Water Street project still alive, but concerns still exist about size of hotel, parking
By Hank Beckman For The Sun November 24, 2012 11:16PM
The Water street project in downtown Naperville calls for new buildings, including a hotel at Webster and Water streets. | Mike Solley ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 26, 2012 6:25AM
For a while at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, it looked as if the Water Street project was doomed to go down to defeat.
But Councilman Steve Chirico, a strong supporter of the project downtown, which includes a Holiday Inn Select Hotel, sensed his colleagues were about to turn thumbs down and motioned for “council rules,” effectively tabling the motion until the Council’s Dec. 4 meeting.
“They (developer Marquette Properties) made some changes last week that surprised me,” Chirico said after the meeting. “I don’t want to see this thing die.”
The Water Street project includes 2.4 acres bounded by the DuPage River, Aurora Avenue, Main Street and Webster Street and includes a 131-room Holiday Inn Express hotel, a 544-space parking deck and more than 65,000 square feet of office/medical/ retail space. The developer also plans improvements to the Riverwalk and streetscape in that area, city officials said.
The changes Chirico was talking about include lowering the height of the hotel to about 77 feet and adding 30 spaces to the 551-space parking deck, clear efforts to address two of the sore points with both citizens and several members of the City Council.
But when Councilman Bob Fieseler, considered by many in favor of the development, raised strong objections to possible problems with parking and traffic as a result of the project, Chirico felt the Council was headed toward a 5 to 4 vote against the proposal and he invoked “council rules.”
The move is a parliamentary procedure in Naperville’s Municipal Code allowing a Council member to table a matter and, while it’s not used often, it allows supporters of controversial initiatives time to rethink their strategy.
Council member Grant Wehrli objected to the turn of events at Tuesday’s meeting, but a motion to overturn Chirico’s move failed, drawing only the support of Councilmen Doug Krause and Paul Hinterlong.
Marquette Properties partner Bruno Bottarelli was at a loss to explain the crumbling support for the project.
“I was expecting more (to) clearly recognize the benefits against the challenges,” he said.
When asked what changes would make him more disposed toward the project, Wehrli was direct.
“Reduce the height, more parking … and no incentives,” he said.
Financial incentives, such as rebates from the hotel tax or retail sales tax, are a factor in the Water Street project.
Hotel projects in Naperville’s recent past have included some form of tax incentives, including about $7.5 million in rebates for both Hotel Arista and the recent renovation of what is now the Marriott Chicago/Naperville.
Wehrli isn’t the only Council member harboring reservations about awarding financial incentives to the development.
Fieseler has indicated that some Council members might balk when asked to pony up millions in tax rebates.
When told of Wehrli’s position on further incentives, Bottarelli thought it unrealistic.
“That’s just not practical today,” he said.
During the weeks of discussion around the city on the project, there have been two main concerns: parking and the height of the hotel.
The parking variation being requested would mean that 471 spaces would be set aside for the hotel users and for those using the retail and medical office space, leaving 109 available for public use. City code would normally require more parking spots for hotel users.
Fieseler raised questions about both the parking variance and the effect on traffic, particularly an already congested Aurora Avenue.
He noted that the proposals made a lot of assumptions that might not be realized.
“What if we’re wrong,” he said. “I don’t know where the safety net is for the parking.”
Kathy Benson noted that the proposal had grown in square feet by 36 percent since an original proposal was put forward in 2007.
“This sets a lot of precedents for a lot of bulk and density,” she said, going on to point out that the Water Street project would not be the last in the downtown area.
Retired Naperville Public Utilities Director-Water Allen Panek agreed with Benson. “As currently envisioned, it is both too big and too dense,” he said.
Some Council members seem in complete agreement. “We’re trying to put 10 pounds in a five-pound bag,” Krause said.
The project, though, also has significant support. About half of the people who spoke at the Tuesday Council meeting were in favor of the project, most describing it as a necessary economic development.
Lisa Weekley said she lives near the proposed development and would be affected by increased traffic. But she said she “100 percent supported it … this area of Water Street has become more dilapidated every year.”
Ted Gradel noted the advantage of having a hotel in downtown Naperville. “I would love to put my guests up in downtown Naperville,” he said.
Councilman Kenn Miller noted that he hadn’t heard much mention of the benefits the development would bring, such as restaurants and added retail shopping.
Kathy Nunes agreed that the development would be a boon to the area, and doesn’t think the hotel would be too tall. Some worry the building would overshadow the nearby Riverwalk.
“It’s not obstructing a view,” she said. She pointed at the nearby Walgreens and said, “I think the businesses along here might like the development and the customers it brings.”
The City Council will probably discuss the project again at its next meeting on Dec. 4. After all the talk on Tuesday night, and the unexpected twist of the matter being tabled, it is unclear what the future holds for the Water Street development.
As for what else could be done to salvage the project, Marquette’s attorney Kathy West wouldn’t comment on specific ideas or a strategy. “That’s what we’ll work on,” she said.