What's next for 5th Avenue redevelopment in Naperville?

  • Dan Zeman and Laura Stellwagen Zeman are among 5th Avenue-area residents in Naperville who want the city to hire an independent consultant to create a vision for redevelopment sites along the corridor -- instead of allowing a developer chosen by a selection committee to lead the visioning process.

    Dan Zeman and Laura Stellwagen Zeman are among 5th Avenue-area residents in Naperville who want the city to hire an independent consultant to create a vision for redevelopment sites along the corridor -- instead of allowing a developer chosen by a selection committee to lead the visioning process. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Updated 10/2/2017 8:28 AM

Near the Naperville Metra station along 5th Avenue are eight properties totaling 13 acres with an uncertain future.

The next step for this well-traveled area could come into focus Tuesday, when the city council may authorize a developer to lead a process creating a concept for what could be built there.


Mayor Steve Chirico said the goal is to have prospective developer Ryan Cos. provide a road map and "identify a project that the community will embrace."

But before a vote on accepting the "road map," several neighbors are asking the city to rethink its approach.

Instead of allowing Ryan Cos. to conduct the monthslong input-gathering process it has proposed, these neighbors want the city to hire an "independent third party" to develop a concept.

"We have more questions than answers," said Laura Stellwagen Zeman, who lives one block north of 5th Avenue. "That's why we need somebody who doesn't have a vested financial interest."

At issue are city-owned or leased properties that include four parking lots, a former public works building, a water tower, an office building and the DuPage Children's Museum site.

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At stake is a major economic development opportunity for city officials, a potential change in neighborhood character and possible adjustments to traffic flow and parking for commuters.

The redevelopment already has drawn comparisons to the Water Street District, which took nearly 10 years to complete but has brought a hotel and restaurants to downtown.

In his State of the City address this spring, Chirico called 5th Avenue the city's "most exciting dream."

Building a 'dream'

The revitalization process ramped up in February, when the council began seeking developers to lead the project. The plan was to find one or more firms with experience on similar projects, then ask for proposals for the sites.

By impressing a 14-member committee with its ability to shepherd projects though planning and construction, Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos. cut one step out of that plan. The firm, which has a Naperville office, became the unanimous choice.


"The surprise was that there was one outstanding development company with such solid credentials," said Christine Jeffries, president of the Naperville Development Partnership and a selection committee member.

Neighbors question how any firm can be the most qualified to build something that has not yet been determined. Some question the connections between Ryan Cos. Vice President of Real Estate Development Jim McDonald and the Naperville Development Partnership. McDonald sits on the partnership's board.

"There's just too much conflict in this whole process," resident Dan Dodge said.

Jeffries said McDonald's membership did nothing to sway any votes. She said a "bigger concern" would be picking a firm without knowledge of Naperville.

"Anybody that's engaged in the community is going to have relationships," she said.

Ryan has developed a community engagement plan and, pending council approval, will carry it out without any money promised from the city.

"I'm not concerned about the process at all," Chirico said.

Neighbors, though, question how a company with its bottom line in mind can best listen to resident input.

"My issue becomes, is the best person to give that help someone who has a vested interest in the outcome of the plan?" resident Dominic Nugent said. "I'm shocked they (council members) would even consider that."

Steps in the path

Tuesday's vote could launch the development process by putting Ryan Cos.' four-phase community engagement plan in place. The kickoff in October would include two preliminary meetings and allow residents to choose how they want to be informed.

The second step -- issue identification and input -- is planned to last through February and involve at least four community meetings, work sessions about commuters, parking, stormwater, traffic and land use, and interviews with stakeholders.

The third phase -- visioning -- would begin next March, involving two meetings with the council, a presentation of the concept and at least two chances to present revisions.

The fourth phase could begin next summer and include creation of engineering and architectural plans.

The final step would be council approval of a development agreement and business terms that could grant Ryan Cos. permission to build on city land.

Chirico says allowing Ryan to lead the process will ensure the vision is economically feasible and desirable -- a win for the developer, residents and the Naperville brand.

Neighbors are skeptical.

"If we have Ryan steering the ship, even if they're promising to take our input," Dan Zeman said, "we really don't have any power at that table."

Chirico says the city isn't in a hurry to revamp 5th Avenue and is willing to take time to get it right. But pursuing the neighbors' idea to pick a new consultant isn't the way to do it.

"Starting over makes no sense to me," Chirico said. "We haven't started yet."

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