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Joliet Township nixes plan to take over Bicentennial Park

Brock A. Stein | 2/1/2016, 8:24 p.m. | Updated on 2/2/2016, 7:39 a.m.
Township supervisor Dan Vera sent a letter to Joliet City manager Jim Hock a few hours before he was to ...

Hours before Joliet Council members were to hear details about an intergovernmental agreement to takeover Bicentennial Park, Joliet Township Supervisor Dan Vera sent a letter officially dropping the plan.

Hock said that Vera’s memo indicated that several issues were involved in that decision to not proceed.

“Based on several items that they consider unresolved to their satisfaction at this point they are respectfully withdrawing their interest in acquiring and operating Bicentennial Park at this time,” Hock told the council in their workshop meeting Monday.

Township Supervisor Dan Vera was not at the meeting to give greater detail.

“At this point in time it looks like the city will continue ownership and management of the property,” said Hock.

Plans for the township to take over the park floated around for a few years before it was given serious consideration in October 2015. At the time, the township planned to conduct inspections of the park to determine the amount of work and monetary investment required to bring the grounds and facilities up to date.

Early details indicated that the agreement with the city would have transferred primary responsibility for the park's maintenance and improvements to the township with the city retaining minority ownership and paying an annual subsidy of about $100,000.

Township officials indicated plans to complete resurfacing work on the parking lot and Bluff Street, replace and upgrade landscaping, restore and replace signage, and improve lighting in addition to any work found following the inspections.

Events that are held at the park would continue including summer Concerts on the Hill, the Festival of Gnomes and other theater productions.

Hock noted that the city had included the operation of the park and a salary for a supervisor in this year’s budget. The supervisor’s position that has been vacant since a retirement in summer 2015 would now be filled he said.

“We’ll move forward on filling that position,” said Hock.

Councilman Mike Turk said that Vera’s letter indicated that the township was never given an opportunity to present their proposal to the Bicentennial Park foundation board as one of the reasons for withdrawing their offer. He also said the letter indicated that the breadth of the repairs needed on the property including roofing, concrete, and electrical issues may have also played a part.

Hock said that the city never received a formal proposal but had been in discussion with the township for the past few months over the possible transfer of the park.

Turk said that Vera did indicate that the township would share its findings from the inspections it conducted with the city so that they could begin to prioritize the repairs that Joliet will now have to pay for.

He also indicated that the township had also lined up 4 corporate business partners to sponsor three new events for summer 2016 and wanted Hock to get in touch with those sponsors to see if an agreement could still be reached for programming.

Hock said that since 2008, the city has relied on the park’s foundation to provide funding for the programs at the park and to organize sponsorships for events and coordinate volunteers there.

Councilman pat Mudron expressed regret that the deal with the township didn’t work out.

“I actually think this is a loss for the city,” said Mudron who noted that the city would now be on the hook for “serious deferred maintenance that we need to get in to our budget.” Mudron said that the township had the “ways and means” to bring the park up to a “higher standard” than the city was able to maintain.

“I’m sorry that Joliet Township has decided to drop out of the negotiations,” said Mudron.

Joliet resident Robert Hernandez was glad to hear that the city would maintain ownership and hopes that officials will consider a greater investment in the park and its programs. He said that in light of the $600,000 annual investment the city makes in the Rialto Theater, that there should be room in the budget for Bicentennial Park.

“Make an investment to bring back some of the programs that we had there so that all of the residents of the city can enjoy it as we did in the past,” said Hernandez.

brock@thetimesweekly.com or on Twitter @BrockAStein