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updated: 9/5/2013 5:43 PM

Downtown Naperville teen center gains early approval

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A small vacant space in downtown Naperville may be unlikely to develop into a shop or restaurant, but some say it could be perfect for a teen center an organization called Napberbridge wants to bring to the area.

Tucked away from Washington Street with access only from a back alley and a side gangway, a 1,400-square-foot space at 231 S. Washington St. may be on its way to becoming Naperbridge's headquarters.

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"This facility is ideal for us because that's where teens already are hanging out," said Andy Jack, Naperbridge's executive director. "231 S. Washington offers a hidden destination in the middle of downtown, the heart of Naperville. It provides students with a place to connect and belong."

The planning and zoning commission recommended Naperbridge be granted permission to use 700 square feet on the building's first floor as an assembly space for teen gatherings and another700 square feet on the second floor for staff offices. The city council is expected to consider Naperbridge's request at its next meeting Tuesday, Sept. 17.

Assembly uses are not normally allowed in buildings designated with downtown core zoning because that space is reserved for retail, said Allison Laff, planning operations manager. But this space's lack of frontage on Washington Street would make it difficult for a pure retail use to succeed there.

"The downtown plan specifically recognizes that there are certain properties that might not be right for retail uses on the first floor," Laff said.

Naperbridge intends to use the space as a drop-in facility from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays and 3 to 11 p.m. weekends with scheduled programming for teens 13-17 from 7 to 10 p.m. weekdays and 3 to 11 p.m. weekends.

"This would be a difficult space for a retailer because of the lack of access to Washington Street. It's not attractive to a shopper, but it's very attractive to a teen who doesn't want to be seen in the front window by his parents passing by."

The organization aims to provide teenagers at the city's 12 junior highs and five high schools a place to belong, play, create, lead and perform, as well as somewhere to call their own, Jack said. Events will be planned by a 10-member teen board and could include anything from yoga to workshops on college applications or resumes.

A paid staff member and volunteers will be on site whenever the teen center is open and teens will be required to check in every time they stop by, ensuring Naperbridge knows their name, phone number and emergency contact information. If the city council approves Naperbridge's request to locate a teen center in the building, Jack said the nonprofit will begin a roughly $50,000 build out as soon as possible, improving lighting, windows, doors and security to make sure teen center participants will be safe.

A teen serving as a student member of the planning and zoning commission, Meghan Heavener, gave the idea an early good review.

"I think this is a perfect location for a teen hangout," she said. "It's kind of weird, but I think teens will like hanging out in an alley area."

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