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The year in review 2017

Brock A. Stein | 12/27/2017, 11:37 a.m.
In 2017, Will County broke ground on a new courthouse, two micro-breweries opened in downtown Joliet and community activists advocated ...
2017 saw several big projects get started in Joliet and Will County, including the new downtown courthouse, new train station, and more entertainment options. Photo by Brock A. Stein

2017 was the year of the Millennial in Joliet.

The demographic, born approximately between 1981 and 1998, factored in to discussions on several projects that city planners hope will attract more of the young movers and shakers to the city’s downtown.

As part of the city’s master plan, projects slated for downtown included more developments with apartment space to attract the coveted demographic. That included a plan to revamp the Loughran Building on Cass Street which developers had hoped to turn in to a mix of restaurant space on the first floor, banquet areas and apartments on the top floors. That plan fell through but other developers got the go ahead from the city this year to remodel places like the former Stadium Club and Barber building with an eye toward expanding the downtown residential market. To help bolster the projects, the city also started doling out TIF grants to help partially fund the work.

The other big project approved this year, the Innovation Pavilion, could also attract more Millennials. The Centennial, Colorado company struck a deal to develop a campus in Joliet that will consist of eight key elements including a conference center space, corporate suites, a shared space-incubator, a maker space, STEM school, a 21st century library, retail space and—yesMillennial housing—which will consist of small 400 square foot apartments.

Innovation Pavilion CEO Vic Ahmed told the city council in July that the STEM school would be a joint venture with local school boards with an eye toward training the next generation of students versed in high-tech innovation.

“STEM is at the center of it all because high-paying jobs are STEM jobs,” he said.

The city started out the year with some bragging rights after officials learned that a special census meant that Joliet had edged out the City of Rockford to the north to lay claim as Illinois #3 most-populated city.

Joliet’s new population total of 148,409 residents was enough to knock Rockford off their perch and the added head count also has the benefit of adding an additional $288,000 in annual per capita revenue to the city’s coffers.

The year also started off with a fair amount of drama as the entire Rialto Square Theater board (also more formally known as the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority or WCMEAA) resigned en masse following the approval of an intergovernmental agreement with the City that reinstated its $500,000 annual patronage payments. In exchange, the city received expanded oversight, open access to the theater’s finances, contracts, and broader access for the city’s financial director and inspector general.

Though not expressly written in to the contract with the city, former board member Mary Babich didn’t mince words when she explained why she and the other Rialto board members resigned.

“It’s politics at its finest.”

Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk filled his four appointments to the Rialto Board before February and then turned his attention to the dystopian prospect that the city’s water supply could run dry within the next 20 years.