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Star Wars, chocolate and other lures bringing visitors to downtown Naperville despite construction – Chicago Tribune

Hundreds of people flocked to downtown Naperville this week for the chance to snap a photo with Darth Vader, the Mandalorian and other members of the 501st Midwest Garrison “Star Wars” costuming group.

Days later the same streets were chock-full of chocoholics for the Naperville Chocolate Walk.

“With this big construction project that we have going on downtown, we wanted people to be able to come and see that it is still very easy to navigate. You’re able to have access to each and every business,” said Danielle Tufano, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance.

Construction began in March on the long-awaited streetscape project that will improve roads and sidewalks and provide seating, planters and enhanced lighting along Main and Webster streets between Jackson and Jefferson avenues, Jefferson Avenue between Webster and Main streets, and Jackson Avenue between Webster and Washington streets.

Tufano said the construction caused some initial anxiety for business owners.

“Having the road and the sidewalks torn up right in front of their business is concerning,” Tufano said.

But the progress so far has allowed businesses to see the light at the end of the tunnel, she said.

“We’re going to have a beautiful new downtown. We’re going to have many amenities in our downtown that will attract even more people down here (who will) want to come and shop and dine and explore in downtown Naperville,” Tufano said.

Contractors are on track to complete the first of five phases and reopen Main Street to pedestrian and vehicle traffic before the end of the month, according to Bill Novack, director of transportation, engineering and development.

In an online update this week, Novack said the sidewalks on the west side of Main Street were poured Thursday morning.

Bricks and other amenities will be installed over the next two weeks, he said.

Then construction shifts to Jefferson Avenue.

The Star Wars character theme night, Naperville Chocolate Walk and other activities organized by the alliance are providing opportunities to bring people downtown and showcase the progress made in the construction, Tufano said.

Among the events coming up is the Spring Wine Walk, which will be held from 11:30 am to 5 pm June 5. The $50 tickets go on sale Thursday and entitle participants to an exclusive wine glass that can be used to sample an ounce of either red or white wine and snacks at 14 stops.

Only 400 tickets are available, Tufano said, and they’ve sold out quickly in the six years the event’s been held annually.

A classic car show on Jackson Avenue is planned for June 18, the Saturday of Father’s Day weekend.

And the popular summer sculptures return in June, with this year’s theme of Cruising into Summer paired with the 16 artist-painted pickup trucks placed at locations around downtown.

Tufano said she’s seen mockups of some of the designs. “I’m so glad that we have great artists and creative people in our community because they’re so cool, and I can’t wait for them to be on display,” she said.

Sculptures traditionally located in what is now a construction zone will be placed in other high-traffic areas this year, she said.

Additionally, the construction zone has opened unexpected visitor opportunities, Tufano added.

Alliance members were surprised to see families with small children coming downtown to watch the construction work so safe viewing areas were set up where the action can be seen without dust being blown into visitors’ faces, she said.

There’s also a kiddie construction zone sandbox with digger tools at the southwest corner of Jackson Avenue in Main Street, she said.

“It’s been a huge hit. Every time I walk past it there’s a couple kids in there doing a little bit of digging and letting them feel like they’re part of the project,” Tufano said.

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