Woe is the Naperville city council. They have a self-made dilemma. Either honor a long-time standing agreement, or unceremoniously toss it away, in exchange for more tax dollars. What will the politicians do? Any bets?
The problem started around 1898 when college professor and businessman James Nichols donated $10,000 to Naperville to start a library. He wanted kids to have what he didn’t have when he was young; the opportunity to access books. Little did he know then, that his gesture would cause a problem in 21st century Naperville. I suppose you could say he caused the problem. If it wasn’t for James Nichols, none of this would be happening.
The building housing the library at 110 S. Washington is a magnificent building, though the library moved to its current location on Jefferson Street in 1986. The city sold the building to a Lutheran Church over 20 years ago with the stipulation that all future owners would maintain the building’s facade and front vestibule. The church moved north in Naperville and the old library building was purchased by a new owner and developer.
The developer wants to ‘convert’ the building with restaurants and shops on the main level, offices on the second floor, and condominiums on the top two floors. Here comes the catch, the owner/developer wants to tear down, as in demolish, the old building, but keep as much of the facade and vestibule as possible.
Naperville residents are very effective in gathering signatures on petitions for all sorts of actions. It this case, Naperville residents Barbara Hower and Charles Wilkens signed an online petition, along with well over one-thousand other individuals, to request approval to designate the building a local landmark, giving it historical significance. Very clever move by the residents.
The Historic Preservation Commission of Naperville will review the request, and then make a recommendation to the city council for action or inaction. If it’s recommended by the commission, and the council approves it, any changes to the old library building would have to be approved. This wouldn’t necessarily excite the new owner, and the idea itself could be demolished, leaving the old building an old empty unoccupied building.
Additionally, if landmark status is denied, it can be presented again one year later per city of Naperville rules. Hence the city council has a self-made dilemma. Enter Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico cleverly side-stepping the issue by saying since it’s private property, the owner should have the say-so. If the owner is O.K. with the resolution, so is the mayor. If the owner is not O.K. with the resolution, then Chirico is not O.K. with it.
When the dust finally sets on this dilemma, you can be pretty sure the city will have another source of tax-dollar income, a couple more liquor licenses will have been issued, and somewhere within the new development the old library facade and vestibule will live on, probably in one of the bars or washrooms.
All of this dilemma, just because Nichols wanted the kids to have access to books.