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Wayne's Words: Council's asking questions -- what a concept!

Wayne Horne | 6/4/2015, 11:36 a.m.
For too long, leadership in Joliet has been stagnant and things done without questioning why or if it was in ...
Joliet City Council members are debating whether to seek bids for a catering new contract on Union Station, which can be rented for weddings, meetings and other events.

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Wayne Horne

The city of Joliet has a long political history, dating back to 1852 when C.C. Van Horn served two years as Joliet’s first mayor. Since 1852 Joliet has had 36 mayors, according to politicalgraveyard.com. During the first 50 years, a total of 23 men held Joliet’s top office.

Most of them served only one two-year term. A few served two-year terms, two or three times. There have been no female mayors of Joliet.

The length of the term changed to four years in 1915. A total of seven mayors have served Joliet over the last 50 years. Mayor Bob O’Dekirk is only the fourth person to be elected mayor since 1987. Joliet’s political landscape could be defined as somewhat stagnant given the few leadership changes the last 50 years.

The Joliet City Council culture has shifted over the last four years, too. Joliet voters in April asked for a change. The council is asking questions before taking a vote. This last week a meeting of the combined Land Use and Legislative Committees questioned whether the lease at city-owned Union Station benefited the taxpayers. What a concept!

The current lease expired last December but city administrators only recently brought it to the attention of the public and the council. The city-owned property has been underutilized and poorly maintained for several years.

The current tenant, Bussean Custom Caterers, presented a new lease offer to City Manager Jim Hock about a month ago. The terms of the proposed lease commits to additional improvements to the property and a doubling of revenue when compared to past years. A guaranteed monthly payment of $10,000 replaces a fluctuating rent payment based on usage.

Council members questioned if this was the best deal the city could get. There was not a question of past performance or quality of the tenant, merely a question of competitive revenue for the location. The answer from staff regarding the cost of rent for comparable facilities was met with an “I don’t know.” Oftentimes in the past that answer was sufficient enough for a positive council vote.

This time the council members decided to seek more information to assure the best outcome for the city. Bravo!

Another item on the agenda was a discussion on the sale of Silver Cross Field. It was an academic discussion, of course, because there is no market for the baseball park. Even the current tenants, the Joliet Slammers, don’t want it. Why should they? The City has lost over $70,000 on the venture since 2006. The current tenants claim a positive cash flow to the city the last two years in excess of $137,000 but that is wiped out with expenditures for repairs and a new scoreboard that exceed $500,000 this year.

The answer for the dilemma is a better lease that compensates the city for all of the stadium’s uses, not just Slammer’s games. A marketing plan that puts more fans in the seats is also necessary.

The average fan attendance has declined every year since it opened in 2002, including the last two years, according to Frontier League records. The start of a new season brings with it the hope of greater attendance. So far this year, after six games, the Slammers are averaging 2,367 fans per game. As of Monday there are 45 home games left, with 19 of the contests in June.

More fans will increase revenue, but what is needed is a better revenue generating lease from the tenants. The current lease runs to September, 2017. Go Slammers!

One last thing…

Last week the U.S. Census Bureau released some population figures that reminded me of a piece I wrote last year. Joliet's population is now estimated 147,433. Here’s an update.

Aurora’s population is now 200,456 and its council has 12 districts and two at-large. Rockford’s population, Illinois’ third largest city, is 149,123 and has 14 council districts and no at-large members. Naperville, population 146,128, is the fifth largest city in Illinois and has eight council members, all of whom serve at-large. Springfield is the sixth most populated city and has 10 city council members. The Peoria City Council has 10 members, five at-large and five districts.

Joliet council members represent more people per district than any city in Illinois, other than Chicago. Stay tuned…

Contact Wayne Horne at whorne@thetimesweekly.com.