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updated: 6/18/2014 2:45 PM

Downtown music 'pleasing' or a turnoff? Debate begins in Naperville

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  • A new sound system for downtown Naperville is being considered, but city council members are waiting for answers to questions about music choice and use of the system before potentially seeking bids.

       A new sound system for downtown Naperville is being considered, but city council members are waiting for answers to questions about music choice and use of the system before potentially seeking bids.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance, tells city council members Tuesday night that a new sound system being considered for the central business district would be used to provide "mainstream, pleasing" background music primarily during special events.

       Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance, tells city council members Tuesday night that a new sound system being considered for the central business district would be used to provide "mainstream, pleasing" background music primarily during special events.
    Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

 
 

What counts as "pleasing" when it comes to music and who gets to choose were questions at the core of a discussion about a proposed sound system some want installed in downtown Naperville before the winter holidays.

City council members, who said they had more questions than answers, chose to wait for details before seeking bids to install the system, making its implementation unlikely before Christmas.

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"I hear the rush that we want to get this in for the holiday season. I also don't want to rush and get it wrong," council member Grant Wehrli said. "We have way more questions than answers at this point. We need to do our due diligence."

The topic came to the council's attention sooner than expected because cost estimates were lower than projected.

Officials said the first phase of the project in the downtown retail area could be installed for roughly $66,000. That part of the system originally was scheduled to be installed next year and was expected to cost about $150,000.

The Downtown Naperville Alliance has discussed a sound system for years, and officials wanted city approval for possible installation before November.

"Music, carefully selected at a pleasing volume, is a wonderful amenity that infuses joy, a festive spirit and simply makes people want to dwell in our downtown," Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance, told council members Tuesday. "It is meant to be a tool to help drive joy and dwelling time in our downtown at key points in the year."

The proposal calls for music to be played primarily during special events and not 365 days a year, Wood said. Speakers would be installed in the area roughly bordered by Benton Avenue on the north, Washington Street on the east, Jackson Avenue on the south and Webster Street on the west. They would be attached to streetlights and divided into zones that could be controlled from a central location.

"To me, this is a very simple and a very fun thing," said AdreAnne Tesene, owner of Two Bostons Pet Boutique at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Main Street. "The customers love it."

Council member Steve Chirico said the sound system would be an upgrade from current speakers, which he called an "embarrassment." A few businesses have outdoor speakers and the Downtown Naperville Alliance can control a speaker on the Eddie Bauer building at Main Street and Jefferson Avenue.

"This is something that is long overdue and the system that we have now is just ridiculous," Chirico said.

Council member David Wentz, however, said he's heard mostly opposition from residents. He said issues with musical taste could actually drive shoppers away.

"If we do have people objecting to the musical selection, the volume, the location," Wentz said, "we might lose those people."

Two residents shared their opposition with the council.

"I don't think this would work well in the downtown area," Michael Firman said. "I don't know what the purpose of this is, actually,"

Council members also asked about how the music would be selected, when it would be played, how it might affect residents who live in or near the downtown, whether it would conflict with individually chosen music played by stores, and if the project's costs could be lowered by shrinking the area where speakers will be installed.

Only three council members -- Chirico, Judith Brodhead and Joseph McElroy -- and Mayor George Pradel voted to allow bids to be sought for sound system installation. With five council members including Wehrli, Wentz, Paul Hinterlong, Robert Fieseler and Doug Krause opposed, those who want a the system will need to regroup, Wood said.

City staff members will begin researching council questions before the topic is discussed again.

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