An eyesore in downtown Naperville that city officials once tried to transform into part of the Riverwalk will become a public park after all, thanks to a joint effort by North Central College and the city.
The college plans to purchase the half-acre parcel, which houses a deteriorating strip mall along Washington Street near Aurora Avenue. The city then will demolish the vacant building so the college can develop the property as a park and additional entryway to its campus.
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"We're happy that North Central College stepped up to the plate and is buying the property so we can have a demolition of that eyesore," Mayor George Pradel said Wednesday.
North Central President Harold R. Wilde said in a statement that the college has long "shared a dream with the city to re-create the beauty of Fredenhagen Park and the Riverwalk" on the site.
Officials said the new park will complement two other recent public improvements on North Central's campus: the Riverwalk Gateway and the Sesquicentennial Walkway.
The Riverwalk Gateway connects the college and Riverwalk to Fredenhagen Park, located northeast of the Washington Street bridge over the DuPage River. The Sesquicentennial Walkway is a landscaped pedestrian path that runs through the campus between Benton and Jefferson avenues.
Pradel said the future park will give residents another beautiful place to relax. He said the area's open appearance will be "a pleasing gateway to the city's downtown."
Paul Loscheider, North Central's vice president for business affairs, said the park won't debut until 2014. Still, the one-story strip mall is expected to be gone by the end of January. The city council on Tuesday authorized the city manager to award a contract to demolish the structure.
"I think it's a great Christmas present to the city of Naperville," Loscheider said. "I have heard so many people say it's ugly and they wish it would go away."
The building, which dates to the 1930s, is wedged between a Burger King and the DuPage River. It long has stood empty while its condition has deteriorated and the site has become overgrown with vegetation, officials said.
At one point, city officials tried to condemn the land to add on to the Riverwalk, but lost a legal battle for the property. An appellate court reaffirmed that the city didn't make a good-faith attempt to buy the land at a fair price before trying to seize it in 1999.
This time, the property was in foreclosure when North Central offered to buy it from a bank.
"They (the bank) didn't really want to own the property," Loscheider said. "The fact that it will be off the books before Dec. 31 helps the bank also. It's one of those win-win situations."
North Central officials declined to say how much they are planning to pay for the property.