JOLIET – A scrap metal recycling company that stands in the way of the future bus line in Joliet’s new transportation center may get thrown under the bus if its owners don’t agree soon to sell the property to the city.
The Joliet City Council recently approved the use of its eminent domain and “quick-take” powers to acquire Ace Iron & Metals Inc., 126-148 St. Louis St.
City Manager Jim Hock said the property is needed for the widening and realignment of St. Louis Street, which runs parallel to Chicago Street a block east. The property is located near the intersection of St. Louis and Third streets.
“We’re running out of time and we need this lot, so we need to press forward with a quick take,” Hock told the City Council at its April 1 session.
Hock said the city has been negotiating the sale for more than 18 months but has been unable to make a deal.
But Jason Freeman, general manager of the family business, said Ace Iron agreed to sell the property to the city months ago under an agreement brokered by then-City Manager Tom Thanas. But the city neglected to act on the contract, Freeman said.
“We had a deal in place with Thanas,” Freeman said. “Then he left and they forgot about the deal.”
Hock said the city has made two offers on the site, one for just the warehouse for the appraised value of $625,000 and the other for the warehouse, plus additional adjoining properties that would involve additional cash and land swaps of some city property.
Ace’s counter-offer was in excess of $1 million, Hock said.
Freeman said the city’s offers would buy part but not all of the property.
“They want to take half and leave half,” Freeman said. “It’s like taking your living room and family room and moving it to another location away from your kitchen and bedroom.”
Finding a new location also has been a challenge, Freeman said. The company has looked at 20 different relocation properties over the last couple of years.
“It’s been hard to find a suitable replacement,” Freeman said.
Freeman said the scrap business, which purchases ferrous and non-ferrous metals from the public and industry, has been at the same location since it was founded by his great-grandfather 125 years ago. In 1900, Ace became the first licensed recycling company in Will County, he said.
City Attorney Jeff Plyman estimated it would take at least three or four months for the courts to rule on the quick take.
The city then could take possession of the site, leaving the court to determine the value of the property at a future date. The city would be required to move everything from the site, Hock said.
“We will continue to negotiate right up to the point of a hearing date on quick take with the property owner and continue to listen to reasonable offers to see if we can settle it prior to an actual court date,” Hock said.
Freeman said he hasn’t heard from the city since its decision to evoke its eminent domain and quick take powers.
Mayor Tom Giarrante said he brought both sides together at a good faith meeting in late March, but they were unable to reach an agreement.
In addition to the widening of St. Louis Street, the city plans to use part of the site for stormwater detention to accommodate runoff from the transportation center project. The site also will provide replacement parking for a nearby Pace facility that will be partially displaced by the road realignment.
Hock told the council that delays on acquisition of the property probably would not hold up the overall completion of the project, which will include both new bus and train stations.
“But we will eventually need it no matter what for widening of the street and completion of the project,” Hock said. “After 18 months, we haven’t been able to come to any conclusion. There’s really no reason to wait.”