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Local News

Joliet city manager weighs scaled-down approach to prison redevelopment

New Joliet City Manager Jim Hock wants to take a scaled-down look at the redevelopment potential for the old Joliet Correctional Center.

The 19th century prison, which has deteriorated since being shuttered in 2002, carries an estimated $3.8 million price tag just to stabilize the structure. That cost scares away potential developers, city officials say.

But Hock wonders if the costs could be controlled if only parts of the prison were restored and reused.

“The question is, does the whole facility need to be accessible?” Hock said last month. “From a historical perspective, we don’t need to fix every building and every cafeteria.”

There are seven buildings within the Collins Street prison. One of them caught fire in July, rekindling questions about what the city and state are going to do about the rapidly deteriorating but historically interesting prison.

Hock wants to find out if limited redevelopment of the prison would be more economical and, thus, more likely.

Five years ago, the city of Joliet took that approach in a way when it made an arrangement with the state to make the prison parking lot suitable for travelers and other visitors interested in the prison.

The Joliet prison has some fame as a place name in old movies about Chicago crime and more recently as the setting for the opening scene of “The Blues Brothers.” The parking lot just outside the warden’s office and prison walls features sign boards that tell of the history of the Joliet Correctional Center and the prisoners held there. But there is no access inside the prison.

The Joliet City Council renewed the parking lot arrangement with the state last month for another five years.

Mayor Thomas Giarrante said there is a business interested in using the prison site.

“The problem is the initial cost to make it safe is $3.8 million,” Giarrante said.

The state owns the prison but has not made any serious effort to pursue redevelopment.

The city has wanted to see the site put back into use and brought in Urban Land Institute Chicago in early 2012 to study the redevelopment potential for the prison. In March 2013, the group reported there is potential but also said millions must be spent to stabilize the structure. Urban Land Institute Chicago also said the potential for redevelopment could disappear because of the rate at which the prison was deteriorating, which suggests the stabilization costs could be higher now if the buildings still can be saved.

Hock is expected to tour the prison sometime in January with state Sen. Patrick McGuire and probably someone from the Joliet Area Historical Museum.

McGuire said the Illinois Department of Corrections is arranging the tour at his request.

McGuire, who has joined the efforts to redevelop the prison, said he thought the new city manager should get inside.

“I want him to see it with his own eyes,” McGuire said.

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