Chamber concerned with naming rights issue
Sun STaff March 16, 2013 5:10PM
Updated: April 18, 2013 7:07AM
The Naperville Chamber of Commerce has sent a letter to the City Council expressing its concerns about any restrictions on the names businesses can use in town.
The issue came up during a recent Council discussion on the Water Street project, which would include a hotel, restaurants, a parking deck and more.
An effort by City Council member Grant Wehrli to forbid developer Marquette Properties from incorporating the name of the iconic Riverwalk fronting the development fell short. Council members earlier expressed distaste for the idea of the hotel being crowned with a giant “H” — the logo of Holiday Inn, which will add the new inn to its properties — but Wehrli said it shouldn’t bear the name of the distinctive downtown walkway, either.
“‘Thou shalt not name anything Riverwalk’ should be part of the ordinance,” said Wehrli. He stood fast to his position and joined Krause, whose objection to the project largely is based on its density, in casting the only votes against the project.
The remaining council members disagreed with Wehrli, and Marquette Properties president Nick Ryan said he and his colleagues had considered using the word Riverwalk in the hotel name as a good way to “honor” the linear park that stretches across the city core, but would be willing to find something else to call the development as well.
The Chamber letter to the Council clearly stated the group’s feelings about any restrictions on naming for businesses.
“I am writing to object to a recent line of discussion ...,” Michael A. Evans, president and CEO of the Naperville Chamber, said in the letter. “ Through a motion of substitution, the Council was debating the institution of a restriction of naming rights or abilities on certain businesses. The Chamber applauds that this anti-business motion was defeated.
“The city of Naperville has a wide range of municipal authorities, duties and responsibilities. In our opinion, using the power of the government through zoning and regulatory approval processes to debate, manage the marketing affairs or place restrictions on the name of individual businesses is not wise or appropriate use of those powers.”
Evans said the discussion was worrisome for business people.
“The Council is not elected to be a marketing committee for Naperville’s private sector, or to individually review and bless the names and affairs of businesses at public meetings,” he said in the letter. “This is an example of government overreach and undue regulation. Does a plurality of the Council believe it is truly appropriate to begin prohibiting companies and organizations from using any part of the words “Naperville,” “Main Street,” “5th Avenue,” “Riverwalk,” or “Downtown,” in their names? The list of potential restrictions could extend in perpetuity and without end.”
He said the “discussion was not consistent with the nature of partnership espoused so often by the Council and Mayor, past and present. The Riverwalk is a successful entity, and envied by so many communities because it is an attraction for businesses, residents and tourists alike. Without the proximity and support of a business district, municipal amenities like Centennial Beach or Library, and easy access to residences, it is simply a walkway made of bricks near a river.
“These assets, reputations and experiences were built through partnership and investment of time, resources and support from the community, public and private, and belong to everyone. The notion that the City Council can or should license or declare ownership of these public-private partnerships is directly contradictory to the spirit in which they were established.”
Contacted for comment Saturday, Wehrli said he thought it was ironic to be addressing the subject on the same day former Naperville Mayor Chester Rybicki, considered the father of the Riverwalk, was laid to rest.
“My reaction to it (the letter) is that I wish Mr. Evans would have picked up the phone,” he said.
Wehrli noted that Evans previous assignment had been as head of the Bolingbrook Chamber of Commerce.
“It was over-the-top in its harshness,” he said. “That’s a skill he learned in Bolingbrook and it doesn’t translate well to Naperville ... he’s going to create more problems for himself than solutions.”
Wehrli said that his objection to possible business names was limited to the Water Street development in particular, and not aimed at other businesses in Naperville.
Given the proximity of the development to the Riverwalk, and the fact that tax increment financing is involved, he wants to avoid letting people draw the wrong conclusion.
“It would have the appearance of a city endorsement,” Wehrli said. “It would have the appearance of having the endorsement of the Riverwalk. I wanted a naming restriction on anything in that development that had the name ‘Riverwalk.’”
Wehrli denied any intention of infering with bussinessand said he had no desire to impose blanket naming restrictions on other businesses.
“I welcome the commerce,” he said. “But not at the price of Naperville’s heritage ... it’s not for sale.”