Landmark status leaves future uncertain for old Naperville library

A plan to preserve the old Nichols Library in Naperville by moving it appears unlikely after the city council voted to designate the building a local landmark, Mayor Steve Chirico said Wednesday.

But he and the building's owner say they aren't giving up and are investigating options for the 119-year-old building's future.

"I still want to try to find that right fit," Chirico said.

Exactly what that might be is unclear after the council's late-night, 6-3 vote to make the city's first public library its fourth local landmark.

An additional layer of review comes with landmark status, requiring all exterior changes visible from the street to receive a certificate of appropriateness from the city's historic preservation commission.

That will make the compromise Chirico and property owner Dwight Avram had in mind difficult, the mayor said.

The difficulty comes down to funding.

With landmark status in effect, Chirico said the historic preservation commission effectively controls the future of the well-loved building, which served as Naperville's library from 1898 to 1986.

And with a board of volunteer history buffs in charge, Chirico said banks could be disinclined to loan money to a prospective buyer of the building "because the fate of the building is in the hands of others."

The prospective buyer who had been identified to take over the old library if it were moved would need a loan, Chirico said. So that idea, which could have relocated the old library next to the new one on a grassy lawn at 200 W. Jefferson Ave., has been scrapped.

Avram spokeswoman Deb Newman said Wednesday the builder is disappointed and disagrees with the council's vote to landmark the old library. She said Avram, who on Tuesday withdrew plans to redevelop the site at 110 S. Washington St. into a mixed-use center called Nichols Place, is looking into other options for what to do with the building.

But now the incentive to compromise is gone, Chirico said.

"The historic preservation commission holds all the cards," he said. "It's really the property owner meeting their demands. It's not like meeting in the middle."

The landmark vote was a win for a grass-roots group of preservationists called Save Old Nichols. The group, led by landmark application writers Charlie Wilkins and Barb Hower, sent an email to supporters Wednesday morning celebrating the vote but saying decisions about how to address the building's future are "a matter for another day."

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  A compromise in the works to move the old Nichols Library in Naperville to this grassy lawn west of the current Nichols Library has fallen through now that the city council voted to deem the 119-year-old building a local landmark, officials said Wednesday. Marie Wilson/
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