Plans for new NCC/Naperville park along Washington Street/Riverwalk moving forward

Plans for new NCC/Naperville park along Washington Street/Riverwalk moving forward

After years of sitting on the backburner, long-standing plans to build a new park along Naperville’s riverwalk are being revitalized.

Just as soon as ongoing construction allows for it.

Tuesday morning, design plans for a small park at 430 S. Washington St. in the heart of downtown Naperville, drafted almost a decade ago, were presented to the Naperville Riverwalk Planning, Design and Construction Committee for review.

In 2022, North Central College released this rendering of what its gateway entrance from Washington Street could look like if built as part of a small park in downtown Naperville. (Gary R. Weber Associates)

The refresher was spurred by a desire by city staff to finally put the project out to bid later this year, according to Bill Novack, director of Naperville’s transportation, engineering and development department.

Asked why now, he said the timing is finally right.

The project dates back to the early 2010s. Motivation for the venture, Novack said, was rooted in a desire to make the space along the Naperville Riverwalk more pleasing to passersby — particularly a small sliver of land tucked between Washington Street Bridge and the city’s decades-old Burger King restaurant.

For years that 0.4-acre parcel had been privately owned by a family who maintained a property on the site, Novack said. But over time, it fell into disrepair, was sold to a developer and then ended up being purchased by North Central College in 2012 when the developer defaulted, he said.

Wanting more of a presence along the Naperville Riverwalk, officials from the college — which is just a stone’s throw away from the space — met with the city and the Naperville Park District, both of which play a part in managing the riverwalk, about the possibility of building a park on the land. The site could act as both a window to its campus and as a revamped open area for community use.

Both agencies agreed.

Plans for the park were developed and by late 2014 a $1.1 million grant was secured through then-Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to fund the project, according to Novack.

However, shortly before the city planned to hire a contractor, the state froze the funding. It took four years for the money to become available again and by then plans to replace Washington Street Bridge were starting to take shape.

Instead of pursuing both projects at the same time, the city opted to again put the park project on hold and wait for bridge construction to tie up. That way, by the time the park was ready for visitors, it could be enjoyed without interruptions from nearby roadwork, Novack said.

With the Washington Street Bridge replacement expected to finish this year, park plans are moving forward, he said.

Construction to replace Washington Street Bridge continues Tuesday in downtown Naperville. (Tess Kenny/Naperville Sun)

Novack’s hope, he said, is that staff can put the project out to bid before year’s end. With that goal in mind, the first step is to finalize plans so they’ll be bid-ready when the opportunity becomes available, he said.

Committee members generally like the plans, Novack said, but suggested a few minor tweaks. A revised plan will be returned to them in a few months at which time they’ll vote on their recommendation and it will proceed to the city and park district for approval.

City staff also will involve North Central College officials in coming months to ensure its vision aligns with the updated plans, Novack said.

If all goes well, it’s anticipated the Washington Street park could come to fruition by the end of 2025, he said.