Could Naperville bell tower's future go to referendum? Mayoral candidates pitch it
Turn on ABC 7 Chicago news and wait for a weather segment.
Watch for a while and one of the first views likely will show Naperville, prominently featuring an element of the city's skyline for the past 19 years: Moser Tower and the Millennium Carillon.
Both candidates in the April election to be the city's next mayor say the $7.1 million bell tower was controversial when it was built but now has become a symbol of Naperville.
Still, its future is uncertain.
Two structural reports have indicated the concrete-and-steel tower is experiencing issues with corrosion and cracking, but the problems are repairable and do not need to be addressed immediately. No one is concerned the tower will topple anytime soon, but without repairs, ice and rain will continue to deteriorate materials, which eventually could become a hazard.
Incumbent Mayor Steve Chirico said he would consider putting the issue to a referendum to help gauge the community's feelings about whether to repair or tear down the tower.
"People are very passionate on both sides," Chirico said.
Mayoral challenger Richard "Rocky" Caylor also said a referendum would be a prudent step to let residents voice their support or opposition. But he said the key to preserving the tower is smart planning to spell out repairs now -- before they're imminently needed -- and find ways to cover costs.
"People in Naperville like to save the beauty that we have," Caylor said.
When the second structural report about Moser Tower was released in draft form last September to the Riverwalk Commission, it did not list cost estimates for repairing issues such as corroded steel, cracked concrete, deteriorating sealant and a leaking plaza.
Riverwalk Administrator Jan Erickson said an update with projected prices is expected to be complete by early March. Then a subcommittee of the Riverwalk Commission will begin evaluating the costs.
Eventually, the commission will pass along a recommendation to the city council about how much the city should spend to repair the tower -- if anything -- and when or if such work should take place. If repairing the 160-foot-tall structure is not recommended, the other option is tearing it down, which has been estimated to cost $660,000.
"I think we need to make a decision," Chirico said, "and if we're going to recommit to this project, then we're going to have to fund it."
Chirico, 58, said he wasn't a big supporter of the Millennium Carillon and Moser Tower when it was being planned "just because from a design standpoint, I didn't think it was a nice fit."
The tower was to be funded by a now-defunct group called the Millennium Carillon Foundation, but costs tripled during construction and fundraising fell short.
Supporters decided not to enclose the lower 72 feet at the base to save money, and some features, such as the elevator, were not complete when the tower went into use in 2000 to mark the millennium.
By 2007, the city had taken over maintenance and operation of the structure, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $5 million to finish construction and pay down debt.
City funding of the structure is at the root of the controversy, drawing out strong supporters and strong detractors of the tower.
Caylor, 62, said he understands the passion people feel, but with forethought, the city can find a way to fund the work the structure will need.
Chirico, a Naperville flooring business owner who is wrapping up his first term as mayor, will square off with Caylor, the owner of a Joliet logistics company, in the April 2 election.