Collins St. development talk: ‘Let’s think big’
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org September 8, 2011 8:12PM
Updated: November 9, 2011 12:44PM
JOLIET — East Siders were urged to think big about future uses for the former Joliet Correctional Center and U.S. Steel mill during a community meeting this week.
The city would like to see the two sites — both on Collins Street and not in use — redeveloped. It’s a project planners admit could take a long time.
But the response at a community meeting this week was optimistic.
“Let’s think big,” said Amy Sanchez, president of the Collins Street Neighborhood Council. “Let’s think outside of the little boxes that we’ve been thinking in for years and years. We need to think of the next 20 years — for our kids and for our grandkids.”
The thinking among some 40 people at a Wednesday meeting at Forest Park School was that redevelopment of the two sites, which total 270 acres, would create opportunities to attract stores, create jobs, add more recreation to the East Side, and even make the neighborhood a tourist spot for potential visitors to the historic prison.
Those were some of the ideas presented by people at the meeting, although they were realistic in their expectations.
Archie Gavin, a Joliet resident who once worked at the steel mill, noted contamination at the site would likely slow down plans for redevelopment.
Gavin and Chuck Springer of Joliet also said the city should not overlook the possibility of reusing the U.S. Steel site for manufacturing.
“We need jobs in Joliet,” Gavin said. “Tourism is great. But tourism doesn’t hire a lot of people. Light industry does.”
The Joliet prison has been considered a potential tourist destination because of interest in the prison, especially among Route 66 travelers.
The prison, too, would require cleanup before it could be put in use, said Pete Saunders, a senior planner with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
CMAP conducted the community meeting Wednesday and another one Thursday. The meetings are part of a planning process that will run until February before a report is made to the city. The Chicago-based Urban Land Institute also will bring together planners, developers and business people to review the community ideas and present their recommendations on how the prison and steel mill could be redeveloped.
Saunders said the sites have business potential. Within a two-mile radius there are 20,000 households and 62,000 residents, and the median household income is $52,000, he said. In a 5-mile radius, there are 55,000 households with 155,000 residents, and the median household income is $65,000.
The prison, which was closed in 2002, belongs to the state. U.S. Steel owns the mill site, which last functioned as a steel plant in 2001.