At a site once known as an eyesore in downtown Naperville, North Central College is planning to build a park and plaza to recognize the school's history of strong cross-country programs and to welcome visitors with an electronic sign.
Improvements to the now-vacant site at 430 S. Washington St. would include a new segment of Riverwalk running southeast from the walkway under Washington Street to the Moser Bridge near North Central's football field.
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College and Riverwalk officials said the project will do much to revive the triangle-shaped property at the southeast corner of the DuPage River and Washington Street, which until last year held a one-story building dating to the 1930s that featured a teal, 1960s-style facade.
The building was demolished in January 2013, to the delight of North Central College, which bought the foreclosed property from a bank.
"It'll be a whole different look for this area," said Jeff Havel, chairman of the Riverwalk Commission.
Plans for the site are only conceptual, but Jim Godo, North Central's assistant vice president for external relations, said an electronic message board along Washington is a key component.
"The big thing that's always been really important for the college is to have some sort of signage on Washington Street as part of this plan," Godo said.
Also involved will be the creation of a gentle slope from Washington Street toward a lower elevation closer to the river. Godo said the college plans to add elements within the future park's "wide open green space" to commemorate North Central's history of successful running programs.
"The idea was to highlight the cross-country history and heritage of North Central College," Havel said.
Conceptual plans allow possibilities for a sculpture, so Godo said that could create a natural partnership with Century Walk Corp., the nonprofit group that has placed 44 pieces of public art across the city since 1996.
But the college has not yet begun any conversations about sculptures or other art for the site.
The city tentatively has earmarked $500,000 for design work at the site in its proposed capital improvements plan for the fiscal year beginning May 1. The city council is set to vote on the plan at 7 p.m. Feb. 18 in the municipal center, 400 S. Eagle St.
Construction, expected to cost about $1.7 million, could begin in 2015 or 2016, and the city has applied for a $900,000 state grant to help fund the work.
During a workshop, city council members, including Paul Hinterlong and Grant Wehrli, said they support the project.
Hinterlong said the city should make sure to coordinate Riverwalk construction with the college's plans to develop a new park on the property, which occupies slightly less than an acre. And Wehrli said part of the project's value comes from rehabilitation of the site, which used to be a dry cleaners, among other businesses.
"It's a lot of money, but this is money I think we should spend," Wehrli said.
Council member Steve Chiciro said the project's total cost, estimated at $2.2 million, seems "excessive," even with the potential state grant.
"I'm going to have trouble supporting this project," he said.