Concerned about the Future of Downtown Naperville’s Business Mix?

Comment from Councilman Bob Fieseler Requests Feedback from World of Naperville Readers

Last week, I wrote a post which alluded to my disappointment in learning our beautiful new European-inspired Naper Main project may include yet another predictable national chain steakhouse and a couple of already abundant national chain retailers at the same time small unique niche businesses face the threat of skyrocketing commercial rent and possible closure in downtown Naperville. 

Given the interests of commercial property owners and developers in their desire to capitalize upon their investment, is there a way our community can rally together to help influence and shape the balance, mix and types of new businesses and organizations which which will inhabit both new commercial development and existing commercial space in downtown Naperville? Do we risk joining the legions of suburban Chicago lifestyle shopping malls such as Oak Brook Centre, Streets of Woodfield or Old Orchard?  How do we preserve and expand the unique Naperville experience amidst the growing imbalance between national chains and unique local small business?      

In response to this posting, I was pleased to find a comment offered by Naperville Councilman Bob Fieseler which invites feedback from Naperville residents regarding these issues.  Rather than relegate such an important dialogue to a sub-chain of comments, I decided to elevate Councilman Fieseler’s comment to a feature posting in which I strongly encourage each of you to provide your own thoughts by posting your own comment.  In addition, you also forward a link to www.naperville.wordpress.com or the direct link to this posting (copy/paste the top headline) to others who you know are interested in this issue.  

Below you will find the complete comment and request from Councilman Fieseler:  

Regarding the desire for a balance among restaurant types (Bistros v. Steakhouses v. Juice Bars, etc.), and even between restaurants and service/retail establishments, I’d like to hear from others as to whether city government should have a role in effecting such a balance, such as via ordinance or via the approval process for individual development proposals?? For example, should the City Council’s recent approval of the Naper Main project at Main & Van Buren have included some sort of provision on the type of commercial entities permitted in that space, especially at street level?? Thx for your feedback. ~Bob Fieseler (Naperville City Councilman)

First, I want to extend my deepest thanks to Councilman  Fieseler for his comment.  I think  he raises an extremely interesting question and possible solution for a concern I’m certain has weighed on most Napervillian’s minds as we continue to monitor the evolution of downtown development. 

In the many conversations I have with fellow passionate Napervillians, the consensus tends to rest upon a strong desire to preserve the uniqueness of downtown which includes a stronger focus on the unique one-of-a-kind restaurants/services/retail mix so prevalent throughout the neighborhoods of Chicago versus allowing the scales to be disproportionately tipped toward national retail and restaurant chains which are already abundantly available in nearby suburbs. 

In my mind, as with most things in life, balance and moderation is the key.  National chains are fine so long as it doesn’t come at the cost of unique small business and other worthy entities or organizations.  Commercial property and new development should not be priced so far out of the market that only capital-rich national chains can afford to operate in downtown Naperville. 

Small business and other types of organizations deserve the opportunity to captivate consumers and visitors alike in adding unique one-of-a-kind experiences to our community.  Its the unique experience of Naperville which has set us apart from other communities as a genuine destination compared to your average cookie-cutter lifestyle shopping mall/entertainment complex.

To achieve such a balance and preservation of our strong appeal as a unique destination, our community is faced with the choice of either placing what I think would be an unrealistic reliance on property owners and developers to voluntarily make certain sacrifices in “doing the right thing” to create/preserve a balanced commercial mix or for our community to proactively influence new development and demonstrate support for balance in setting aside a certain amount of commercial space in new projects for the cultivation of appealing small businesses or other entities such as arts organizations, galleries and venues.

Downtown is the heart and soul of Naperville and we must do everything within our power to keep and expand its originality and vibrance.

With that said, I will open it up to each of you to make your own comments regarding this important issue which will likely impact the downtown Naperville experience just as much as the “look and feel” of architectural design.  Also, feel free to forward a link to the World of Naperville or directly to this post to others.  To post a comment, simply click on “comments” below. 

To Councilman Fieseler, I thank you for your leadership, commitment and willingness to seek the feedback of your passionate Naperville constituency.  SM

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2 responses to “Concerned about the Future of Downtown Naperville’s Business Mix?

  1. I too am concerned for our unique downtown. Not only are we getting chains, but it seems only those that serve liquior can afford to pay the rent. The rents in downtown are much more than surrounding areas and the parking in those other areas is much more accessable than our six story parking lots. Unfortunately the property owners are not even stepping up for some of those costs which mean higher taxes for downtown that will make shopping and eating more expensive than surrounding areas.

    The opening of Bolingbrook’s shopping center, the explosion of 95th and 59 and the addition to Lombard as well as the new City Centre by Callamos being built (as we speak) all point to potential competition for our down town that all offer many of the same restaurants with less parking problems and lower rents. If we continue on the present direction we could kill the golden goose and find that we either loose or substantially pull back on our beautiful situation that we are enjoying right at the moment. Young people are not so excited about our downtown that they will come regardless of what is being offered elsewhere. We must be realistic. Lets all work together to see that we keep and strengthen our situation for many generations to come.

    John M. Gallagher

  2. John makes some excellent points in challenging us to not assume that everyone will love downtown regardless of what it becomes. To keep the competitive edge in preserving Naperville’s unique position, we must continue to be proactive as a community on both a public and private level in forging partnerships to study and analyze the evolving needs and interests of visitors and residents alike so that we can make the right choices for our future.

    The good news is downtown Naperville has a strong degree of allure given our size and demographics. The community is in a strong position to foster cooperation in being more selective given the needs and desires of our marketplace.

    If we turn our backs and let opportunities slide past us in allowing downtown to price itself out of reach for most new, unique and interesting enterprises as well as the average consumer demographic, we run the risk of losing our allure.

    As a marketing professional, the practice of market research and product development is an essential and evolutionary process. The goal is to ensure that the entity and marketplace offerings continue to maintain a strong degree of relevancy and alignment with target audiences.

    In simpler terms, the connection between the enterprise and the consumer is, indeed, an ongoing “relationship”. The investment, or lack thereof, in that relationship can bring about feast or famine. When you think of the essentials in maintaining a good personal relationship, whether with a friend or spouse, the elements of trust, understanding, personality, connection, validation/satisfaction of needs and communication is paramount. Maintenance, nurturing and attention is essential on a regular basis to maintain and grow a strong and loyal relationship. Both the art and science of consumer relationship development is very similar. Both a consumer relationship and a personal relationship can wither on the vine abruptly and definitively upon the breach of the above elements creating a rapid divergence of mutually shared interest and catastrophic failure. Unfortunately, when it comes to consumers, breaking up is actually quite “easy” to do compared to ending a valued personal relationship.

    The last thing we want to happen to the broad cross-section of Naperville consumers is for them to arrive at the day when they look around and say “Naperville is no longer relevant or unique to me and my interests”.

    Walt Disney World conducts market research within its theme parks each and every day, always on the lookout for trends, opportunities and weaknesses. The goal is to get ahead of issues before they become problems and to respond to consumer preferences/trends before they “tune out”. It’s an evolutionary process designed to mitigate the possibility of a consumer uprising or revolution. Even more, it decreases the possibility of WDW finding themselves in the business of resorting to desperation in which sudden and revolutionary change is needed to attempt to stop consumer erosion.

    With all of this said, I do understand the challenges, limitations and politics behind our community intervening in capitalistic darwinism. At the same time, the ultimate solution may be elsewhere. Perhaps we are focusing our energies too narrowly in thinking business mix and commerce alone will make or break our future.

    I happen to believe there are other ways downtown can solidify its uniqueness even in a chain retail/restaurant-infused world. I say this because I must confess I have ironically dined at the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Austin, Texas which is wedged between the undeniable uniqueness of 4th Street and 6th Street.

    Austin has made its mark largely because of their strong commitment and understanding of the social/economic impact and unique allure of the arts in fostering limitless creative possibilities and understanding. There are boundless opportunities within our borders for making Naperville a world-class destination for the arts. If we can bring our collective energies and talents together to cooperate in the establishment of a strong vision for Naperville’s arts future, we may one day find ourselves less worried about Ruth’s Chris and Banana Republic.

    As a matter of fact, the business-mix evolution may occur naturally. The arts reveal the true multi-dimensional power of independent creative expression… the same energy that drives entrepreneurial thought, success and innovation. Our lives are enriched by our encounters with art as well as unique and inspiring experiences. When we become inspired, we “pay it forward” in other areas of our life. Likewise, our senses are dulled by the repetitious exposure to a homogenized and predictable world.

    Austin has forged a successful path which promotes uniqueness and individuality through its commitment to arts and culture, which also contributes greatly to the local economy and economic development successes. The town has even supported a creative and enterprising University of Texas at Austin graduate who found the right environment for cultivating his unique idea for a business of which he still operates today in Austin… his name is Michael Dell and the little business he got off the ground is Dell Computers. The possibilities are, indeed, limitless.

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