The city of Naperville, Ill.’s, transportation, engineering and development department and the Downtown Naperville Alliance have begun a five-phase plan that will give Naperville’s downtown area an update. Included updates will improve accessibility and safety in the area while making it easier to maneuver downtown by widening sidewalks for pedestrians. The city will also give the entire area a cosmetic upgrade with new landscaping.
Bill Novack, director of TED, discussed how in the 1970s Naperville had a cute and successful downtown area, but during that time, a regional shopping mall was built on the outskirts of town, and Naperville’s city council and downtown businesses were scared that everyone would start going to the mall and not visit the downtown area. Novack said a Naperville group got together and constructed an urban plan and made streetscape improvements, which was great for its time.
“You have streetscapes from the ʾ70s and early ʾ80s; well, you fast-forward to 2020, and it’s pretty worn, and it’s looking bad,” Novack said, adding, “Our public works department has done a great job keeping it together.”
The timing for streetscape improvements began when a downtown property owner approached the DNA and TED with a plan and told them he would finance or pay for all the streetscape improvements. “We looked at it, and it was a good plan,” Novack said. Part of the design would remove the current angled parking and replace it with parallel so the sidewalks could be widened.
The largest part of the project will be the city’s replacement of water mains. Novack stated that the water mains are 95 and 105 years old, and it was time for replacement and an upsize from 6-inch and 8-inch water mains to 12 inches. One water main will get a liner because there isn’t enough room to fit a new one.
The city and downtown businesses agreed the city would pay for the improvements upfront, with the business owners agreeing to pay 40% of the cost over the next 15 years.
No one is a fan of construction. It impedes movement through areas and makes it difficult to reach destinations. Danielle Tufano, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance, helped Novack and the planning team develop ideas to make the construction more palatable to the community. She said many different creative and talented entities came together to create public relations and marketing tactics to help the community see the construction positively.
Tufano said when the community looks ahead to the fall, when the work is finished, “We’re all going to very much enjoy the product that we’re left with. It’s just getting through these couple of months.”
Businesses will remain open and accessible, but construction can be off-putting. Tufano went before Naperville’s city council and requested marketing funds to be set aside specifically for marketing the businesses along the construction route. Tufano said those funds could be directed toward “signage, television commercials, print ads or digital advertising.” She added the main thing all parties tried to keep in mind is “letting people know that we have this wonderful project that we’re working on that we can all benefit from in the fall of 2022.” She went on to say, “We do recognize that for people heading to our downtown and for people trying to shop or dine along these businesses on the construction route, it is quite an inconvenience.”
Tufano and the team’s first push was with signage that got the word out that downtown businesses are open. She had renderings made onto vinyl window clings to put up in storefronts to show Naperville citizens how their new downtown would look after construction. “Here’s what it looks like right now, and here’s what it’s going to look like in a couple of months,” Tufano stated.
The city has made the construction zone engaging with signage and banners. Relatively inexpensive arrow decals also line the sidewalk, letting downtown visitors know how to get to a business.
According to Tufano, they’ve also made the area more engaging for families. She stated they noticed families would show up and let their kids stand on the sidewalk and watch the construction workers. This sparked the idea to work with a local sign company to create viewing windows throughout the construction zone. These will make the activity safer for people and allow them to watch the project’s progress. The windows will be made of a 6-foot-by-4-foot acrylic partition to protect people from any small flying debris and dust.
Tufano said the key to making this project run smoothly is communication. Communication with coworkers, other departments and, of course, the community.
The second phase of the plan will start mid-May.