Panel offers early support for repairing Naperville's Moser Tower

Like it or not, Naperville officials say the Moser Tower has become a culturally iconic piece of the city's skyline since it was built 19 years ago.

That's why the Riverwalk Commission is leaning toward recommending the city make the repairs necessary to save it.

Several members of the advisory group expressed early support Wednesday for spending upward of $1.3 million to fix issues with the tower's cracking concrete, corroded steel and leaking plaza.

A report issued last month by Engineering Resource Associates outlined four repair options aimed at preventing further deterioration of the structure, which holds the Millennium Carillon and its 72 bells.

"When the city took on the ownership of the carillon, that included the maintenance complications," Chairman Geoff Roehll said, echoing sentiments from many fellow commissioners. "We understand there's varying opinion on who likes it and who doesn't. ... Yet in every newscast that we see, a video shot always has the carillon in the background, so it seems like it has become a cultural icon of Naperville."

Commissioners John Joseph and Jeanne Buddingh, however, said they'd rather let voters determine the tower's fate through a referendum question.

Joseph pointed to results of a 2017 survey that ranked preserving the structure last among four potential Riverwalk projects. With those findings in mind, he questioned whether taxpayers would find greater value in moving forward with the repairs or tearing down the tower, an option that would cost about $660,000.

"I think we leave it to the citizens of Naperville to weigh in," Joseph said. "I think that's our responsible action."

During his recent re-election campaign, Mayor Steve Chirico said he, too, would consider putting the issue to a referendum to help gauge community feedback.

But Roehll said it's not up to the Riverwalk Commission to make that call. The advisory group's task is to provide a recommendation one way or the other on saving the tower, he said, and the city council can decide how to move forward from there.

The repairs could cost between $1.3 million and $2.4 million, depending on the extent of the work and the length of time it takes to be completed, according to the report. The estimated prices are lower than projections provided in April 2017.

The more expensive options would include enclosing the base of the tower to match original designs, though a subgroup of the Riverwalk Commission agreed last week that doing so wouldn't improve the structural integrity of the tower, said Bill Novack, the city's director of transportation, engineering and development.

That leaves the cheapest repair plan, which would be completed in one phase, and a second option that would extend the work into three phases and cost about $200,000 more. Novack said it would be up to the council to decide how many phases the project should take.

Consultants also are looking at adding a sealer on the tower's exterior, which could cost another $100,000, Novack said.

Commissioner Pat Kennedy said he doesn't believe the prices are prohibitive or unusual for a structure of such significance. If a life-cycle or maintenance analysis had been conducted when the tower was built in 2000, or completed in 2007, he said, "this really wouldn't be that much of a conversation."

"I look at the cultural asset component of it," Kennedy said. "There's a value to that."

Completing the repairs would help stabilize the tower for the next 30 years, during which time the city also would incur annual maintenance costs, consultants say.

The Riverwalk Commission aims to make a recommendation at its May meeting.

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