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State of the city: Joliet ‘renaissance’ continues in 2018

Brock A. Stein | 2/12/2018, 4:55 p.m.
Joliet's renaissance will continue in 2018 according to the city's mayor Bob O'Dekirk who gave his state of the city ...
Joliet Mayor Bob O'Dekirk gave his state of the city address at the JJC Renaissance Center this week. Photo by Brock A. Stein

“We have a beautiful stadium sitting there and its mothballed 6-7 months out of the year,” said O’Dekirk, who said he hopes that the “underutilized” field will be able to attract more uses and bring more people from around the region to the city.

The city is waiting to see if one of those draws to the city could come from one of its biggest risks it’s taking in 2018.

The city council approved a 1-year lease with Evil Intentions, an Elgin-based haunted house operator that plans to open an attraction in the former women’s prison facility on Woodruff Ave. in the fall.

O’Dekirk said that the prison, which had been vacant since 2002, had “become a blight on the downtown landscape” and was host to 2 arsons and a break in in 2017 which prompted the city staff to enact a plan.

“We decided that the city of Joliet could not ignore this problem anymore,” he said, “we decided that we were going to do something to get this done.”

The city met with their state representatives and the heads of the Illinois State Department of Corrections eventually announcing a 5-year lease for the site which gave them control to stabilize, clean up the blight, and prevent further break ins. It also gave them a chance to look for private investors to re-develop the prison campus.

“The response…I think, it’s blown everybody away,” said the mayor who said that he believes, based on the response, that “it’s going to be a success.” The deal with Evil Intentions he said means that the site will be improved with private money though it has led to some criticism. He credits the city council for their leadership on the deal however.

“The status quo wasn’t working,” he said.

Other news in 2017:

• 2 new companies moved to Joliet in 2017. Communications Test Design opened a 500,000 square foot facility with 600 employees and plans to hire 500 more in the next 5 years

• M2M Motion, a Schaumburg-based company moved their headquarters and operations to Joliet

• Silver Cross Hospital announced the redevelopment of their former Joliet site

• The Water’s Edge public housing development opened, replacing blighted older homes with new homes

• Nowell Park broke ground on a new $6.5 million rec center

• 2 new hotels opened in 2017 adding 235 new rooms to Joliet

• Hawk Auto announced a deal to stay in the city, working out a deal to buy Joliet Park District property at the corner of Caton Farm and Route 59

• JJC dedicated a new 85,000 square foot recreation and events center

• University of St. Francis opened a new 48,000 square foot science hall expansion

• Illinois Youth Center on McDonough will re-open as Joliet Treatment Center for people with mental disabilities which will employ 296 and have room for 422 residents.

• The Houboldt Road Bridge with $21 million in state money will move ahead in 2018 with the mayor saying its “not a solution but a step in the right direction” to address the lack of road infrastructure

• At the behest of new City Manager David Hales the city will craft a 5-year economic plan

• A city committee will also try to narrow a list of “13 viable solutions” to a looming water source crisis down to 2 or 3 options for the city to study this year. “I think it’s crucial that we make the right decision,” said O’Dekirk.