Will Naper Settlement get new innovation center or agricultural museum?
Naper Settlement hopes to add two new buildings to its museum campus near downtown Naperville, but officials say the ideas are in a holding pattern.
Plans to build an Innovation Gateway and an agricultural interpretive center await funding of roughly one-third of their cost from the city of Naperville in order to move forward, Settlement President and CEO Rena Tamayo-Calabrese said.
"We are seeking to get a final yes or no from the city because after six years, we really do need to know whether the city is behind its third," she said. "Once we have that determination, we will know in what direction we can head."
The city may not be ready to pay for the projects -- at least not all at once, Mayor Steve Chirico said. He said some city council members want to consider funding, but likely only for one building at a time, starting with the Innovation Gateway. Finding the money for one, let alone both, could be tough, he said.
An idea for a third building, called Scott's Block -- a replica of an 1850s-era downtown block -- never gained support after it was introduced in 2014 and is no longer in the works.
As the Naperville Heritage Society, a nonprofit organization that supports the partially city-funded museum, celebrates its 50th anniversary, here is an update on the projects.
Imagined as a new front door and a technological learning space, the Innovation Gateway originally was projected to open this year. Tamayo-Calabrese said the Heritage Society raised $1 million for it from the Tellabs and Birck Family foundations during a 2017 campaign. But the building is estimated to cost $3.7 million.
The idea with the gateway, as with all three buildings proposed since Tamayo-Calabrese became the museum's leader in 2014, is to split the cost in thirds, with the Heritage Society, the city and state or federal grants contributing equal portions.
The state, in its capital plan, listed $300,000 for Naper Settlement, which Tamayo-Calabrese said can be put toward the Innovation Gateway or the agricultural center.
For its part, the city has listed a total of $1.5 million for the gateway in its capital improvements plan for 2020 and 2021. But the expenditure is listed as "unfunded."
Chirico said the project is "a big ask," but he would prioritize it first among the Settlement's three potential buildings, if money can be found.
"It will be able to tell a lot more of the Naperville story using technology," he said.
Celebrating Naperville's roots as a farm town would be the aim of the agricultural interpretive center, which could offer a learning lab to highlight the evolving science of agriculture, Tamayo-Calabrese said.
Farming may seem a thing of the past in Illinois' fourth-largest city. But Tamayo-Calabrese said the center could explain the transition by exploring changes in land use, the suburban sprawl and the rise of the "technoburbs."
The Heritage Society hosted fundraising events for the center in 2016 and 2018, and Tamayo-Calabrese said the society is well on its way to funding a third of the project's yet-unspecified cost.
"We have the potential right now, if we can put the shovel in the ground, of receiving another very large, six-figure donation," she said. "That's why we do need to get an answer from the city."
The city has not listed any spending on the project in its capital improvements plan for any of the upcoming years. Chirico said it would be "a stretch" for the city to fund the center now, but he suggested the Heritage Society keep raising money for the project on its own.