Naperville to buy children's museum

Updated 10/6/2010 12:05 AM

As early as Wednesday afternoon, Naperville will own about 3 acres of prime real estate at the city's north gateway for $3 million or $25 per square foot.

Calling it a deal too good to pass up, council members voted 8 to 1 Tuesday night to purchase the site of the financially troubled DuPage Children's Museum as part of a five-layer transaction that is expected to close as early as Wednesday morning.


Before the vote, six parents and community members spoke in favor of the museum and urged the council to move forward.

The deal breaks down to include the $3 million contribution from the city in addition to $1.94 million pooled from Reps. Darlene Senger, Michael Connelly and Patti Bellock's and Sens. Randy Hultgren and Kirk Dillard's member initiatives. DuPage County has promised $250,000, and private donors have pledged between $70,000 and $1 million.

The remainder comes from an approximately $3.25 million write-down by Chase Bank, which holds the museum's $9.4 million note.

"These economic times present rare opportunities, and I consider this to be one of those rare opportunities for a number of parties to get together and do the right thing, Councilman James Boyajian said. "We're providing a mechanism for the museum to continue to exist, and I find that to be a good thing.

The city's $3 million includes about $1 million from the Burlington parking lot fund; the deal calls for the city to acquire 57 parking spots along the train line that are now used by the museum. The other $2 million will come from bonds the city already has issued but has not had to spend thanks to lower-than-expected costs for other projects.

It's money well-spent, said Councilman Paul Hinterlong, considering the 330,000 visitors from 280 ZIP codes shown to visit the museum annually.

"It is a family-focused museum, and I even credit it with more home sales, and that brings revenues with it, Hinterlong said. "Eliminating it would be devastating.

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The purchase reduces the city's annual support of about $300,000 from the city's Special Events and Cultural Amenities fund to about $150,000. It also gives council members two seats on the museum board and oversight of the annual budget.

Councilman Grant Wehrli, the lone dissenting vote on the purchase, displayed pieces of art his children have created at the museum and pledged his desire to see the museum succeed. But he was looking for more public debate on the purchase rather than succumbing to deadlines put in place by the bank to get the debt off their books.

"I agree $3 million is a great deal, but is six days enough to decide if this is the business we want to be in? Wehrli asked, referring to the plan being made public last Wednesday. "I don't think it is.

The parties failed Tuesday night to hammer out the final details of the 20-year renewable lease that was on the table, including whether the museum would continue to pay rent once the $3 million is recouped by the city.

Instead, council members unanimously approved a three-month lease, effective at the close of the deal.