Naperville mayor looks ahead at public safety, development issues
Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico says it was his strong record over the past four years that led to his re-election for a second term that begins Sunday.
Most of the city council's financial goals have been met, he says. Businesses are thriving. Crime has been reduced. Development proposals are continually brought forth for consideration.
"We have been viewed as being one of the best in every category for several years now," Chirico told the Daily Herald. "People move here for those things. ... They want to protect that."
As he prepares to begin his second term, Chirico says he's ready to see through several projects stemming from his first four years. But he also knows the city council will have to make some tough financial and policy-related decisions.
Naperville is among the best cities in the area for its schools, parks, commerce, dining and other amenities, Chirico said. But if the town isn't safe, "none of those other things really matter."
The city has focused heavily on policies that promote public safety, from its liquor laws to traffic control. It's one of the core responsibilities of any municipality, he said, and it's up to the council to continue updating its policies to keep up with a changing society.
"You don't want to snuff out any thriving industry that's developing," Chirico said, pointing to the growing popularity of breweries as an example. "You don't want to dampen that, but you still want to make sure it's done safely."
So far, so good, he said, as data suggests crime and arrests are down citywide. But there's still more to be done, especially regarding mental health issues.
Roughly 70 percent of Naperville's public safety calls are related to mental illnesses, Chirico said, and the city has been working to develop programs and resources to prevent those individuals from hurting themselves or others.
"I don't think there's an end to it," Chirico said. "We've got to keep focusing on that."
Plans for a potential development along 5th Avenue prompted discussions about the city's affordable housing stock.
The city council recently set a goal that 20% of any residential units constructed near the train station be affordable -- a move officials say will help them better serve demographics that can't afford Naperville's luxury homes. It also could help bring the city closer to a state mandate that 10% of a municipality's residences be affordable.
Chirico said the efforts shouldn't stop at affordable housing. A consultant has been hired to conduct a study to determine the city's housing gaps -- including workforce, seniors, empty nesters and other demographics -- and help officials address those needs based on trends and future projections.
As development proposals come forward, Chirico said, the city can then provide developers with guidance to ensure a well-balanced housing inventory.
"Having a blend of housing for all parts of our community is important," he said. "I don't think that every development has to have a component that fits every category ... but you need to keep in mind the gaps that need to be filled.
In the ongoing debate over whether to repair or demolish Naperville's iconic Moser Tower, Chirico said the city needs to do whatever it can to save it.
But he didn't reach that decision lightly.
Chirico wasn't a big fan of the tower when it was built, not because of its aesthetics, but because it lacked a financial plan.
The city ultimately took control of the structure, which holds the Millennium Carillon and its 72 bells, after the foundation that launched the project ran out of money. "It became the taxpayers' responsibility, which is not right," Chirico said. "It just got dumped on them."
In the past 19 years, however, the tower has become a significant piece of the city's skyline, visible in every photo and newscast highlighting downtown. That's worth the investment to fix the structure's cracking concrete, corroded steel and leaking plaza, he said.
"I've been waffling with this issue for a long time," Chirico said. "Upon mature reflection, I really believe it's more important to have it than not."
The city also will have to decide how to fund those repairs, which could cost upward of $1.3 million, he said.
Chirico said he also thought about putting the issue on the ballot and letting voters decide the tower's fate -- a suggestion that has been proposed by some city Riverwalk commissioners. He has since changed his mind, saying, "at the end of the day, we need to save it."