Niles City Council considers the future of the NODE

Published 1:30 pm Tuesday, October 12, 2021

NILES — The future of an outdoor social space in downtown Niles was a topic of discussion Monday.

Monday evening, the Niles City Council discussed the Niles Outdoor Dining Experience, known as the NODE. During the Committee of The Whole meeting, City Administrator Ric Huff reported an anonymous donor had given the city $10,000 to make improvements to the NODE, a social area located on a closed section of road at Main and Second streets. The area, which features lighting, a gas-powered fire pit and seating, officially opened to the public in December of last year. In early spring, the council voted 5-2 to keep the NODE in its current location until at least April 2022.

As no decision has yet been made on whether to extend the NODE past April of next year, Huff said he was hesitant to spend the anonymous donation on improvements to the NODE, which could include burying the fire pit’s gas line and purchasing security planters, which would keep the road safely blocked off while providing additional visual interest.

“I’m hesitant to engage our Public Works to spend those monies if [the NODE] is just a fleeting idea,” Huff said.

While Huff said the changes could be easily be undone if the council decided to close the NODE or move it to another location in the spring, he believed it would be an unwise use of the donated funds. If the council decides to either close or move the NODE in the near future, Huff recommended the city contact the donor to either return the funds or inquire if it could be used for another project.

“Even though the money is donated, you still want to be a wise user of someone else’s money, and there is not really any point in making these investments and moving forward if [the NODE] is just going to be there for the next couple months,” he said.

Though no action was taken on whether or not to spend the donation Monday evening, council and community members discussed the merits behind having the NODE continue in its current location.

During public comment, business owners addressed the council to share their concerns about the NODE and its current location. Some of those who spoke had previously signed a petition last spring asking the council to reconsider the location of the NODE due to concerns surrounding security and decreases in drive-by traffic.

Don Kennedy, owner of the Grand LV on Third Street and two properties on Front Street, spoke during public comment to oppose the NODE continuing in its current location. He said he did not feel represented by the Downtown Development Authority, which previously recommended the continuation of the NODE in its current location.

“You do not have the support of the business owners to continue the NODE at its current location,” he said. “We need to make sure we are engaging particular property owners because they have the most skin in the game. We are talking about huge investments into properties.”

“The NODE is awesome. It can be so awesome. I promise you it is just the location that is the problem right now,” added Chance Smith, co-owner of the Rage on Front Street. “If we can find a central spot where we can put all the funding and everything, it could something unbelievable, and you would have the community and all the businesses behind you.”

Stephanie Reno, of SLR Pilates and Trap House 24, also spoke during public comment asking the council to have a transparent fact-finding process prior to making any vote on the NODE. She asked to see reports regarding revenue and foot traffic associated with the NODE, as well as have transparent conversations regarding funding and business impact.

“I think it is time to stop approving ideas,” Reno said. “We need to have facts, actual numbers, actual conversations with business owners and actual plans before an extension is even requested. What I am asking the council is to make the DDA prove undoubtedly that the NODE is beneficial to drawing revenue and foot traffic to every single business downtown.”

Following public comments, Huff said the NODE had been host to several community events including markets, music and movies nights. He also pointed out that the NODE is similar to many other social areas in towns across the country, most of which are located on the town’s main street for visibility reasons.

Council Members Charlie McAfee and Jessica Nelson voiced support for the NODE during Monday night’s meeting.

“With everything that is going on, the NODE has really been an infusion into downtown, and I think it is a good idea,” McAfee said. “It’s really been a blessing so far.”

Nelson agreed, saying she is a supporter of the NODE, believing it provides a valuable meeting space for community members.

“I’m a proud supporter of that area. It brings the community together,” she said. “I’ve seen people of all ages, backgrounds and means come together and enjoy music and festivals and markets and everything else our community members have brought together through volunteer efforts to produce so that we have nice things for the city of Niles.”

Both Nelson and Council Member John DiCostanzo said they wanted to hear from community members and business owners to help the council come to a decision regarding the NODE’s continuation.

Prior to adjournment, Mayor Nick Shelton said conversations surrounding the NODE would continue.

“We all want the same thing, and that is a good, great Niles,” Shelton said. “We need to continue this conversation knowing that there probably won’t be consensus, and the council and DDA are going to be faced with some decisions that are not going to please everybody, and I ask that when decisions are made, we work to make it great because that’s the decision. That’s where we start, and we move forward from there.”