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5th Avenue Development: Pick up where a failed process ended, start over, or call it a day?

The agenda for the Naperville City Council meeting on November 5th has an item for Council to “Provide direction on potential options for moving forward on the 5th Avenue development. "


The five options outlined:

1.) a neighborhood driven planning process

2.) a revised steering committee approach

3.) a City Council workshop “to achieve City Council consensus on changes to the current concept, affirm or modify previous policy direction (affordable housing, commuter parking, etc) and provide any additional policy direction”

4.) “Consider 5th Avenue with other City priorities in overall Strategic Planning and continue implementation of the Commuter Parking Work Plan”

5.) Referendum

Or, no action, so “the decision from October 1, 2019 to not move forward with the baseline concept will stand and no further action will be taken on the project at this time.”


We’ve written on more than one occasion about the process of selecting Ryan . To recap, a committee of 10 hand-picked by the Mayor, including 4 members of the Naperville Development Partnership board (“NDP”) (of which the Mayor is also a member) met behind closed doors, signed non-disclosure agreements, reviewed the results of the Request For Qualifications (“RFQ”) process, and decided to skip the proposed RFP process and instead pick Ryan on a no-bid basis. Ryan exec Jim McDonald also happens to be a member of the NDP board. What a coincidence.


Let’s call that what it was: an insider, closed door, no-bid deal.


Ryan was likely taking direction from somewhere or someone. It’s possible, but unlikely, they just headed off and came up with the concept on their own, but the citizen surveys regarding height and density, and much of the input from the various committees, was largely ignored in the so-called baseline concept.


So after two years of surveys, committees, and alleged community input, Ryan presented the so-called baseline concept which drew significant opposition from residents and was rejected by a 6-3 City Council vote.


So an insider, closed-door, no-bid deal led to a proposal with significant community opposition and a 6-3 Council vote against it. Yet, apparently, some of the proposals suggest picking up where the last one left off, one of which includes “consensus on changes to the current concept” and even using Ryan in some capacity, the implication being that they would be the developer on whatever project may eventually be done there.


Why would the place to start be a rejected proposal which resulted from an insider, closed-door, no bid process?


City Council, collectively, you are better than that.


A suggestion: Start over. Do it right, or don’t do it at all. But don't pick up where the last proposal ended, which was too big, too dense, and put the interests of the developer and related contractors/sub-contractors first.


If you’re going to proceed, consider this: define the parameters and requirements of what the City believes is the best use of the taxpayer-owned land, including approximate number of parking spots, types and density of housing (if any), amount of retail space (if any), amount of office space (if any), maximum building heights, storm water enhancements, etc. This could be defined in a series of Council workshops, neighborhood planning process, or some combination of the two. If the decision were to be Council workshops, don't approach the process as "changes to the current concept."


Lay out the parameters and requirements, and go to an RFP process. The RFP could include the developer’s qualifications, so no need for a separate RFQ process. The project would probably not be as big as the last proposal, but we have to believe an open, competitive process with well-defined parameters and requirements would be appealing to a number of developers. Competition brings out the best in people and organizations. The City might be pleasantly surprised at the creativity and ingenuity received in the proposals.


Review the RFPs, including the financial impact to the City, and make a decision on whether or not one of the projects should be pursued.


If you are going to pursue a development of City-owned land, why would it make sense for the starting point to be where the last proposal failed?



Written by Mike Marek, with assistance from one other.

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