Naperville candidates question kids museum's temporary move to Aurora
The DuPage Children's Museum is getting closer to knowing when its flood-damaged home at 301 N. Washington St. in Naperville will reopen -- probably sometime this summer.
But the museum is taking heat from three mayoral candidates who say it should not have left the city to establish a temporary location in Aurora.
The museum opened DCM@The Mall at Westfield Fox Valley shopping center in Aurora on Feb. 6, almost one month after a pipe burst Jan. 8 and flooded all three levels of its longtime Naperville facility.
The four people running to be Naperville's first mayor after George Pradel -- Doug Krause, Jim Haselhorst, Marty Walker and Steve Chirico -- were asked about the museum's location this week during a forum sponsored by the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation.
"We were disappointed that they went to Fox Valley mall instead of a vacant store in Naperville," Krause said. "We need to be working with them so we make sure that we keep that asset here in Naperville."
Haselhorst and Walker also said they were disappointed the museum established a temporary presence outside of Naperville because the city gives the museum so much financial support.
In 2011, the city paid $3 million to help buy the former lumberyard building and property on which the museum is located to save it from mounting debt. Since then, the city has leased the space back to the museum rent-free. Yearly rent of at least $62,056, which will be adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index, will be due beginning in 2016.
"I think the city should have had more influence over where they went," Haselhorst said about the children's museum. "If we're going to give them that kind of money to operate, then they should definitely be accountable to the city council."
Sarah Orleans, the museum's president and CEO, said she worked with Christine Jeffries, president and CEO of the Naperville Development Partnership, to search for a temporary home within the city. But they didn't find anything that was move-in ready, as was the 3,000-square-foot vacant store at the mall.
"Our temporary location is one that we had to make a very quick business decision to get open quickly, and there was just nothing available" in Naperville, Orleans said. "Everything Christine and I were identifying required weeks of time to be able to even get permission to use the building."
Overseeing a $2 million renovation in hopes of reopening in June or July is difficult enough, Orleans said, without any second-guessing from political candidates.
"We did everything to make it visible that we're the DuPage Children's Museum, our hometown is Naperville and we have to be away from there for a while and the city of Aurora stepped in to help us," Orleans said. "It doesn't help when people are Monday morning quarterbacking you."
Chirico was the only mayoral candidate who did not criticize the museum's choice of a temporary location during the recent forum. As the city studies redevelopment options near the 5th Avenue Metra station, Chirico said it should keep several options open for the museum's location, including the home it is renovating across Washington Street from the station.
"We want it to be a successful and healthy relationship" between the city and the museum, Chirico said.
Orleans said the museum has no plans to move and instead is trying to raise $200,000 in donations and seeking grant money to renovate destroyed exhibits including Make it Move and Creativity Connections. She said she's glad mayoral hopefuls want her museum to stay in Naperville and sorry if the organization upset anyone by setting up an interim space one city to the west.
"We are in a great place to be able to redo the museum, to reopen and to be better than we were when we closed," Orleans said. "Mostly we need people's confidence and understanding."