A potentially "game-changing" development that officials say could propel downtown Naperville for years to come has captured approval from the city's planning and zoning commission.
Commissioners voted 5-2 early Thursday morning to recommend approval of Marquette Companies' MP Water Street District LLC project, which calls for a 130-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites, a 551-space parking garage, 63 rental apartments and 16,000 square feet of separate office space. The proposal next goes to the city council.
The proposed development would cover 2.4 acres between the DuPage River and Aurora Avenue, with Webster and Main streets the east-west boundaries.
The city council first approved a smaller version of the development in 2007 but ground was never broken, despite two revisions that were brought before the council.
If this version ultimately gets approved, Marquette attorney Kathleen West said construction would begin this fall and last about two years.
"This project meets the criteria of the Water Street vision statement. And this has wide support throughout the business community and other community organizations," West said. "Because this is such a special area and we can do something really unique here, this is a good proposal."
Several residents, however, pleaded for the commission to deny the plan, saying seven-story buildings don't fit the character of downtown and will add to traffic and parking problems.
Tom O'Hale said the "monstrous development" has no place in a hamlet like Naperville.
"It's almost like taking a big white elephant and putting it next to our little, historical village commercial center. It doesn't compute," O'Hale said. "It's not in the spirit of our village. It's a big, white, monolithic, monstrous elephant and it flies in the face of everything we value in our city."
Former councilman Dick Furstenau, who voted for the original development plan, also said the new proposal is too big and warned it could induce a parking nightmare should the hotel and living units all be full and use the allotted spaces in the parking deck.
But supporters argued a hotel is the only thing missing from downtown and could pump life and dollars back into the central business district.
Peter Foyo urged the city to take advantage of developers willing to invest in the city.
"I am tremendously in favor of a project like this. We need to invite this investment into our city because this money will go somewhere else," he said. "It's a great advancement for us but every day that goes by we're burning that money and it's disappearing."
In the end, a majority of commissioners said the time has come to change the face of downtown.
"I enthusiastically support this development," Chairman John Herzog said. "I think this is going to be a game changer for Naperville. I think this development is going to be a great bookend for downtown with Main Street Promenade on the north and Water Street on the south."
Commissioners Patricia Meyer and Timothy Messer voted against sending the project forward for city council approval.