Jaycees supporting outdoor office space in Naperville

Young workers are among the intended users of a new outdoor office space planned for the Naperville Riverwalk, and now a club of young workers has stepped up as a major supporter of the project.

Naperville Jaycees will donate $200,000 during the next five to 10 years to support what's tentatively called Jaycees Smart Park, a plaza outside of the Naperville municipal center with seating, shade, Wi-Fi, tables, plants and electricity to meet the workplace needs of on-the-go employees.

"The Jaycees is a young professionals' organization, so that is a great fit for our organization to make this our park," club President James Groat said.

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico introduced the idea for the outdoor office space at his State of the City address in March, and since then has been working to secure private donations to cover the estimated $400,000 cost of building it.

It was perfect timing for the Jaycees, a service club of roughly 100 young professionals, who wanted to give back to a community project that can benefit all, Groat said.

The club previously has donated to create the paddleboat pier at Rotary Hill, a handicapped-accessible playground west of Centennial Beach and a gazebo in Fredenhagen Park, and members have contributed to support Wentz Concert Hall and the band shell in Central Park. But Groat said it's been a while since the club found a similar communitywide project to get behind.

"I think it's going to be a great opportunity for exactly what it's supposed to be - a place where people can make connections to other people, to work outside year-round," he said about the future smart park. "With more and more people working from home, you now have a great luxury of coming to Naperville and working outside."

The smart park needs approval from governmental and nonprofit organizations including the Naperville Riverwalk Commission, Riverwalk Foundation and city council. The Naperville Park District's board also is set to discuss the project this week.

But the Jaycees' promised donation - which will come from fundraisers and events throughout the year, including the Last Fling end-of-summer blowout in September - should put the plan's finances in order.

Before the club announced its commitment, Chirico said he had lined up nearly $300,000 from other sponsors. Funding will be given to the Riverwalk Foundation because the city can't accept donations.

Groat said the Jaycees are working with landscape architects to consider adding heaters to the outdoor office setup so it can be used for seven or eight months of the year instead of five or six. Umbrellas and overhangs will allow smart park users to set up their laptops or tablets and actually see what's displayed on the screens, and electrical outlets will allow them to snag a cellphone charge on the fly.

The space will be viewed as an extension of the Riverwalk and will be maintained by the city.

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