Anticipation is building around a new use for the old Nichols Library in downtown Naperville: a restaurant.
City development officials told a Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce audience they expect a lease could be finalized soon to bring a dining option to the home of the city's first hub for books at 110 S. Washington St.
The 121-year-old building was deemed a local landmark in September 2017 after initial redevelopment plans riled preservationists who wanted to ensure the historic structure would be retained as a nod to Naperville's past.
So owners Dwight Avram and Jeff Brown of Great Central Properties III were required to seek and receive approval of their ideas from the city's historic preservation commission. That approval came last September.
Designs now call for the old library to become the focal point of a mixed-use development with a new structure built nearby to contain first-floor retail below three stories of condos.
Christine Jeffries, president and CEO of the Naperville Development Partnership, called the plans "absolutely beautiful" and said the project is moving past a controversial 18 months of disagreement over the old library's future toward "a good place."
Property owners have been engaging since last spring in preliminary site work to ready the old library for the planned addition, which will be constructed around it in the shape of an "L."
Contractors for the owners have removed asbestos from the old structure and demolished the back of the building, along with an addition to the original library that was not deemed historic.
The owners also have been working to sell the condos in the new building and lease the former library itself to a restaurant tenant.
Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico told a chamber gathering of commercial real estate professionals there has been strong interest from several restaurants in occupying the historic yellow-brick space.
"But contrary to what everyone feels when you drive by that building -- it looks like it's a pretty substantial building, but it's only 1,500 square feet," Chirico said. "The footprint is not very big. It's really too small for most restaurants."
A part of the addition will connect to the back of the old library, expanding the space available for restaurant use, said Kevin Peterson, chairman of the historic preservation commission. And a front patio being rehabilitated on the Washington Street side of the library will be perfect for outdoor dining, officials said.
Lissa Druss, a spokeswoman for the property owners, said restaurant concepts to occupy the old library are still under review. She said construction on the new portion of the development is expected to begin this spring, once the ground thaws.