Will Downtown Naperville Growth Keep Pace with Growing Expectations?

“Experience is mediated by expectation” 

George Aguel, Senior Vice President, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts

Earlier today I was browsing through notes from a conference I attended a couple of months ago as both a presenter and participant.  I came across a scribbled note taken from comments which were made by George Aguel, Senior Vice President of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.  I had the great pleasure to meet George and as a result of some post conference dialogue, he read a few of my blog postings about the Napeville experience and admitted it peaked his curiosity about one day paying a visit to our community.     

I’ve written allot about the Naperville experience here at the World of Naperville and when I heard this comment I recall making an immediate connection with my own thoughts about the allure of our community, especially downtown.

Naperville is, in itself, a unique out-of-the-ordinary experience.  Given the continous accolades and buzz about our community, we’ve emerged not only as a unique destination but one which will continue to carry increasingly higher expectations by visitors and residents alike.  Delivering the alluring experience of Naperville will continue to be measured by the degree to which our community satisfies the high expectations of residents and visitors alike.  

Through all of the recent dialogue about the new Naper Main development and downtown business mix, there is another dimension which I feel compelled to offer up for consideration.  If the guiding “value proposition” of downtown Naperville is that our community is a great place to shop and dine, we stand to potentially lose ground and diminsh the experience by disappointing expectations.  The fact is, Naperville is a terrific place to shop and dine, but that in itself will not be enough to maintain our competitive advantage in the future as so many other suburbs are attempting to emulate our model.

 Like WDW, the true value of Naperville which seperates it from other communities is the “experience”… the ability to escape from the pressures of life’s stresses, to be inspired, to renew the spirit, to reconnect with one’s self and others, to recharge and to be moved by the symphony of the senses which comes together through the people, history, amenties, places and natural settings which comprise our community.

Naperville is in a class all of its own and I join so many others in hoping it will continue to stay that way.  With that said, I offer it up to my readers to consider building upon the vision of the Riverwalk, historic preservation, unique recreation, natural space, world class events and more to create the next layer of the Naperville experience.

It may come as no suprise to some that I believe quite strongly the continued expansion, cultivation, support and promotion of the daily arts is a big piece to this puzzle.  I envision Naperville being a place where the expectation is that no matter which day you head into downtown, there are unique arts performances, exhibitions and opporutunities to experience… to participate… and to be moved by.  I see an increase in the visible presence of innovative arts space for both exhibition and creative expression to capture the heart and enlighten the soul.  I see an expansion of resident arts organizations, working together to strengthen the foundation, offerings and buzz behind the unique arts experiences which will be found in Naperville.  I see a level of arts innovation which you will be hard pressed to find in other communities.  I see Naperville as a destination for the arts with a regional, national and even global reach.      

“People” are also a big link to the future Naperville experience.  George spoke of WDW’s success not in terms of attractions and resorts, but the proven fact that WDW’s success is built upon their people… the cast members of WDW who try to make all who visit a special part of the magic… especially the tiniest of Disney World guests.  This fact is reinforced each and every day at WDW by the thousands (yes, thousands) of post-vacation letters they receive which sing the praises not of Pirates of the Carribean or Test Track, but of Disney cast members and how their vacation experience was made magical by all the special treatment.

As WDW’s success has taught us, people are willing to sacrifice and pay a premium to participate and be part of a unique experience.  Ironically, the level of service and personal treatment usually makes or breaks the experience regardless of how stimulating or interesting the surrounding environment happens to be.  I think we’ve all had these types of experiences, mainly because it is very difficult to achieve a broad-based and consistent level of service.  However, when strong service standards are achieved with a strong level of clear passion and commitment, the magic of the experience comes alive.   

Being from the South, I learned a thing or two about genuine hospitality that warms the soul and connects with the spirit.  My mother was a small town southern woman who “never met a stranger” in her life.  Though she passed away ten years ago this month, I’ll never forget her warm spirit and the way she treated everyone she crossed paths with.  As kids, we always dreaded the inevitable stop at the grocery store in which my mother assured us she just needed to run in for milk and bread.  Typically, by the time she was finished with her many conversations an hour would have passed by.   

How does this translate to downtown Naperville?  I envision an army of special ambassadors who are assigned to different areas of downtown during busy times and whose sole job is to greet people, snap pictures of families, tell them more about the Naperville story, answer questions and offer recommendations on things to do.  These individuals could also be trained to give some extra special attention to the most important Naperville visitors/residents of all…. the little ones.

Many of us already take the opportunity to greet and talk with residents and visitors alike around downtown and along the Riverwalk. 

These are some ideas to consider as the debate continues over the continued evolution of the Naperville experience.  We owe a great debt of gratitude to the energy and vision of our community’s leaders and legends past and present.  We must not become complacent by our community’s success.  We must answer the visionary call to remain creatively inspired in building new layers of uniqueness and unexpected experiences into our world class community so that residents and visitors alike can continue to escape into the inspirational, renewing powers and warmth that is our Naperville.      

    

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