Where Naperville council candidates see children's museum's future

The DuPage Children's Museum's site at 301 N. Washington St. puts the longtime institution inside a zone of 13 acres owned by the city of Naperville that is targeted for redevelopment near the downtown Metra station.

Discussions about the museum's future have been underway between staff members and city officials since September. Because of the complexity of the talks, participants expect they will continue for some time before anyone decides if the museum should stay or go.

This turns the children's destination into a relevant issue for the 11 candidates seeking four seats on the city council in the April 2 election.

Here's how council candidates would address the museum, which leases its space from the city under a pact that lasts until 2030.

Candidates are divided into those who said it's best to move the museum, and those who expressed nuanced views about how to make the choice.

Move it

Joe McElroy said the key is to evaluate the museum within the context of the entire 5th Avenue development, in which early designs call for nearly 400 apartments, roughly 40 condos, a dozen or so brownstones, and various amounts of office, retail and flexible space. Plans have been in the works for two years, but are on hold while officials consider the museum and whether there is a need for additional commuter parking.

"Maybe elsewhere within the 5th Avenue development, it could be an amenity," McElroy said about the museum.

Incumbent Paul Hinterlong said the best scenario would be to move the museum to a vacant property along the city's East Ogden Avenue corridor to "bring economic growth in that section of town" and free space for commuter parking.

"If we can have that hold 500 more spaces instead of the children's museum, it opens up a lot more opportunities to get parking on the south side" of the tracks, Hinterlong said.

Michele Hilger Clemen said moving the facility to East Ogden would be best for visitor safety and accessibility and would allow the museum to expand into an outdoor space.

"I think it also would allow the city to gain more exposure for the children's museum because it would be closer to I-88 and there'd be an ease of people getting to and from the museum," she said.

Nancy Turner wants the museum to move to East Ogden near Naper Boulevard, where complementary uses could create a youth-focused destination.

"Some other kid-friendly activities could be brought in there to kind of just fill it out," Turner said. "And my idea was to make it more like a plaza, like you'd have in European cosmopolitan cities."

Barbara O'Meara said moving the institution seems the best way to benefit museum visitors and Chicago-bound commuters.

"If we're able to move the children's museum and it's a win for them, the (museum) board's happy with getting a larger area and an outdoor area, and we're able to get that land that's already city-owned and help to eliminate some of these parking problems, that's a good deal," O'Meara said.

Measured decision

Incumbent Patty Gustin sits on the working group that is pondering the museum's future and said the institution deserves backing.

"The city wants to be a very supportive partner with the museum," Gustin said.

Patrick Kelly said the defining question is whether it's worthwhile to future 5th Avenue redevelopment to move the museum somewhere such as East Ogden and open up its land for another use, such as commuter parking. He said the answer can be found through collaboration.

"It might make the 5th Avenue project that much better," Kelly said. "It would be a more cohesive project, and if it improves the museum and if it improves the Ogden corridor, which everyone wants to make better, maybe that's worth it."

Whitney Robbins said the museum site needs safety and traffic fixes no matter what use is there. She said it's too soon to tell if that means the museum must move, but if it does, the East Ogden corridor could be a good destination.

"I do think the children's museum has to stay in Naperville," she said. "It's a huge part of what Naperville is."

Theresa Sullivan said the best place for the museum can be decided based only on a financial analysis.

"The DuPage Children's Museum is a huge driver for people to come to Naperville," Sullivan said. "Our family-friendly brand really is around kids. I want to see the children's museum for sure stay in Naperville."

Bradford Miller calls East Ogden a "good possibility" for the museum, but says any move must not lead to budgetary issues.

"It could be a win-win because they could get a lot more space and attention and have a grand reopening," he said. "It would have to make sense financially for them."

Bruce Hanson cautions that moving the museum to the East Ogden area, where the city does not own property, could leave unanswered questions about costs. He said if the facility stays put, it must be factored into redevelopment.

"Going forward when development is ultimately underway in the 5th Avenue area, how would we incorporate the DuPage Children's Museum to make it feel like it's there on purpose, that it's intentional," Hanson said. "And how do they get the best use for the space that they've signed up for?"

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Naperville council candidates

Eleven candidates will be on the ballot seeking four Naperville City Council seats in the April 2 election. Here are the candidates in the order in which they will appear on the ballot.

1. Bradford Miller, a 39-year-old attorney

2. Theresa Sullivan, a 42-year-old professional career advisor

3. Paul J. Hinterlong, a 53-year-old licensed plumber and business representative

4. Patrick Kelly, a 36-year-old attorney

5. Michele Hilger Clemen, a 38-year-old sales manager

6. Bruce R. Hanson, a 51-year-old consultant

7. Patricia A. Gustin, a 58-year-old real estate broker and paralegal

8. Whitney R. Robbins, a 44-year-old director of client services

9. Barbara O'Meara, a public service administrator

10. Nancy Turner, a 62-year-old teacher

11. Joseph McElroy, a 66-year-old city planning and communications consultant

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