North Central College and Naperville's prized Riverwalk aren't quite connected, but officials say the time is now to pave the final gap.
After all, this year marks the college's 150th anniversary, and the Riverwalk's 30th.
And building a gateway between the Riverwalk and the college will create a "pedestrian expressway" between the shopping and dining of downtown Naperville and the educational and cultural attractions of North Central, said Rick Hitchcock, former Riverwalk Commission chairman and president of Hitchcock Design Group, which has designed some aspects of the Riverwalk.
The gateway will connect what is now a fenced-in parking lot near North Central's track and football stadium with the Riverwalk's Moser Bridge to the west and Fredenhagen Park to the north.
"With this new gateway, literally it's sort of the missing link," Hitchcock said.
College and Riverwalk officials launched fundraising efforts for the North Central College Riverwalk Gateway at a breakfast Wednesday morning in hopes of beginning construction next spring.
"We're kicking off a connection that has always been there, but has been the ultimate back of the house," said Hitchcock, whose company designed the Riverwalk gateway. "What's great about this project is it does the obvious, and it does it in such a beautiful, graceful way."
North Central College will be soliciting donations from small checks to major contributions of $500,000 or more to meet the project's $1.5 million cost. Donors can buy naming rights to a brick, bench, pillar or even the gateway itself. The Naperville Riverwalk Foundation also is seeking donations for its part of the project, which is expected to cost between $35,000 and $40,000, according to Karen Solomon, foundation president.
"It really connects the community and the college," Solomon said of the project.
Riverwalk officials plan to keep the project's costs down by using volunteers to do some work, such as planting flowers.
"It's not a massive public works project; it's a community effort," Hitchcock said.
Jeff Havel, Riverwalk Commission chairman, said much progress on the Riverwalk has been achieved through community partnerships and residents donating their time.
"It's a real collaboration," Havel said. "That's the only way you can make it work."
North Central also will be seeking donations for the gateway and another pathway to be built down the heart of campus called the Sesquicentennial Walkway. The $3 million project will beautify an alley college students already use as a path to and from classes, said Rick Spencer, North Central's vice president for institutional advancement.