88 and Route 59 in September 2015. Was the effort to reconstruct the interchange worth it?

The short answer: there has not been an official pronouncement. Proponents suggested the design has several advantages: fewer accidents since drivers are not making left turns onto or off of highway ramps, improved efficiency since cars can merge onto ramps on red lights, and less space needed. Here some pieces of evidence regarding the matter:

The Illinois Tollway is constructing another diamond interchange at I-90 and Elmhurst Road. Would they do this if their first attempt was unsuccessful?

Crashes at the intersection were down between 2015 (73) and 2016 (53).

-Since it is a busy intersection – over 180,000 vehicles a day – wouldn’t drivers and officials gone public if there were major issues with the new design? Some drivers still thought it odd as of April 2016 but Naperville issues said they were pleased.

According to DivergingDiamond.com, there are a number of diamond interchanges in the planning or construction stages across the United States.

The evidence seems to suggest the diamond interchange in Naperville is working. It still may be worthwhile to see when officials are willing to take credit or take a victory lap for their decision.

 

Niche names Naperville 2nd best place to live

This is not an uncommon accolade for Naperville: Niche recently named the suburb the second best place to live in the country.

Niche looked at 228 cities and more than 15,000 towns and based rankings on crime rate, public schools, cost of living, job opportunities and local amenities…

Niche also took into account reviews from residents in the various cities and towns. Out of the 397 reviews, 111 people gave Naperville an “excellent” rating, 187 said it is “very good,” 91 called the city “average,” six said it is a “poor” place to live and two said it is “terrible.”

Naperville got an A+ for both its public schools and being a good city for families, an A in diversity, an A- in housing and a B+ in both nightlife and crime and safety.

Niche ranked Ann Arbor, Mich., the best city to live in America. Rounding out the top five cities to live in America are Arlington, Va.; Columbia, Md. and Berkeley, Calif.

Several quick thoughts:

  1. In Money‘s 2016 rankings of the best places to live, Naperville was #10.
  2. Including reviews from local residents is an interesting twist. Why did a few respondents give Naperville a poor rating? Weather and a few other issues. And the two terrible ratings are both related to the state of Illinois.
  3. Where doesn’t Naperville do well? A C+ for cost of living as well as for weather.
  4. The top five cities are all within major metropolitan areas where they are sizable communities but nowhere near the biggest community. This may be notable until you look at Niche’s list of the “best places to live” and there you find smaller suburbs.

Naperville as a center for suburban protests

Several hundred people gathered in Naperville Saturday to demand PResident Trump release his tax returns:

The sidewalks of downtown Naperville were filled with hundreds of marchers Saturday, many waving signs and chanting “release your taxes” in a Tax Day rally that gathered at the Riverwalk’s Free Speech Pavilion…

Foster said the Naperville protest was one of 180 Tax Day Marches held across the United States and in four other countries to demand Trump make his returns available to the public…

Both organizers and Foster said they were pleasantly surprised by the turnout, estimated to be between 300 and 600 people. Stava-Murray said the group initially requested a permit to hold the rally at the larger Grand Pavilion and to march along the Riverwalk, but the Naperville Park District rejected the requests, citing a rule prohibiting protests at both locations. She said the American Civil Liberties Union is looking into challenging the district’s rule as unconstitutional.

As a result, they rerouted the march to public sidewalks – east on Jackson Avenue, south on Main Street, west on Aurora Avenue and north on Eagle Street. Police stationed along the route confirmed the marchers were following guidelines worked out with the city for a peaceful protest.

Suburbs, particularly wealthier are more conservative ones like Naperville, are not usually known for their political rallies and marches. Yet, Naperville has had its share of political activity in recent years including an Occupy Naperville group in 2011 and a Trayvon Martin march in 2012. Why is Naperville a place for such activity? Some possible reasons:

  1. The city is the second largest suburb in the Chicago region behind Aurora. This means there are both a lot of residents who could be mobilized and a variety of viewpoints.
  2. Naperville may have a reputation as a business-friendly conservative community but it has more Democratic voters than before.
  3. Naperville has a highly educated population.
  4. It has a vibrant downtown where any sort of political activity could be viewed by a lot of people.
  5. DuPage County lacks other good protest sites. Other communities are smaller and sleepier. Could a march in Oak Brook draw the same amount of attention?

It will be interesting to see if (1) such activity continues and (2) how the city might respond to where activists can march.

A push for Naperville to declare itself a “welcoming city”

The Naperville City Council has recently discussed declaring the suburb a “welcoming city”:

Some Naperville residents and city council members want the city to adopt a resolution that would declare Naperville a welcoming city to people of all backgrounds. The push comes amid an election that includes the first openly gay candidate for Naperville City council…

O’Meara is part of a couple women’s groups that are asking the city not to become a sanctuary city, but to name itself a welcoming city, she said. “We believe that becoming a welcoming city is something that you’ve already done over the years that people have been coming here,” O’Meara said. “It’s important that people moving into this town know that this town is going to support them in what they have to do going forward.”

Councilwoman Becky Anderson floated the idea of adopting such a resolution at an earlier City Council meeting after Naperville resident Anthony Castagnoli spoke during public comment period, asking the City to act in resistance to President Donald Trump’s actions…

“One of the things I would task us to think about as council members as we approach our next social service grant cycle is what could we be doing with the social service grant to make people feel more comfortable, or to aid those who are struggling in our community because of discrimination whether it’s through immigration or otherwise,” Boyd-Obarski said. “As we confront the country around us, if we really want to be welcoming, let’s think about ways that we can do that with our dollars as well as our voices.”

This could be viewed as interesting as a community that traditionally has been fairly conservative. As noted here, perhaps that is why being a sanctuary city is not on the table. At the same time, Naperville is home to a number of wealthier, well-educated residents and wants to continue to attract both high-end businesses and residents. One thing Naperville has done well over the last six decades as it has expanded from a small town to a giant suburb is created a high-quality of life, which today likely includes the values of tolerance and diversity (see Richard Florida’s work for an argument on why this is so important for today’s cities).

The people quoted from this article primarily cite Naperville’s welcoming attitude to gay residents. Have all minority residents had similar positive experiences? It wasn’t that long ago that Naperville was a sundown town or a place where black residents could not be shown housing. Or, in the last twenty years or so, the Islamic Center of Naperville has faced opposition over their locations.

Trying to split Naperville’s downtown streetscape improvement costs

Downtowns need regular upkeep and maintenance but paying for streetscape improvements can be a tricky matter:

In an estimated $15 million project that’s expected to take six years once it begins, the city plans to upgrade sidewalks, install new benches and street furniture and enhance street corners throughout its commercial core…

City staff members are proposing the work be paid for over 15 years, with the city contributing half and downtown property owners the other half.

They say it’s a fair cost distribution because a strong downtown improves the city as a whole…

Problem is, those same downtown property owners who could be asked to foot the bill for sidewalks and benches also are still paying off the Van Buren Avenue parking garage — and will be until 2021, 20 years after it was constructed. They’re also paying for ongoing downtown maintenance and marketing through a separate special tax that’s renewed every five years.

As is suggested in the article by local leaders, perhaps this is simply the price of doing business in a popular suburban downtown: you chip in to help make the downtown better. This sort of public-private partnership can work well when there is a vibrant business scene. But, I could also imagine that these added costs make it more difficult for certain kinds of businesses to participate.

It would also be interesting to know how these streetscape improvements compare with efforts of others – whether municipalities or shopping centers – to improve their appearance and amenities. One way to view retail competition is as an arms race: who can create and foster the most vibrant scene? Who has the mix of stores, restaurants, recreational opportunities, parking, weather, and events that would lead consumers to go there rather than somewhere else? Not making such proactive improvements, even though they may be costly, could lead to falling behind.