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City gets Evergreen access today; O'Dekirk to present plan in June

Karen Sorensen | 5/12/2015, 9:30 a.m.
The Joliet mayor said he will draft a proposal on what he thinks should be done with the troubled apartment ...
The city of Joliet has won its lawsuit to purchase the Evergreen Terrace apartment complex at 350 N. Broadway St. through eminent domain. Karen Sorensen

Joliet officials will get their first official look inside Evergreen Terrace Tuesday, providing more information on such issues as asbestos and building structure before Mayor Bob O’Dekirk proposes a plan on what he thinks should be done with the troubled apartment complex.

His proposal will serve as a jumping off point for discussion by the Joliet City Council, which must decide by early August whether it will pay $15 million for federally subsidized five-building, 356-unit development, O’Dekirk said.

Options run the gamut from tearing the buildings down to leaving things as is to a combination of the two, in which one or more of the buildings are demolished and those that remain are renovated. Or they could opt to not buy the complex at all, which some council members have told O’Dekirk would be their preference, he said.

However, given that the city has spent in the neighborhood of $10 million and more than 10 years in court fighting for the right to condemn the buildings, that option seems the unlikeliest of those under consideration, he said.

“I think ultimately we are going to purchase the buildings but I want to have a real road plan put together before we do,” O’Dekirk said.

That's been something O’Dekirk has been pushing for for months, and Tom Giarrante’s failure to spearhead such a plan was one of O’Dekirk’s chief criticisms of the former mayor during the spring election.

Getting into the buildings will be key to putting together cost estimates on such things as demolition and renovation, especially if asbestos must be removed or they find thick concrete walls, which will make renovation more expensive, he said.

There are also rules imposed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which the city council agreed to when the federal agency opted to drop its lawsuit challenging the condemnation case. Chief among them is the city’s right to reduce the number of apartments from the current 356 to as few as 115.

Any person or family displaced will be provided with Tenant Protection Vouchers guaranteeing them housing in the city or wherever they choose to move as well as relocation counseling, financial relocation assistance and mobility counseling. The tenants will also have up to one year to move, the settlement said.

If the council reduces density, the city could have to build replacement housing in other parts of the city, O’Dekirk said.

Another federal mandate calls for the construction of a community center/day care facility as part of the complex, regardless of whether it’s renovated or not.

Whatever plan the council opts to choose, the apartments – either in Evergreen Terrace or those set up as replacements for Evergreen Terrace units – must generate enough income to cover the money Joliet will have to borrow to purchase the complex, renovate the buildings and relocate tenants.

The council has hired Holsten Properties in Chicago to help manage the complex once the city takes ownership and to help guide the process once a plan is in place.

O’Dekirk said he has been meeting with City Manager Jim Hock, Neighborhood Services Director Alfredo Melessio and other city administrators to hash out the options and assign price tags for the plan he will present to the council sometime in June.

While the proposal will be his opinion on what should happen, ultimately council members will decide what the plan for moving ahead will be, he said.

“That’s the big question – what the end result should be,” O’Dekirk said.

Contact Karen Sorensen at Karen@TheTimesWeekly.com.