Naperville's old Nichols Library could soon be a restaurant attached to condos, stores
A second round of unanimous approval gave the owners of the landmark old Nichols Library in downtown Naperville nearly the final permission they need to turn the structure into the centerpiece of a development with stores, homes and possibly a restaurant in the library space itself.
The historic preservation commission's vote Thursday to approve a certificate of appropriateness for permit drawings of the project ended roughly 18 months of often-controversial discussions about what should happen with the 120-year-old building that once housed Naperville's first public collection of books. It follows a similar unanimous vote in May that approved the project in concept, though not in detail.
The project, to be called Central Park Place, includes a four-story building with commercial and retail on the first floor and 21 condos on the upper levels, with underground parking and a rooftop garden for condo residents.
The design by architect Mike Elliott with Kluber Architects + Engineers keeps in place the yellow-brick and stone library at 110 S. Washington St. and adds new structures to the east and south.
In documents submitted to seek approval, ownership group Great Central Properties III said much restoration is planned for the old library, including tuckpointing; replacement of the roof, windows and main entrance door; and repairs to the brick, stone, soffits and fascia.
The new components of Central Park Place have been designed to complement the old, with windows roughly the same size and stepped-back placement to let the library stand on its own.
This differs from an original design presented in May 2017, which showed the west-facing facade of the library -- without the rest of the building behind it -- incorporated into a larger mixed-use facility. But those plans came before the city council designated the property a local landmark last September to strengthen review requirements for potential changes.
Members of a group called Save Old Nichols advocated for the landmark status, and city council member Becky Anderson, the council's liaison to the historic preservation commission, said they helped bring about a win-win for progress and history.
"I think everyone liked the design. They liked the fact that we saved the building," Anderson said. "I know it was a contentious process, but I think everyone is pleased with what we're going to end up with."
Owners Dwight Avram and Jeff Brown now are seeking building permits from the city before new construction can begin. Spokeswoman Lissa Druss said the owners are hopeful they can have permits in hand before the end of the year.
This spring the owners received permission to tear down the south wing of the old library, built in 1962. Environmental remediation, structural stabilization and other minor repairs also have been under way in conjunction with the demolition, Druss said.
As work approaches, owners are trying to secure a tenant for the preserved and restored library. Druss said owners are in talks with a restaurant concept that is "not from around here" but could fill the space. She said she could not yet disclose the name of the restaurant.
"It fits the quality and the style that we're looking for to enhance downtown Naperville," Druss said.
Anderson said those she's heard from are pleased with the idea of a restaurant occupying what used to be a place for reading and gathering.
"They've designed a project that is going to make the library stand out. It's a good result," Anderson said. "It's basically preserving our past and a building that's been very important to the history of our city and the reading life of our city."