Construction projects could transform older parts of Joliet
Bob Okon email@example.com January 26, 2013 4:22PM
A view of the future site of the Joliet Intermodal Service Center off Draper Ave. and Stein Ave. Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 28, 2013 6:50AM
Joliet is breaking out of the development doldrums.
The latest announcement that CN will build an intermodal facility at its Joliet railyard was one more project added to a list that will transform some of the older parts of the city.
Unlike the building boom that marked the early 2000s, construction projects that will dominate the landscape in 2013 are in older parts of the city. And, most of them are being done by government or nonprofit agencies, meaning they won’t add a lot to the city’s tax base.
There are some exceptions.
Tony’s Finer Foods redeveloped vacated supermarket space along Route 59 and opened this month to what has been a very good start to the business.
“It’s been one of our top grand openings,” said Jim Marnos, director of human resources for the regional grocery chain based in Itasca. “It’s going on our third week of being open. It’s been very successful.”
City officials hope to see more business development for the sake of the tax base and local jobs.
The city’s unemployment rate in December was 11.4 percent, which is higher than the 8.6 unemployment rate of the entire Chicago metropolitan area. The Illinois unemployment rate also is 8.6 percent.
City Manager Thomas Thanas said the construction Joliet sees this year should help attract business investment dollars in the future.
“You need to have a high level of confidence,” Thanas said. “Developers need to see stability in a community that is providing the infrastructure for growth. I think they’ll see that in Joliet.”
Construction should be very visible in certain parts of Joliet.
Here is what’s happening in the coming months:
CN will build an intermodal ramp to add a new dimension to the Joliet Yard that the railroad company got as part of its acquisition of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway. Meanwhile, CN also is funding a new road to bypass the Woodruff Road crossing, just outside the Joliet Yard. That road could open future development opportunites, city officials say.
Joliet Junior College will begin construction in March of its six-story downtown campus building that will give a new look to the north end of downtown.
The city begins construction this spring on a new bus station, six-level parking deck, and new train boarding platforms that will change the appearance of the south end of downtown.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in March will open an outpatient clinic in the emergency department that Silver Cross Hospital vacated a year ago when it moved to New Lenox.
Aunt Martha’s Youth Services will open a health clinic built on the old Silver Cross campus.
Volunteers of America Illinios hopes to complete plans so it can start construction of housing for homeless and low-income veterans on the old Silver Cross campus.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries will open a restaurant outside of the Louis Joliet Mall in space vacated last year by KFC.
Five Guys isn’t the only restaurant chain looking for space near the Louis Joliet Mall, said Mayor Thomas Giarrante.
Another unnamed chain wants to build near the Louis Joliet Mall, Giarrante said. But the company wants a certain type of location that so far is not available. The mayor said the city is looking for ways to open up more space near the mall for restaurants that are interested in Joliet.
What the Louis Joliet Mall retail district offers is something that city officials believe dontown will have more of once the city transportation center and Joliet Junior College campus are completed — customers.
That may take some time. Parts of the transportation center are slated to be open a year from now. But the entire project may not be done until 2015. And, Joliet Junior College is looking at a similar timetable before opening its new building, which is expected to bring 400 more students downtown daily.
“When you have feet on the ground, you’re going to have people looking for stores and restaurants,” Giarrante said.
If so, the city may accomplish something completely different from the economic growth experienced in the last building boom.
“The exciting part of what we’re seeing is major investments in downtown Joliet that we haven’t seen in many years,” Thanas said.
The older East Side of the city is seeing new investment from the Silver Cross Hopital redevelopment and CN projects. The city also is looking for redevelopment opportunities along Jefferson Street as it cuts through the older West Side parts of town.
“What we’re seeing is an opportunity to rebuild the older parts of Joliet,” Thanas said. “That’s something that got passed up in the boom years.”