Above / The Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the Naperville Mayor’s annual State of the City Address at the Embassy Suites where Mayor Emeritus George Pradel and former Mayor Peg Price joined Mayor Steve Chirico for the special event.  The well-attended luncheon was started in 1983 when Mayor Price served as the city’s first woman mayor.

2017 State of the City Address

Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here today to present the state of our city.

This annual gathering is thanks to the hard work of Nicki Anderson and her staff at the Chamber of Commerce, and I really enjoy the fresh and fun rebranding effort they rolled out a few months ago. It’s an exciting time to be a Chamber member! Nicki, thanks for hosting us today.

Thank you to the Embassy Suites for again opening their doors to us and investing in this community, and thank you to the staff at NCTV17 for providing the video support for this effort.

With me today is my wife Julie and several of our children. They have always supported my dreams, and their support helps me serve all of you. Thank you to my family for your constant love and encouragement.

Mayor Emeritus George Pradel and former Mayor Margaret “Peg” Price

In keeping with tradition, I’d like to acknowledge our two previous mayors, George Pradel and Peg Price, who have joined us this afternoon. Their contributions are the foundation we build upon today, and we’re grateful for their service. Let’s give them a round of applause.

We sit here today because those who came before us dared to dream. They had ideas. For new businesses, for recreational opportunities — for a better quality of life. Coupled with ambition, they turned those ideas into the blueprint for our community’s future.

Their ideas came from the belief that the status quo isn’t good enough, and that complacency is as damaging to community spirit as having no spirit at all.

All of us sitting in this room have had goals, both personally and professionally. Maybe you wanted to build your own business from the ground up. Maybe it was to work for a nonprofit to give back to society. That’s a shining example of the American — and the Naperville — spirit.

Bring dreams to life with Naperville spirit

No matter what your goal is, you know it didn’t become reality overnight. It took months, years, maybe decades. That whole “blood, sweat, and tears” saying? It’s true. I experienced it firsthand when building my company Great Western Flooring.

Christine Jeffries and Nicki Anderson

A dream without action — without tenacity, drive and the appetite for achievement — is no dream at all. It’s just a wish. Naperville is a community of abundant hope, but we don’t just sit back and wish. We dream it — and then we do it.

We give our ideas the best of ourselves so that they become reality. Through that, we give the best of ourselves to future generations. What better example of bringing a dream to life in 2016 than the Water Street story.

Economic development has been a focus of mine over the past two years and remains so today, because a strong business district and a well-balanced community preserves and protects our neighborhoods.

One of the best ways to make sure our economic dreams become reality is to implement guidelines for success. Financially, 2016 was the first full year of our three financial principles; these principles guide all of our budget decisions.

Naperville’s strong finances make this community an outstanding place to live and do business. We have the lowest property taxes and sales tax rates in the area. We continue to be the premiere dining and shopping destination in the suburbs, and Naperville remains the second largest sales tax generator in the state. We brought in $33 million in sales tax in both 2015 and 2016.

On top of that, we have one of the highest funded public safety pension systems in the state. Once again, despite rising pension costs, we reduced property taxes. In fact, we’re abating $2.2 million back to taxpayers this spring.

Our residents will see a lower number on the City portion of their property tax bills and they’ll continue to receive the same high quality services. Now that’s a dream come true!

In addition, our 2017 budget reduces the City’s debt by $6 million. This sets the course to accomplish our financial principle to reduce the City’s debt by 25 percent in the next eight years.

A solid financial footing gives our City a solid future. Once again, I am so proud that we received a AAA bond rating from Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s. This rating is the highest possible ranking and shows everyone — lenders, businesses, residents — that Naperville is committed to fiscal responsibility.

But a community is more than just its bank account, although make no mistake — healthy finances are essential. Businesses, nonprofits and residents are what make Naperville’s reputation so successful.

Great place to live, work and learn

In 2016, we again received the coveted Money magazine ranking as one of the best places to live in America. We’re being recognized as leaders in many areas, including the environment. In fact, our commitment to going green was honored last November with a Governor’s Sustainability Award.

Maintaining a great community and the amenities that make it great, like our top-ranked school systems and park district, requires appropriate funds.

Property taxes alone cannot support our community or its infrastructure, and it’s not right to put that burden solely on residents. A mix of revenue sources is needed to support operations.

If you think about it, each part of our community supports each other. Business revenue supports the City. The City supports its residents. And residents support our businesses.

Naperville City Council (PN File Photo)

Our City Council’s mission is to find that right balance between property taxes and other funding sources to maintain our community. We know a world-class city is critical to bringing and keeping businesses here.

To better understand the evolving needs of our businesses, one of my goals is to meet once a week with our major businesses. This is simply the right thing to do. The City wants our businesses to dream big, and we need to know how we can help them do it.

To make sure we’re being the best resource for businesses, the City first needs to know if we’re moving Naperville in the right direction. Knowing what our citizens like and don’t like is critical to achieving our dreams and putting the right resources behind our work.

In 2016, Naperville issued a community survey asking residents to tell us what we’re doing right and where we should re-focus our efforts.

The good news is, 93 percent of people are satisfied with our quality of life, and 91 percent feel the same way about city services. We’re setting the standard nationally for how a government should serve its citizens.

We see from the survey that we can improve in a few areas, like street maintenance and traffic management. But overall, the data says our citizens feel safe and informed.

Knowing where our community wants to go gives us the guidance we need to make data-driven decisions.

In 2015 the Council approved four ends policies for the City: Public Safety, High-Performing Government, Economic Development and Financial Stability. The survey is an important measurement tool to see if we are achieving these policy goals.

What Works Cities

We’re also getting some help in measuring our goals from the national What Works Cities effort.

What Works Cities brings together experts from around the country to help cities develop and display performance measurement standards. These measurement tools are similar to those you may have used in your own business.

What Works Cities is also helping us make our data more accessible to the public.

Public Safety Incident Map (PN File Photo)

Our first example is the December launch of our online Public Safety Incident Map.  This map shows the location of all our public safety calls.

We recognize the City’s data isn’t really ours — it’s the public’s data. Efforts like these build trust and engagement with our residents.

Behind all of these efforts is our City staff, or, as I like to call them, our “Dream Team.” Their achievements and ability to give our dreams life is a testament to their professionalism. My thanks to our City Manager Doug Krieger and all of our City directors for the leadership that keeps our dreams alive.

I also like to think the region is working together in a “Dream Team” fashion to achieve our shared dreams of prosperity. We have several mayors from surrounding communities here today. Part of Naperville’s success is due to the contributions made by their cities and villages.

Although our communities have different characteristics, our common goal of success is evident when we present as a unified front. A great example of this is the summit that 20 area mayors held last November to address the ongoing Dominick’s vacancies in our towns.

As I said then, the damaging effects of one company intentionally keeping these spaces vacant is very difficult for our communities. It really impacts the smaller tenants in these areas that depend on foot traffic from anchor stores.

One of my priorities continues to be filling these vacancies in Naperville. This continues to be a challenge; however, I’m proud to say that we are now the new North American home of Chervon, a power tool manufacturer. They’ll move into a vacant building on Warrenville Road in May, bringing 200 jobs to our city.

On a related note, I am pleased to welcome Perma-Seal to Quincy Avenue, where they will build their state-of-the-art facility on land purchased last year from the City. I’m proud we are able to meet this company’s need for space by putting an unproductive piece of land to work for our tax base.

Christine Jeffries of the Naperville Development Partnership has played a vital role in the ongoing effort to promote Naperville. Christine and the Naperville Development Partnership board, thank you for your hard work.

Now we need to turn our attention to filling other vacancies, like the Dominick’s, ConAgra and OfficeMax buildings, and reinventing places like the east Ogden Avenue corridor. It’s a tall order, but I believe the answer will come through innovation and being willing to think outside the box.

The same approach can be applied toward government consolidation. We should all implement efficiencies when it saves money. When taxpayers win, we all win.

More efficiency, consolidation & technology

Look at the current agreement between the Naperville and Lisle Township road districts that has them sharing resources to cut costs. Now there is a binding referendum on the ballot next month to merge these two road districts into one.

Early voting at the Naperville Municipal Center begins today, March 20, for the Consolidated Election on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. (PN File Photo)

I’m very proud the City initiated these types of discussions last year, and I want to thank my fellow Councilman Kevin Coyne and Naperville Township Supervisor Rachel Ossyra for their work on this initiative.

I know DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin has also been very active on the topic of government consolidation. He created the Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency initiative, and it’s already working.

The County and DuPage County Forest Preserve District recently announced they saved $275,000 through sharing facilities, purchases and services. That’s only the start — they’re looking to increase that number by finding more efficiencies. That’s actual taxpayer savings. Thank you, Chairman Cronin, for your efforts.

Creative solutions work best when we commit to working together on a common goal. While there is much to do, we should take a moment to celebrate how much has already been accomplished. Let’s take a look at how our dreams for Naperville’s economy came true in 2016.

As a City, much of what we do is behind the scenes. When we perform our jobs well, residents live their lives well and businesses operate well.

In 2016, our efforts focused on customer convenience and making it easier for people to do business with the City.

The City’s website saw its first redesign in over a decade. We also began implementing technology that will let us better share data between departments.

Why is this a big deal? This internal improvement will let us offer more services online in the next three years, like building permitting, inspection scheduling and payments.

People also will be able to track their transactions with the City from start to finish. In today’s world, availability to conduct business all day, every day is essential.

We also made licensing and permitting easier in the short term. I think the best example is our simplified and streamlined Liquor Code, which had become difficult for businesses to navigate over time. I’m exceptionally proud of the Liquor Commission and our team of employees that make up the “Liquor Squad” for their work on this issue.

We worked to bring back electronics recycling last November, which is vital to keeping these items out of landfills. It’s needed. In the first two months, more than 1,000 people dropped off items.

We began implementation of a Centralized Traffic Management System that will eventually coordinate our traffic signals in real-time to get people from point A to point B quicker.

Naperville appreciates public safety

Our Police Department continued to build relationships with the community. Programs like Chat with the Chief gave people one-on-one time with Police Chief Bob Marshall and his staff.

Burglary prevention forums empowered residents to make their neighborhoods safer — and it’s working. In 2016, Niche named Naperville the safest city in the United States for cities over 100,000, a testament to the dedication of Chief Marshall and his team.

The Police Department continues to seek opportunities to address the needs of all of our residents. Members of the Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team are now receiving training to help handle calls that involve mental illness. The ultimate goal is to decrease these calls and connect individuals with options to help them.

Thank you, Chief Marshall, for all of your efforts.

Our Fire Department gave the public a tool to literally save lives thanks to the PulsePoint phone app. The app shares the location of AED devices around town and alerts users to incidents where this type of intervention is needed.

The Fire Department also created a Tactical Emergency Medical Services Team to respond to violent incidents, which furthers our commitment to a safe and secure community. And just a few months ago, Naperville became one of only four places in the entire state that is licensed to test the physical ability of a firefighter candidate looking for a job.

Thank you, Chief Puknaitis, for these innovative uses of technology and being at the forefront of safety and helping the next generation of firefighters realize their dreams.

Community plays big part in big dreams

But it’s not just our City dreaming boldly. All of you in this room play a role in making Naperville’s dreams come true.

A shining example is the Naperville Park District and the long-awaited dream of indoor recreation space.  Last August, the Fort Hill Activity Center opened its doors and gave us extra motivation to reach our health and fitness goals. It also gave Western DuPage Special Recreation Association a new place to meet the community’s special rec needs.

Thank you to Ray McGury, the Naperville Park Board and the Park District staff for their tireless work to bring fun and recreation to all.

Christkind and Rena Tamayo-Calabrese (PN File Photo)

Under the leadership of Rena Tamayo-Calabrese, Naper Settlement gave the suburban Christkindlmarket a new holiday home in Naperville.

With more than 200,000 visitors over the market’s 21 days, Naperville had even more reason to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year.

78 percent of market attendees were from out-of-town, and 78 percent also shopped and dined downtown during their visit.

Events like these expose a larger audience to our city’s charm. Thank you, Rena, and the Naperville Heritage Society for all your efforts.

Working together to help our youth achieve their dreams is a priority of ours. It all starts with helping kids make healthy choices throughout their life.

The Council’s vote in December to raise the age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 is a reflection of Naperville’s commitment to health and well-being.

Other organizations are on board with our continued efforts to fight prescription drug abuse. KidsMatter and ParentsMatterToo have long been a leader in this effort. Kids can’t succeed when they are using drugs and alcohol. Thank you to IdaLynn Wenhold and her team for investing in the future of Naperville’s children.

Health is critical, but so is developing our kids’ potential. We need to give our children a head start in imagining what their dreams may be.

Organizations like the DuPage Children’s Museum do just that.

Now celebrating their 30th birthday, the museum that started as moving exhibits in a station wagon has grown into a place where imagination, creativity and curiosity soars. Thank you Sarah Orleans and your board for all your work. A very happy birthday to all of you!

The Naperville Public Library nurtures our children’s ideas and gives them the information they need to be global citizens. The Nichols and Naper Boulevard renovations have modernized those spaces, and the 95th Street updates are coming next.

Thank you to Julie Rothenfluh and the Library board of trustees for their forward-thinking efforts.

Education and youth make a difference beyond borders

There’s no shortage of dreamers or doers in our two school districts, who help guide our children as they grow up.

Teachers like Seth Brady of Naperville Central are changing the world by exposing students to the wonders of it.

Seth was one of six teachers across the country to win $100,000 last year in the Farmers Insurance Dream Big Teacher Challenge. That money will go towards helping Illinois students receive a Global Scholar Certification on their high school transcripts. Seth is even connecting students in our state with peers in other countries who are researching water quality issues.

Speaking of water, who can forget gold medal Olympian and Neuqua Valley graduate Kevin Cordes, who made history in Rio last August as part of the men’s swim team?

Neuqua Valley is also the current home of Trisha Prahbu, a junior who dreamed of a kinder world for kids by inventing an anti-cyberbullying software called ReThink.

And Angie Lee, a Metea Valley senior, was named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2016 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Her nonprofit Angie’s Hope has raised more than $200,000 over the last decade to help fund a cure for spinal muscular atrophy, which Angie was diagnosed with as a baby.

This is all just in 2016 alone! Pretty impressive, right?

Naperville is a household name across the country because of these and other social, charitable and athletic achievements. We are proud of our youth and those who teach them, and we know their dreams will change the world.

North Central College Science Center

District 203 Superintendent Dan Bridges and District 204 Superintendent Dr. Karen Sullivan, thanks to you and your school boards for leading the way.

Higher education is also important in making dreams a reality.

We’re fortunate to have seven colleges within our community that give everyone numerous educational options.

I’m very excited about the new North Central College Science Center opening this year. This facility will make Naperville the premiere destination for students who dream of discovering cures to diseases and other advancements to better our world.

Thank you to Dr. Troy Hammond and the North Central College Board of Trustees for their investment in our community and the next generation of dreamers.

We have many role models who show our youth — and, quite frankly, all of us — how to uphold the morals and values of our city.

Pam Davis, Christine Jeffries and Nicki Anderson

The best example of this is Edward-Elmhurst CEO Pam Davis; Pam is stepping down this June. Besides being a leader in the healthcare industry, she helped expose unethical and illegal dealings in our state.

Her devotion to civic responsibility and doing what is right in the name of good health for all is a testament to her character. Pam, thank you very much for all you have done.

I know all of you will continue to make Naperville’s dreams come true in the future. But what do those dreams look like?

As policy setters, the City Council and I have the responsibility of determining our City’s future. We’re fortunate that many times our individual dreams for Naperville align. All of us had individual reasons for pursing a seat at the dais, and those dreams will lead to a brighter future.

Naperville isn’t the kind of place that says, “We’re good. Let’s keep things the way they are.” Today’s results are just the starting point for tomorrow’s actions.

Through the Downtown Streetscape Plan, we’re addressing the functionality and aesthetics of this important area. This includes ways to make the downtown more inviting to pedestrians and accommodating to today’s outdoor dining preferences.

Downtown attracts!

Speaking of the downtown, we’re looking at how to maximize downtown parking. Our parking summit in February asked leaders and the public about their vision for the best use of our existing spaces. We’ll use that input to help maximize our parking resources in the downtown.

We’re lucky to have such a thriving downtown, and Katie Wood and the Downtown Naperville Alliance is a large part of that success. Thank you, Katie, and the DNA board for all your work.

Ruth Yackley and Dwight Yackley

Whenever I think of the downtown, I can’t help but think about Dwight and Ruth Yackley. Their vision for what Naperville could be led to iconic locations like the Main Street Promenade and the Barnes and Noble building.

I recently found an old news article from 2003 that quoted Dwight as saying: “It’s taking a dream and turning it into reality. It takes hard work, it takes determination, it takes willpower, and there’s plenty of people that will tell you ‘no’ along the way, that it’s impossible, it can’t be done, you’re foolish for trying.”

Now granted, he was talking about training for a triathlon there, but it’s clear he applied the same work ethic into building the Naperville we know today.

People like the Yackley’s can inspire all of us to think outside the box and be change agents. Case in point: resident Scott Palmer, a local entrepreneur who created the game Spikeball and appeared on the TV show Shark Tank.

Scott mentioned the need for some type of outdoor work space in Naperville. This independent work environment and easy access to WiFi is important to Millennials today.

So Nicki Anderson, Christine Jeffries, Doug Krieger and myself started talking about how this concept might become reality. This led to the idea of a creating an outdoor internet office park on open space located next to the Municipal Center.

Dreams of Outdoor Internet Office Park with WiFi

The space would provide WiFi, power outlets, shade and seating for users. We’re still in the dream stage, and we’re continuing to work on this, but sometimes it helps when you can see your dreams coming to life before your eyes.

Geoff Roehll and Rick Hitchcock

Ladies and gentlemen, thanks to the talents of Geoff Roehll and Dan Kim of Hitchcock Design Group, we have an idea of what this space could look like. I’m hoping we can have enough support to make this space a reality by the end of the year.

This is a great example of how the community can come together to take an idea from concept towards completion. I believe it could follow in the footsteps of one of our City’s greatest achievements — the creation of our famous Riverwalk.

35 years ago volunteers gave their time and talents to create this community treasure. A very happy 35th anniversary to the Naperville Riverwalk and thank you to everyone in this room — and I know there are many — who have played a part in its story.

As we move forward into 2017, there are many other exciting developments on the City front. We have a lot going on, but the most exciting dream is the redevelopment of eight acres of property along 5th Avenue near the train station.

Just last month we asked developers to submit their ideas for the best use of that area. This is a blank slate, and I can’t wait to see what is presented in the coming months.

While re-development of 5th Avenue won’t happen overnight, that’s okay — big dreams are always worth waiting for. What’s important is our dedication and devotion to seeing these ideas become reality.

Even when that happens, rarely do we realize the full impact of our work. Naperville’s success isn’t defined by our borders. Our dreams are literally changing the future of society and the world around us.

The most empowering example is through the hard work of our very own Nalco Water, an Ecolab company. Their Water University, which launches globally in the near future, aims to educate a new generation of researchers to solve the world’s water issues and turn Naperville into the water capital of the world.

Today I’m giving all of you an important challenge: dare to dream big.

Dare to be bold and innovative.

But also challenge yourself to work hard and put in the time and effort towards these goals. Because everyone can dream, but not everyone can make those dreams come true.

At the end of your journey, with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, you can stand back and see the lives you have — or will — change.

Naperville, I know you can dream big.

You always have.

And I know you always will.

Together, we will continue to make Naperville a model city for our state and our nation. Now let’s get out there and make our dreams come true. Thank you!

—Steve Chirico, Mayor, City of Naperville

Editor’s Note: Subheads and Photos by PN

PHOTO GALLERY / Small sampling of the Mayor’s State of the City Luncheon that attracted 593 Chamber members and guests.

Get the Daily Square-Scoop
The latest Naperville headlines delivered to your inbox