Naperville mayor shares dreams for 'out-of-the-box' future

Steve Chirico has a dream for Naperville, a dream of a city with a booming economy, a solid financial base, well-preserved neighborhoods and a spirit of innovative thinking.

The mayor of the state's fifth-largest city shared his dreams for Naperville's future with a crowd of nearly 600 Monday as he gave his second State of the City address.

Chirico promoted economic development as one of his main priorities and shared ways the city won't just dream of growth, but will work creatively to make it happen.

One such way is by creating what Chirico called an "outdoor internet office park" along the downtown Riverwalk on open space next to the municipal center.

The idea is "still in the dream stage," Chirico told his audience during a Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce lunch at the Embassy Suites hotel, but it would include power outlets and Wi-Fi, seating and shade for mobile workers who want a space to connect outside. A landscape architecture firm already has drawn designs for the space, and Chirico said he hopes it can be built within the year.

The outdoor office idea came from Scott Palmer, a local entrepreneur who has appeared on ABC's "Shark Tank" with a game called Spikeball. Chirico said this is the type of out-of-the-box thinking he's also hoping to receive as the city looks to revitalize the area around the 5th Avenue Metra station.

The city owns eight acres there, including a small office building, a water tower and former public works facility, four parking lots for commuters and the DuPage Children's Museum property. Last month, council members voted to seek qualifications from developers who could revamp the area, giving a May 23 deadline to submit proposals.

"This is a blank slate and I cannot wait to see what's presented in the coming months," Chirico said about the site, which he called the city's "most exciting dream."

To further strengthen the city's economic base, Chirico said he also dreams of filling two vacant former Dominick's stores and revitalizing shopping areas along East Ogden Avenue, where many empty storefronts sit idle.

"It's a tall order," he said. "But I believe the answer will come through innovation and being willing to think outside the box."

Chirico's speech - the continuation of a tradition started in 1983 by former Mayor Peg Price - featured video clips with aerial shots of the city and interviews with council members sharing their dreams for Naperville.

So as Chirico praised the opening last fall of the $93 million Water Street District downtown - with a new hotel, parking, shops and restaurants - the audience saw the site from several vantage points and watched as officials conducted a ribbon-cutting. As Chirico praised the Naperville Park District for the opening last year of the $24 million Fort Hill Activity Center or anticipated the opening this spring of a $60 million Science Center at North Central College, attendees saw those sites as well.

Hosts of the speech framed it as an update on everything that already gives Naperville a quality of life deemed satisfactory by 93 percent of respondents in a survey taken last year.

Chirico's predecessor, Naperville Mayor Emeritus George Pradel, said the city has evolved nicely since he stepped down nearly two years ago.

"I love this," Pradel said. "This is great progress."

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  Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico says the city is seeking out-of-the-box ideas for eight acres of city-owned land around the 5th Avenue Metra station north of downtown, including the small business building and water tower site behind him. Daniel White/
  Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico says the city will work toward its dream of economic growth by redeveloping eight acres of city-owned land near the 5th Avenue Metra station north of downtown. He highlighted the site during his State of the City address Monday to nearly 600 people during a Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Daniel White/
  A small business building Naperville recently purchased north of the 5th Avenue Metra station is part of eight acres the city hopes to redevelop. During his State of the City address Monday, Mayor Steve Chirico called the area the "most exciting dream" for the future of the city. Daniel White/
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