Recently I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine, who lives in the Northwestern suburbs, and the subject of Naperville arose. My colleague acknowledged her awareness of Naperville’s ranking as one of the best places to live in America, but went on to say she had driven through Naperville a couple of times in the past year and remarked that it didn’t seem to be a particularly attractive place. Out of curiosity, I asked her to elaborate. She responded by saying Naperville appeared to be a series of aging commercial strip malls. Puzzled, I asked her if she recalled what part of Naperville she drove through and learned that she had only driven down Ogden Avenue having exited at Naperville Road from I-88. After further clarifying conversation, I secured a commitment from her that she would return this summer, making a left turn onto Washington Street from Ogden, to spend the perfect day in downtown Naperville.
I believe this true story illuminates the issues surrounding the ongoing discussion regarding the enhancement plan being developed for the Ogden Avenue corridor running between Naper Blvd. and Washington Street. If you read part 1 of my Naperville Unwrapped series discussing “The Naperville Experience” (located under the Naperville Unwrapped Category), you will recall the power of the five senses and first impressions in creating the lasting and memorable “experience” which translates into engagement, invaluable word-of-mouth marketing and customer loyalty. Based on these real marketing measures, the Ogden Avenue corridor is lacking.
While there are many real concerns out there from residents and business owners alike regarding “change”, the end product of enhancement and future development strategy could not only yield a stronger Naperville impression but also create a more attractive “stage” and setting for businesses to prosper. I’m a strong proponent of business, especially small business, but there must be realization that a little pain can potentially create great gain.
I drive down this stretch of Ogden Avenue each and every work day and can honestly say that many of the businesses lack presence and visibility in my eyes. Even more, I don’t really desire to pull off the road to determine exactly what is tucked away in many of those small strip malls. I’m certain there are some terrific businesses waiting to be discovered, but nothing really stands out at this point.
Finally, for many, the Ogden Avenue corridor serves as the “gateway” to Naperville and the question we need to ask ourselves as a community is what kind of impression to we want to paint. As I’ve discussed, to strengthen the Naperville experience, we need to continue spreading the same types of sensory elements which make downtown Naperville unique to other areas of the community to foster aesthetic continuity and minimize harsh contrast.
For those on either side of this issue, there are two public meetings/workshops planned to foster dialogue on the Ogden Avenue Corridor Enhancement Initiative. The first workshop will take place April 10 with the second on April 16th. Both workshops will take place from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. at the Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St. in downtown Naperville.
I invite you to provide your own comments below.