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Local News

Evergreen Terrace debate has burst into the open

JOLIET – After nearly nine years of closed door sessions on the city’s legal wranglings with Evergreen Terrace, the information floodgates have suddenly opened.

The future of the troubled housing complex has become an increasingly divisive issue on the council, which has been using recent public meetings as a launching pad to raise issues and release reports that in the past were buried in executive sessions.

Last week was no exception.

Monday’s pre-council session included a presentation by Holsten Real Estate Development Corp. – the company tagged to redevelop the subsidized housing project should the city win its condemnation lawsuit – as well as the release of a 130-page feasibility analysis of the project that the city commissioned in 2011.

The evening was capped off with public comments from a host of Joliet business leaders, including Russ Slinkard of the Joliet Area Chamber of Commerce, Pam Owens of the City Center Partnership and Jim Roolf, a local banker who lobbied Washington leaders and HUD officials on the project back in 2005-06. All urged the city to move forward with the condemnation plan.

Community activist Bob Hernandez urged the council to consider the needs of Evergreen Terrace’s approximately 800 residents.

On Tuesday, Mayor Tom Giarrante released a Joliet Police Department analysis of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report data that showed the average per capita crime rate at Evergreen Terrace to be three times that of the city.

On Thursday, Councilman Bob O’Dekirk, who will challenge Giarrante in the 2015 mayoral election, claimed Giarrante used “selective pieces” of the report for a political agenda.

The debate in Joliet is happening a month before a federal judge is expected to rule whether the city can take over Evergreen Terrace, a privately owned but government-subsidized apartment complex for low-income residents.

The long legal battle, which started in 2005, could end later this year.

A 2011 report produced by EJP Consulting Group studied the feasibility of putting Evergreen Terrace under city control.

The report listed a number of alternatives for redevelopment of the privately owned housing complex if pit was placed in the city hands. It also listed development costs ranging from $47.4 million to $60.9 million.

The report also looked at financing options, which have become a major concern for several council members.

City Attorney Jeff Plyman said the EJP study concludes that Illinois Housing Development Authority tax credits and HUD rent subsidies would cover development costs.

Councilman Larry Hug doesn’t buy it. He fears the city’s costs will skyrocket from the $4.7 million it has already spent once acquisition costs and additional legal expenses are factored in. Hug also questions whether government funding will be available.

“Joliet is not going to just waltz in there and get first dibs,” Hug said.

Holsten, the company that redeveloped Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green neighborhood, has now stepped into the fray.

Peter Holsten, president of Holsten, told the council Monday that any redevelopment will require “layered financing” because no single source of funding will be enough. Holsten identified IHDA tax credits, HUD subsidies and city, county and state government as primary funding sources.

“You’ll need to turn over all the stones and put it together,” Holsten said.

Holsten has redeveloped more than 5,000 housing units since 1975. Its projects include Parkside of Old Town (formerly Cabrini Green) on Chicago’s near north side, Wilson Yard in Uptown and Whistler’s Crossing in Riverdale.

Pressed by Hug regarding acquisition costs, Holsten said it was one of the issues the city would have to deal with, possibly through a bond issue.

Holsten’s presentation outlined a series of phases where tenants would be moved offsite, with the complex either renovated or demolished and rebuilt, followed by some tenants moving back, followed by additional development.

OUTBOX

Just about everyone present at Monday night’s pre-council meeting had something to say about Evergreen Terrace:
• Jim Roolf, prominent Joliet banker: “I think this debate is healthy. ...There is no box here, so let’s not worry about thinking outside the box.”
• Councilman Larry Hug: “This is a $57 million roll of the dice.”
• Russ Slinkard, president of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce: “I would hope this inspires us to continue the process and meet with stakeholders.”
• Bob Hernandez, community activist: “Evergreen is not Cabrini Green.”
• Pam Owens, director of the City Center Partnership: Evergreen Terrace “is detrimental of downtown Joliet’s image.”

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