Mayor revives task force to study downtown parking with an eye toward building Nichols Library deck

Mayor Steve Chirico wants the city to dust off the idea of building a multilevel parking garage at Nichols Library in downtown Naperville.

“If any of you have been downtown recently, you probably know now that the parking demand that we had prior to the pandemic is back. Even if we know the good spots, it’s really hard to find parking down there right now,” Chirico said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Beyong that, the Central Parking Facility at 75 E. Chicago St. is nearing the time when it needs to be replaced, and the city must plan for alternative parking whenever that happens, he said.

The mayor suggested reviving the Nichols Library parking deck at 200 W. Jefferson Ave., which he estimated could cost about $25 million to build.

Unlike in previous years, the city is in a position to fund such a project without burdening taxpayers, adding there is $9 million in the city’s parking fund and Naperville is about to sell off surplus property, Chirico said.

“We’ve been obviously dragging our feet on this for a long, long time and for good reason,” he said.

The city just went through a pandemic, he said, and previous to that the city went through an economic downturn.

“The city has a window of opportunity right now,” he said.

“This is an improvement that I think it’s going to be needed. But if we don’t time it right, it’s going to be sort of egg in our face because we had the opportunity, and we have the opportunity to sort of plan in a strategic way to get this done with the least amount of impact to our guests and businesses and shoppers.”

While council members supported having city staff and a reinstated ad hoc committee research parking and traffic issues downtown, several stopped short of advocting for a Nichols Library deck.

Councilman Paul Hinterlong said the cost likely will be more than $30 million because the city will have to add things like electric vehicle charging stations.

He also said people don’t like to park in decks. “They’ll drive all around (to) find a flat lot before they’ll go into a deck. It’s just what it is,” Hinterlong said.

With the popularity of ride services, his fear is the city could end up with too much parking, he said.

Councilman Theresa Sullivan said if parking downtown is a problem, she’d prefer discussions about solutions rather than focus on a Nichols deck. “That puts us down a very narrow road very quickly,” she said.

As someone who’s lived downtown most of her life, Councilwoman Nicki Anderson said she’s heard conversations about the library deck for years and the can keeps getting kicked down the road. She said she’d like to see that end one way or the other.

Councilman Ian Holzhauer said working downtown he’s seen how parking affects businesses and library patrons, but his biggest concern would be interest rates, should the city decide to pay for a portion with bonds.