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Joliet votes to form prison committee

Brock A. Stein | 1/17/2018, 11:29 a.m.
The city council has voted to disband its Housing Authority committee and reassign its members to oversee the rehab of ...

The city council has voted to disband its Housing Authority committee and reassign its members to oversee the rehab of the shuttered Collins Street Prison.

Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said Tuesday that the Housing Authority committee was formed 5 years ago to oversee what was then a “troubled agency” that has since turned its operations around.

“They’ve done a great job,” said O’Dekrik, “They pulled out of the troubled status.”

The mayor said that the city would maintain a liaison to Housing Authority Joliet (HAJ) but would re-assign the committee members to oversee the business of rehabbing the former prison for possible use as a tourist attraction.

“There’s a lot going on the grounds including private vendors who are coming to Joliet that want to get in there and invest their money,” said O’Dekirk.

The city reached an agreement with the state to lease the site at no cost for 5 years with the intent of securing the location from urban explorers and potentially rehabbing it for tours to the public. Prior to the agreement, the city didn’t have permission to enter the state-owned site. City Inspector General Chris Regis, who worked out the deal with the state, said that at minimum the city would be able to do basic maintenance at the prison which sits at one of the gateways to Joliet.

“We all know that the state has provided zero maintenance whatsoever for the last 15 years,” said Regis in December. He said that the city would most likely mow grass around the site as part of its routine upkeep.

Under the terms of the lease the city would not acquire the prison but would gain “the rights to use the prison for however see fit” and will open up the opportunity for a third party to redevelop.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said in December that the time was long overdue for the city to make an effort to create something from the blighted site.

“This has been sitting vacant for 15 years, it looks horrible and it’s in an entranceway to the city,” he said.

Council members Bettye Gavin, Don Dickinson and Terry Morris will serve as the new prison committee members with Gavin serving as chair.