Water Street in Naperville revives dormant block, 'blows away' expectations
Gathered Friday evening on what used to be the "other side of the river" -- the not-so-scenic side with a car wash and a gas pump and a lumber dealership -- more than 300 people in Naperville celebrated a development that has transformed the scene for decades to come.
The Water Street District was 10 years and $93 million in the making, with countless hours of public meetings, deliberation and construction along the way. But by Friday, the hospitality development on the southern shore of the DuPage River sparkled with the hotel, banquet center, restaurants, shops, boardwalk, parking and public art the city seemed to doubt it would ever truly see.
"It's blown away our expectations," said Jeff Prosapio, director of project management for Marquette Companies, which built the downtown's newest destination and transformed the 2.4 acres east of city hall.
The blue sky Friday was speckled with fluffy white clouds that served as the perfect backdrop for a new fountain, plaza, outdoor dining patios and Spanish steps leading down to the Riverwalk, where officials welcomed in their downtown's new look and feel.
"Welcome to wonderful Water Street," said developer Nick Ryan, CEO of Marquette Companies. "What a wonderful place to live, work and play we have created here together."
While full of praise for the district's present and future, officials didn't sugarcoat its past.
There was much public opposition and many questions about height, parking, shadows, money and a change in character of the downtown.
There were lengthy delays, caused by the recession and by repeated rounds of changes to the plans. First there were condos, then a Holiday Inn, and finally developers proposed what actually got built: a 158-room Hotel Indigo that incorporates elements of Naperville's history into its design.
Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico thanked the residents who supported public officials as they took "tough votes" in support of the hotel, shops and riverfront improvements.
"Six years ago when I heard about this development, I immediately bought in and said, 'I will advocate for this.' And I did," Chirico said. "I never, in my wildest imagination, would have thought it'd turn out as good as it did."
The new mixed-use destination, anchored by the hotel, has a busy wedding and banquet center called Elements and a second-story skybridge connecting rooms on both sides of the reconstructed Water Street. It has two restaurants, Blue Sushi Sake Grill and Sixty-Four -- A Wine Bar, and the clothing shop Southern Tide. It's added a 521-space garage to downtown parking options and it's got several more restaurants and shops, as well as eventually offices, yet to come.
Investors Peter Foyo and Dominic Imburgia, for whom the new plaza and fountain are named, told the crowd they were honored to put their money toward a project that created jobs in their hometown and beautified a public place for a bustling future.
"The hotel is really refreshing," Imburgia said. "We really needed one here downtown."
Public art at the Water Street District also was dedicated Friday, in the form of five porcelain murals called "Streaming History" that depict life as it used to be along the Water Street block, which many called an eyesore before it was redone.
"This is the epitome of what public art can do," said W. Brand Bobosky, chairman of the Century Walk Corp. public art group that took on "Streaming History" as its 48th piece. "Because this place was a mess."
In a murals by artist Debora Duran-Geiger, Naperville Mayor Emeritus George Pradel is seen washing his car in the river.
Pradel said by the looks of it, he'd never guess the new Water Street District was in Naperville. Not the Naperville where he grew up, seeing the strip of land south of the waterway remain relatively underused for decades upon decades.
"It's really changed here," he said, "since my time."