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Old Joliet prison getting new life

Megann Horstead, Reporter – news@thetimesweekly.com | 4/11/2018, 1:34 p.m.
Joliet officials are working to bring new life to the Old Joliet prison on Collins Street in Joliet.
Elected officials and city staff toured the Collins Street Prison in Joliet last week to assess its condition as a possible tourist attraction.

Joliet officials are working to bring new life to the Old Joliet prison on Collins Street in Joliet.

The City of Joliet and the Joliet Area Historical Museum are working on a project to bring promise of economic development and revenue by putting the Old Joliet Prison to new use.

The City’s Prison Committee was updated Monday on the site’s cleanup and the planning of an open house, set for Aug. 24-26.

Councilwoman Bettye Gavin said this could set the record straight for anyone who’s questioned Joliet’s desire to promote its standing as a prison town.

“For years, in the community, they wanted to play down the fact about [Joliet being] the prison town,” she said.

Gavin is working with members of the committee to ensure that the Old Joliet Prison and its international branding can be remembered and is able to sustain itself.

‘While some will attach negative connotations to the site, the city wants to disassociate itself from those images.” Said Steve Jones, Deputy Joliet City Manager.

Jones also noted the City should “not look at the negative of the prison, but look at the rich history and what that building represents.”

Currently, the City has a sublease agreement with the Elgin-based entertainment company Evil Intentions allowing it to operate out of the east prison, which once housed female prisoners. The site is also made up of open lands and a west prison, both of which plans have yet to be identified.

The prison is located in Joliet on Collins Street only minutes before you get to the City of Lockport, in a diverse part of town. It is the City’s desire to put the west prison site to use in a way that complements its historic nature. Discussion of the open lands will be brought forward in the next 60-90 days.

Joliet has five years to decide on what to do with the Prison. At that time, the City will need to weigh in on if it should purchase the property from the State of Illinois. The site has been vacant since 2002.

“This isn’t something that’s going to sustain on its own, there’s going to have to be an income stream coming in,” Jones said. “Those are going to be the public-private partnerships.”

The open house, slated for this summer, will feature food, music and site tours. It will serve as a fundraiser in which all proceeds will benefit the project.

City Manager David Hales said the City could look into setting aside additional funding in its budget to account for things donations cannot cover.

Some of the attendees at the committee meeting referenced the excitement that is evident in the community for the prison project and its new use.

Gavin commented she and Councilman Don “Duck” Dickinson had received communications from individuals who expressed interest in volunteering and getting involved. They have a contact for those who would be interested.

Since gaining access to the prison grounds, the City has enlisted the services of Homer Tree Care for cleanup. A video shown to the committee gave them an overview of what has been done so far. Trees had been removed, allowing for greater open space to help with maintaining security. Additional lighting will be affixed to the site, as well.

The City has determined that more help will be necessary to prepare the site for the open house. As such, there are two potential cleanup days scheduled for May 19-20. If an alternate day is warranted, the committee set another date for May 26.