(This article by KATHY MILLEN, Naperville Sun, originally appeared on June 3, 2010 at Napersun.com.)
Standing majestically along the Riverwalk at the base of Rotary Hill, the Millennium Carillon has been a lightning rod in the community, sparking both praise and controversy.
Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the 158-foot tower which houses 72 bronze bells is the ninth-largest carillon in the world and has become one of the signature landmarks in Naperville. It is also one of the few able to accommodate visitors.
That's what Chuck Seidel had in mind when he helped lay the groundwork for the carillon in 1997 to commemorate the turn of another century. As co-chairman of the Millennium Carillon Foundation with Jim Bergeron, and with the help of a host of volunteers, Seidel captured the fancy of many local residents with the idea of a bell tower that would be the site of concerts, provide classes for aspiring carillonneurs and be open to the public for tours.
It would also be the most difficult project he ever took on.
"You can't do anything this big without getting hit by lightning a few times, literally and figuratively," said Seidel last week from the carillon's Visitor's Center. "It was worth every minute of it ... now."
The Millennium Carillon started out as a privately funded project but was soon mired in controversy as construction costs quickly escalated. While almost $3 million was raised by the Millennium Carillon Foundation, fundraising efforts struggled to keep up. The city of Naperville extended the foundation a $1.5 million line of credit, but when fundraising stalled, city officials voted in September 2005 to assume ownership and pay for the tower's completion through use of the citywide Food and Beverage Tax.
The project also received a $3.3 million grant from Naperville's Special Events and Cultural Amenities Fund.
Phase I of the project, which allowed for performances of the instrument but not public access, was dedicated in June 2000. The tower and adjacent visitor center was opened to the public in July 2007. The total cost of the project is $7.5 million.
An intergovernmental agreement among the city, the Naperville Park District and the Millennium Carillon Foundation was approved four years ago. Since then, the Park District has been maintaining the carillon. The carillon foundation handles programming and classes.
Brad Wilson, the district's director of recreation, said it has been a popular destination, not only for area residents but for visitors from across the United States and throughout the world.
"In the last three years, we have had over 10,000 visitors who have toured the carillon and climbed the steps to the top and learned about the instrument," he said. "It certainly became a landmark within the community based on how often you see it and how often it's pictured when Naperville is referenced in articles and other media."
Seidel said the Millennium Carillon has met or exceeded most of what the foundation members had envisioned. The Guild of Carillonneurs of North America has chosen the Millennium as the site of its 68th annual congress, expected to bring some 150 carillonneurs from around the world to Naperville this month. And five local residents have become certified carillonneurs, a special distinction accomplished by only 150 of the world's 630 carillonneurs.
Tim Sleep is one of them. He took classes at the Millennium Carillon several years ago and is now Naperville city carillonneur. He performs numerous recitals throughout the year, including a pop music concert every Saturday night. He also plays other times of day, often entertaining young children playing at Rotary Hill with songs that appeal to kids.
A retired middle school principal, Sleep said his carillon performances have become a second career.
"These bells are going to last forever," he said. "If I can get a 4-year-old excited about the carillon now, someday they'll be 20 or 30, and they'll bring their kids here. We are really building a legacy of public music and enjoyment in town."
For Seidel, the only dark cloud still hovering over the carillon is the outstanding loan from the city. He is hopeful the foundation will be able to pay it back through fundraising efforts that include raffles, naming rights and donor plaques.
Seidel, a retired elementary school principal, is still a member of the carillon foundation and a volunteer tour guide at the carillon. He said he loves taking people into the tower showing them the 6-ton bell named for Naperville founder Joseph Naper, the special keyboard called a clavier and the spectacular view that, on a clear day, stretches a radius of 30 miles.
But his favorite part of the tour comes at the end when he hears the good things people have to say after seeing the carillon for the first time or reads the glowing comments they jot down in the carillon guest book.
That's when he realizes he and the many people who worked on the carillon had a great idea, he said.
"It was right to open this to the public," Seidel said. "When we were cutting back because we had so many budget overruns, and costs kept escalating, we seriously thought about not opening it. Every time people go through, I realize what a good decision it was to open it, because people are amazed. That's the feedback for me. That's the frosting on the cake."