One shopping area in south Naperville has been getting its share of attention from students, economic development experts and even candidates to be the city's next mayor.
The Naperville Crossings development was imagined as a second downtown for the southern portion of the sprawling city, but because of the recession, it didn't come together as planned. Mayoral candidates Steve Chirico, Jim Haselhorst, Doug Krause and Marty Walker say the area has potential, but each would take a different approach to making it a more lively destination.
Chirico said one idea is to look to the winners of a student marketing competition in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 called Mission 60564. Named for the ZIP code that includes Naperville Crossings at 95th Street and Route 59, the competition allowed teams of business students from three high schools to develop a concept for the area, reach out to potential businesses to complete that concept and create a marketing plan.
Neuqua Valley High School students Gabriella Arizzi, Christina Hui, Aarushi Shrivastava, Kim Turner and Quincy VanderMeulen won the competition with their idea to create a healthy lifestyle center with businesses such as an indoor go-karting facility and an indoor rock-climbing venue.
Chirico, a 54-year-old business owner and city council member, said a "new concept" could be what the area needs to come to life after morphing several times from its original plan, which called for a walkable retail area with shops facing the north/south Showplace Drive instead of Route 59.
"It's going to be tough to get it to where it was," Chirico said. "But that doesn't mean it can't be a successful project."
Haselhorst, a 55-year-old dental practice manager, said the city needs to invest in a public amenity or gathering place to bring the development's success up a level.
"The problem with it is all of it right now is strictly businesses. There really isn't any kind of public amenities down there like the Riverwalk or the band shell -- things like this that draw people to downtown in addition to just the stores," Haselhorst said. "In order for it to happen, I think the city needs to make a commitment to bring that kind of amenity to the area that is going to serve as an anchor in that area to make it viable."
Krause, a 67-year-old real estate broker, was on the council when original plans for Naperville Crossings were approved. He said it did call for an outdoor gathering space and all the amenities Haselhorst said the area lacks.
Ideas to fill the remaining vacant lots now trickle in one at a time, so Krause said the city needs to be careful what it approves to complement the shopping, day care, restaurants and apartments on the property.
"The end result is its now being done in a patchwork and it's not on the original plan," Krause said.
Walker, a 62-year-old retired firefighter, suggested working with the Naperville Development Partnership to recruit new businesses and potentially bringing on board the park district to create an open space. The area shouldn't be referred to as a "second downtown," he said because that will draw unfair comparisons to Naperville's bustling commercial and cultural core.
"It's hard to build another downtown when you a have a great downtown Naperville," Walker said. "How do you duplicate something like that somewhere else?"
The winner in the April 7 election will serve as Naperville's first mayor after George Pradel has held the post for 20 years.