Work to plan for the future of a revamped 5th Avenue corridor in Naperville is set to continue for another two months under the guidance of consultant Ryan Companies.
The city council voted this week to give the Minneapolis-based firm another eight weeks to work on meeting with key stakeholders, forming groups to address topics such as land use and traffic and convening a steering committee to help make decisions.
Ryan Companies next will check in with the council during a workshop scheduled for Feb. 20, when the panel again must give the firm the green light to proceed.
The outreach and visioning process Ryan Companies is leading is part of the city's long-held dream of revitalizing the area around its Metra station into something other than expansive commuter parking lots and traffic congestion. The area in question includes eight city-owned or leased parcels totaling 13 acres; among them are four parking lots, a former public works building, a water tower, an office building and the DuPage Children's Museum.
The council gave Ryan Companies permission to begin work in October, after a committee selected the firm as the most qualified among eight that responded to a request for qualifications.
Since October, Ryan made presentations to 200 people at open houses, then met with 169 during nine in-depth discussions for smaller groups. The firm has hosted 1,700 unique visitors to a project website it created, fifthavenuedevelopment.com, received 570 responses to a survey, signed up 306 people for email alerts, mailed 2,178 post cards and taken notes on more than 1,200 public comments.
"In our opinion, Ryan Companies has done exactly what you asked them to do," said Naperville resident Jim Hill, a member of the city's senior task force. "They simply came to listen and they wrote it all down."
Among all of the feedback received so far, officials said walkability and traffic were among top concerns.
"Pedestrian safety is something that came up clearly and loudly and passionately from the residents that attended," said Clare Scott, vice president of corporate marketing for Ryan.
Interest in the amenities that could be added to 5th Avenue -- such as a fitness center, day care center or neighborhood coffee shop -- has been balanced with worries about excessive residential development or buildings much taller than the former Kroehler Manufacturing furniture factory.
"We felt excitement growing about the opportunity at hand," said Jim McDonald, vice president of real estate development for Ryan, "as well as concern about the what-ifs."
The city council gave Ryan Companies permission to move forward, but some residents offered cautionary comments.
Jeff Havel and Thom Higgins said they think Ryan has been shying away from important discussions about the height of future buildings and the scale and density of what will be built. Higgins, especially, criticized an online survey Ryan Companies has made available to interested participants for not touching on those concerns.
"I don't understand why it didn't address the elephant in the room, which is land use -- how tall is this thing going to be? How dense is it going to be?" Higgins said.
McDonald said his firm is ready to begin conversations about land use and building size, especially as it begins to form "working groups" on topics including land use, commuter issues, parking, stormwater and traffic. The groups are expected to begin meeting in February. The company also plans to develop a future survey about land use and building height
"I don't think were tiptoeing around height," McDonald said. "Height is going to be a challenge. We have to get to the point where we're OK challenging each other."