The Downtown Advisory Commission recommended transitioning to a new format and starting streetscape improvements next year.
The group voted yesterday in favor of de-commissioning itself and moving to a task force model.
Open Meetings Act
The move came after discussions of how many members of the group are forced to violate the Open Meetings Act, which states that if more than three members of the group gather to discuss topics relevant to the commission, they’re in violation of the act.
Several members of DAC, including Naperville Development Partnership President Christine Jeffries, Downtown Naperville Alliance Executive Director Katie Wood, and Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce President Kaylin Risvold often meet as part of other business and public groups.
“Every DNA meeting, some chamber of commerce meetings, at NDP meetings… we are in violation of the OMA. It’s almost a nature of the beast,” said Jeffries.
Restructuring as a task force still allows the group to make recommendations to city council, while no longer being limited by when they can meet outside of DAC.
City Council will have final say on whether or not to approve the transition at a future meeting.
Downtown Streetscape Improvement Project
DAC also voted in favor of recommending starting the Downtown Streetscape Improvement project in 2021 rather than waiting until 2024 after the Washington Street Bridge is renovated.
Council debated the same issue earlier in the week at its second budget workshop.
More than Just Aesthetics
Members of both DAC and council stated that the is more than just an aesthetic improvement.
“This isn’t just deferred maintenance. It’s structurally unsound,” said Jeffries. “We’re leaving a lot of people – like ADA and even moms with strollers – we’re doing them a disservice.”
Some of the planned improvements would make downtown more ADA accessible. Turning angled parking spaces into parallel spots would allow for wider sidewalks and more room for pedestrians to pass.
“I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s never a good time [for this project],” said Commissioner Rick Hitchcock. “This is the perfect time. Let’s hold our nose and do this thing. Downtown is an embarrassment. We’ve been kicking this can down the road for years.”
Businesses Already Struggling
However, there is concern that adding street and sidewalk construction to the plates of businesses already struggling due to a pandemic would cause some to go under.
Risvold said she was conflicted because she knows the improvements need to happen soon, but conversations with downtown chamber members told her that they need to rebound in the spring of 2021 after losing revenue through most of 2020.
It’s not as simple as putting the project off until the fall or even 2022. Because the Washington Street Bridge renovation has already been penciled in for work throughout most of that year as well as 2023. That project is less flexible with timing changes.
The commission ended up voting 7-3 in favor of a recommendation to proceed with the streetscape improvements in 2021, but also to provide financial assistance and creative strategies for affected businesses.
That could include things like boxcars outside businesses for stores to utilize and additional marketing to visit downtown.
If improvements do begin in 2021, they will likely take from March 1 to July 15.
Council will likely decide whether to include the Downtown Streetscape Improvements in its 2021 City Budget prior to December 1, when the budget is approved.
Naperville News 17’s Casey Krajewski reports.
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