“The Big Lift” at the 2024 State of the City Address with Mayor Scott Wehrli

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On May 8, 2024 Mayor Werhli used “The Big Lift” as the theme for his first State of the City Address at the Embassy Suites in Naperville. Hosted by the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, the State of the City gives the Mayor the opportunity to recap the past year. 

The theme for this year’s speech, “The Big Lift” came from Wehrli’s childhood memories

In the summer of 1981, Naperville was celebrating its sesquicentennial. “The city I called home was turning 150 years old. There were parades and parties, re-enactments and revelry. and even a re-make of Naperville’s historic Stenger Beer,” said Wehrli in an introductory video. “Everyone was proud of the place Joe Naper decided was the end of his journey. For me, it was the summer after 4th grade, and downtown by the river, something was changing. Local business leaders like my dad traveled to faraway places like San Antonio, Texas, and Parke County, Indiana, to see how cities had transformed their rivers and bridges into destinations.  What they saw in those places was a world away from the city storage yard along Jackson Avenue. Instead of rusty snowplows and piles of salt, they saw walkways full of people.  It would take a monumental effort to reinvent Naperville along the river.”

Wehrli then described the building of Naperville’s “Crown Jewel” the Riverwalk.  “It seemed like all of Naperville felt like they were a part of this project to help revive the downtown. For some it was to raise money.  Many chose to volunteer for cleanup or provide sweat and labor after work and on weekends.  And then there were those who got down on their hands and knees to lay those special signature shaped bricks we’ve come to know and love.  And yes, even kids like me were welcomed by patient leaders who showed us the way,” said Wehrli. 

But what he remembers the most from that summer was when something went wrong. A crowd had gathered to watch the Webster street bridge be installed. Two cranes were brought to lift the bridge into place. But something went wrong.  “But then something unexpected happened. The motors strained. Men were yelling, and the bridge, well, it didn’t budge. It was just too heavy. None of this was part of the plan,” said Wehrli.

But this setback didn’t stop the community. They came together, deconstructed the bridge into smaller parts and pieces, and got a bigger crane. 

“Maybe I couldn’t express it at the time, but I can now. It was when I learned that sometimes the plans of really smart people don’t quite go as expected. But you never, ever give up on your dream. Sometimes you have a bigger lift than you expect,” said Wehrli. “And sometimes you need a bigger crane.”