City Council vote quiets talks of sound system in downtown Naperville

Downtown Naperville Alliance
Downtown Naperville Alliance

By a 5-4 vote, the Naperville City Council Tuesday night rejected a move to bid on a city-owned sound system for a portion of the downtown area.

“We have way more questions than we have answers at this point,” City Council member Grant Wehrli said before voting against the proposal.

City Council members Paul Hinterlong, Dave Wentz, Bob Fieseler and Doug Krause voted with Wehrli against the sound system.

The bid for the first phase of the sound system was $66,015 and the area envisioned for it had rough boundaries of Water Street, Benton Avenue, Van Buren Avenue, and Washington Street.

It would have been paid for out of funds from Special Service Tax Area 24.

The proposal was supported by several local business leaders, including Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance.

“This is an evolutionary idea, not revolutionary,” Wood said, pointing out that the idea was one that many in town have talked about for the last several years.

Wood said there is currently a speaker system on top of the Eddie Bauer store at 203 S. Main St., but pointed out that the sound could only be heard in a one-half block area.

Wood said that the system discussed would only be activated for special events, such as holidays and parades.

She said that the ambiance of the nearby Riverwalk would not be compromised in any way by a sound system.

“This does not include the Riverwalk,” she said of the targeted area for the system.

Wood added that research has shown that pleasing, low-volume music has the effect of making people want to stay in an area and “influences their purchasing decisions … it’s a wonderful amenity.”

Dwight Yackley, developer of the Main Street Promenade in Naperville, said the system “would be a great thing for the downtown.”

But, as Wehrli noted, City Council members had some unanswered questions. For starters, there was the idea of exactly what qualified as pleasing music.

Noting that there were holiday songs that he couldn’t stand, Fieseler wanted to know who would be choosing the music.

“That is so subjective,” he said.

Wood indicated that a task force would be formed to study the issue.

“I don’t ever see this as an advertising venue,” she said.

There are businesses in the downtown district that play music directly outside their entrances already, she said.

Wehrli pointed out that there was a potential conflict with establishments like “ Heaven on Seven,” a restaurant that plays music to entice pedestrians into coming in for a Cajun meal.

Wentz said that street musicians were allowed to play in some downtown spots and wanted to know about a potential conflict with them.

“I think it would be zonally-controlled,” Wood said, stressing that the sound system wouldn’t be used in an effort to replace live music.

Councilman Steve Chirico supported the concept, both with his vote to put it out to bid and with comments.

“I don’t see the harm in going to the next phase,” he said.

Chirico also said that he thought the City Council might be guilty of micro-managing the issue. He said that the equipment currently being used for holiday music was an “embarrassment,” and stressed that he would never support the concept on the Riverwalk.

“We are way, way overthinking this,” he said.

But questions remain, including uncertainty about the hours music would be played, what type would be played, and even what effect music might have on autistic children.

Even though Wood stressed several times that the concept was envisioned only for holidays and special events, and would only include “pleasing music,” City Council members were still uneasy with the idea.

Hinterlong suggested a survey to gain the input of people from the entire downtown area.

“I would like this to come back with all these questions answered,” he said.

Wehrli noted that of the emails and other communications he had received from residents, 80 to 85 percent of them were opposed to the idea of music downtown.

“The topic has brought the most interesting responses,” he said. “Some of the responses I can’t repeat here.”

Indeed, two resident living near downtown were opposed to the proposal. Michael Firman said he had experienced a similar environment on a visit to Morris.

“It was pretty dreadful, actually,” he said.

Marilyn Schweitzer agreed, saying, “I’m very opposed to it.”

Before rejecting the proposal to put the project out to bid, City Council directed staff to conduct further research on the issue.

“We’re certainly disappointed that the Council chose not to give support,” Wood said after the vote. “We believe it adds tremendous value to the city and business owners.”

Wood indicated that postponing the decision meant that the 2014 holiday season would likely not see a new sound system in use downtown.

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