Architects envision old Naperville library as restaurant, welcome center

While the owners of the old Nichols Library in Naperville ponder its future, two architects chimed in with drawings of what it could become.

Naperville architects Tom Ryan and Anthony Yeboah say they've created ideas for how the 119-year-old building on Washington Street next to Central Park can be saved and reused, while still allowing new development.

Ryan's idea calls for renovating the city's first library, designated in September as a local landmark, into a restaurant and market similar to Eataly in Chicago, then constructing a loft-style, mixed-use building in an "L" shape behind it.

Yeboah presented two versions of his idea. Both include turning the library into a welcome center, upgrading Central Park, then adding a four-story office and bank, a six-story apartment building and underground parking.

"The idea is to refurbish that building in its old style, keep it really nice and antique," Yeboah said about the library, a Richardsonian Romanesque building completed in 1898.

Naperville architect Anthony Yeboah's first idea for the old Nichols Library site is to turn the building into a visitors' center, renovate Central Park and add a four-story office and bank building, a 6-story apartment building, underground parking and a skybridge to cross Washington Street. Courtesy of Anthony Yeboah

His first plan calls for a skybridge to help people cross Washington Street, and his second places the new buildings farther from Washington Street by adding a courtyard.

Both architects, who presented drawings to the preservation group Save Old Nichols, said it's important to keep the old library's structure intact to retain meaning.

"Downtowns will change," Yeboah said. "But it doesn't need to change completely to an extent where we can't recognize our history."

Building owners Dwight Avram and Jeff Brown say they are exploring several options for the future of the old library, as its current user, Truth Lutheran Church, plans to move out early next year.

One possibility is moving the library to the Naper Settlement, where it could stand as a testament to its benefactor, early Naperville businessman, teacher and author James Lawrence Nichols.

"We're all hoping just for a discussion about options," Ryan said.

Naperville architect Tom Ryan designed this concept of a potential reuse for the old Nichols Library building, which would include renovating it into a restaurant and specialty market, then building a tiered mixed-use center in an "L" shape behind it to preserve light entering Central Park. Courtesy of Tom Ryan

The option Ryan designed creates a clean, modern building behind the yellow stone library that won't take away from its beauty. His sketches are about "light and preserving green space on a site that has a building on it that means a lot to the people," he said.

Both architects' ideas are meant to generate discussion. But the choice of what to do with the site ultimately lies with owners Avram and Brown. Brown said they hope to choose a direction by the end of this year.

Any exterior changes would need to be reviewed by the city's historic preservation commission and granted a certificate of appropriateness.

"My advice for the developer is to really engage the public," Yeboah said. "I think they'll do something beautiful if they open up and bring people to the building."

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