Council candidates chime in on future of Naperville's carillon tower

 
 
Updated 2/28/2019 11:23 AM
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  • Some Naperville City Council candidates want to ask voters about the future of Moser Tower, while others say the decision should rest with the council itself.

    Some Naperville City Council candidates want to ask voters about the future of Moser Tower, while others say the decision should rest with the council itself. Daily Herald file photo March 2018

Editor's note: This article has been updated to add the views of candidate Nancy Turner.

As one candidate for Naperville City Council has knocked on doors seeking support in the April 2 election, she's gotten questions about a structure that has become a symbol: the Millennium Carillon.

The 72-bell instrument is nestled near the top of Moser Tower, a 160-foot-tall concrete-and-steel structure along the Riverwalk, where it has chimed and tolled for nearly the past two decades.

The city government's involvement with the tower began when officials took over funding it from a foundation that launched the project, but ran out of money. City spending to pay down debt and finish carillon construction was estimated at $5 million.

The carillon is a campaign issue for the 11 people seeking four city council seats because, according to two structural reports, the $7.1 million spire is suffering issues with corrosion, cracking, deterioration and leakage -- issues that don't need immediate attention, but could spell concern if not addressed.

The city is awaiting estimates for how much it would cost to repair and maintain the tower, compared with the projected $660,000 expense of tearing it down. With estimates expected early next month, the topic could come to the city council for consideration this summer.

Candidate Theresa Sullivan said she's heard concern about the carillon at doorsteps on the campaign trail, despite otherwise seeing the structure as "an amenity that most Naperville people don't use."

"There are plenty of people who care about it," she said.

Here is how council candidates would address the carillon's future.

Candidates are divided into those who support a referendum question to bring options for the tower's future to voters, as mayoral candidates incumbent Steve Chirico and challenger Richard "Rocky" Caylor have proposed, and those who do not support a referendum.

Pro-referendum

Sullivan said seeking voter input is the best path forward.

"If you're asking me personally," she said, "I feel like that money could probably be spent on things that are more important to our city and that people will value more than that structure."

Bruce Hanson said he's concerned about the cost of breaking contracts with companies that have placed cell towers atop Moser Tower and wants to build consensus before any action is taken.

"Either way, stay or go, it costs money," Hanson said. "And so we need to have the residents involved."

Barbara O'Meara supports seeking private funding for maintenance. If such money can't be found, she said she would favor a referendum question.

"When you're talking millions of dollars, no, I don't think the city should be responsible for that," O'Meara said. "I'd certainly prefer to see the funding come from somewhere else."

Bradford Miller would prefer not to see the carillon torn down, and said in a perfect world, private funding would be used to fix and maintain it. Without private funding, he would support a referendum.

"I don't want the taxpayers to be on the hook for repairing it now," Miller said.

Joe McElroy said any referendum question should remain advisory so the final decision rests with the council. He also supports seeking private funding for repairs, saying the city did not work hard enough to solicit donations in the past.

"The carillon is a good example of the tendency of governments to go for the glitzy new stuff as opposed to taking care of the good stuff you already have," he said.

Anti-referendum

Incumbent Paul Hinterlong draws comfort from the fact the second structural report about Moser Tower found it to be in better condition than the first. Because the report indicates repairs are not immediately necessary, Hinterlong said the city can consider quick fixes and long-term solutions.

He said he'd like to use the Special Events and Cultural Amenities fund, which gets its money from a food and beverage tax, to pay for repairs.

"We've got time to make it right and find the funding," he said. "For us to come in and tear this down, I think that would just be horrible."

Incumbent Patty Gustin said Naperville's young people would be most saddened to see the tower go because the structure is the site of their first dates, picnics and concerts with friends. Plus, the city gets value for the tower when it's visible in weather shots on ABC 7 Chicago. Gustin also would support using Special Events and Cultural Amenities funding to pay for fixes.

"The city of Naperville could not pay for that kind of subliminal marketing when the weather goes on and they see the carillon," Gustin said. "If we tore it down, it would be press for the moment, but not continued subliminal marketing and exposure to the city."

Nancy Turner's idea to pay for tower repairs is for the city to seed a maintenance fund that would be bolstered by private donations. She does not support a referendum or spending millions of city dollars, but she said the city-supported maintenance fund could be a "middle ground" to keep the carillon standing.

"Its the city's obligation to make sure it is structurally sound enough to not injure anyone," she said.

Patrick Kelly said it's too early to say what to do with the tower because cost estimates for partial and complete repairs are not yet available. It's possible, Kelly said, that repairing the structure so it will stand safely for another 20 or 30 years won't cost much more than the $660,000 estimated to tear it down. Or the cost difference could be in the millions. His approach is to wait for the facts, then rely on the council to decide.

"People have such heated opinions on it, but that's why we're elected, right?" he said. "To make hard decisions."

Whitney Robbins also believes the council's role is to make tough decisions and said whatever action is taken on the tower should be cost-effective. She said her children love running up the stairs, but she and many other Naperville adults feel less of a connection.

"I see it as a want not a need," Robbins said. "I wouldn't recommend spending millions of dollars to fix it, but I wouldn't spend millions to take it down, either."

Michele Hilger Clemen thinks repair funding can be found with a combination of Special Events and Cultural Amenities money and donations. She's not in favor of asking voters what to do because she says it should stay.

"I can't imagine it not being there," Hilger Clemen said. "I don't think that we can tear it down."

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