Work begins on Water Street District's 'significant investment' in downtown Naperville

Developers broke ground Thursday on the Water Street District in Naperville, a project years in the making that's being heralded as a game-changer for the city's downtown.

It's about time work got started, Nick Ryan, CEO of the project's Naperville developer, said during a ceremony at the site. He and other leaders from Marquette Companies have been working with the city and Mayor George Pradel for eight years on several versions of the hotel, restaurant, retail and parking project that's expected to be complete by fall 2016.

"George has been asking me every day for eight years 'When are we going to break ground on this? Before I retire?'" Ryan said about Pradel, whose 20 years as mayor ends May 3. "We did it by two weeks."

Once completed, the $93 million Water Street District will occupy 2.4 acres east of the Naperville Municipal Center along both sides of Water Street between Main and Webster streets. The area, called "underperforming," has been blocked off since last week when demolition of former buildings began to make way for improved streetscapes and a sense of place.

"This is a significant investment in Naperville and that shows what we do here in Naperville," said business owner Ray Kinney, chairman of the Naperville Development Partnership board. "We look forward, we work together and we get things done."

The district just south of the DuPage River will bring hospitality back to downtown Naperville with a 158-room Hotel Indigo, a 250-seat banquet center called Elements run by David Miller of Chef by Request, improvements to the popular Riverwalk, an Italian-inspired outdoor plaza, outdoor and rooftop dining, a new parking garage, shops and eventually offices.

Other tenants include Bien Trucha, a Mexican small-plate restaurant based in Geneva; Blue Sushi Sake Grill, an Asian-inspired restaurant based in Omaha, Nebraska; and Traveling Tots, a children's retail store, play space and activity center.

"It's a traditional design. It fits in with Naperville but then has a little flair with the outdoor plaza," Ryan said. "It's got a romantic feel to it. There's nothing really like it in the entire Chicago suburban area."

The parking that will come with the development, a 520-space garage that will be owned by the city, has been called much-needed. But it's also sparked controversy because of concerns about how many spots will be taken by hotel guests and employees.

The hotel will lease 120 of the spots from the city, and the rest will be available first-come, first-served to the public. But projections for parking once the entire Water Street District is complete and other nearby properties are redeveloped estimate only 19 spots will be left after accounting for the needs of hotel, banquet, retail and office employees, and visitors.

Opponents such as longtime city council member Doug Krause, whose term is expiring May 3, say the development is too big, will bring too many additional cars to an already congested area and will steal guests from existing hotels in Naperville.

But officials Thursday said they see the Water Street District as a sign of progress for the downtown business community.

"A hotel-anchored district is great for the Naperville economy," said Jeff Prosapio, executive vice president of development for Marquette Companies. "I think it'll give the biggest bounce."

Prosapio said the downtown still needs more residential options, specifically high-end condos like his company first proposed in 2007. But the economy in the suburbs isn't ripe for condo development, he said. And Water Street plans have shifted several times in the past eight years, first including condos as the anchor, then apartments, then a Holiday Inn.

The proposal with a Hotel Indigo was announced in October 2013, but plans changed once more before they were given final approval in November 2014.

Pradel said teamwork helped carry the project through doubts and revisions. He called the area a "great little street" as he recalled some of its history as the home of a military buddy of his, a lunch lady at the nearby high school now called Naperville Central and Naperville Park District Police Chief Carl Schnibben.

New plans for the block are a "magnificent" result of years of collaboration, Pradel said Thursday.

"As a team, we worked together to evaluate the Water Street District development and the legacy it will leave for our community," he said. "It will transform Naperville for decades to come."

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  Marquette Companies CEO Nick Ryan officially breaks ground on the new Water Street District south of the DuPage River in downtown Naperville. Thursday's groundbreaking came after eight years of planning and revising elements of the $93 million hotel, restaurant and retail development. Daniel White/
  Demolition of old buildings along Water Street in downtown Naperville just east of the municipal center continues Thursday to make way for Naperville-based Marquette Companies to build a $93 million hospitality destination anchored by a 158-room Hotel Indigo. Daniel White/
  Marquette Companies CEO Nick Ryan pumps his fist in celebration while he joins Naperville City Council members and development officials in breaking ground Thursday on the downtown Water Street District. Daniel White/
  Naperville Mayor George Pradel remembers Water Street as the home of a military buddy of his, a lunch lady at his high school and Naperville Park District Police Chief Carl Schnibben. But Pradel said Thursday he's excited to see construction begin on a $93 million hotel, banquet center, restaurants, shops and parking at the site. Daniel White/
  Naperville Mayor George Pradel, center, reads over his speech Thursday before a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Water Street District in the south end of the city's downtown. Daniel White/
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