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Local News

Joliet business leaders urge city to buy Evergreen Terrace

City Council looks at options

JOLIET – Business leaders urged the Joliet City Council to move ahead with the acquisition of Evergreen Terrace at a meeting Monday in which consultants outlined four options for what to do with the property.

Those options ranged from doing nothing with 356-unit apartment complex other than try to run it better to spending up to $70 million for what was termed “deluxe” redevelopment.

The council discussed other options, too, including going back to the owners of Evergreen Terrace to see if they still are interested in a settlement offered more than a year ago that would give the city some oversight but leave the low-income, housing project in private hands.

Business leaders tried to prod the city to move ahead with the $15 million payment due Sept. 1 if Joliet wants to take ownership.

“We’re talking here about a place that’s not as good as it can be,” said Rod Tonelli, chairman of the board at the Joliet City Center Partnership. “You fought a long battle to make it better. I ask you to move forward.”

The city of Joliet won a 10-year court fight to gain eminent domain over Evergreen Terrace, which city officials contended was riddled with crime and dilapidated living conditions when the legal fight started.

The city would need to pay between $11 million and $70 million to redevelop Evergreen Terrace depending on how it does it, according to the presentation at the meeting from Holsten Real Estate Development and Management Corp.

Or, the city could make money off the property if left it as-is, said Peter Holsten, president of the company.

“In this scenario, cash flow is about $1.2 million a year,” Holsten told the council. “That can go into retiring the debt on the initial acquisition price if that’s what’s desired.”

Councilman John Gerl, the only council member to pick a favorite out of the four options, said the city should pursue the as-is plan. Gerl said he believed the city should eventually demolish the property or seek private companies for redevelopment.

“I’m not sure the original intent 10 years ago was that the city become developers,” he said.

Holsten said the as-is option includes better management of the facility, although he also acknowledged that he did not know how Evergreen Terrace was managed now.

The as-is plan does not include the costs of building and operating a community center with daycare, which is required in a court settlement with the federal government. Holsten representatives estimated that such a center could cost $2.5 million to build and maybe $300,000 a year to operate.

O’Dekirk suggested that the city go back to Evergreen Terrace owners and see if they still are interested in a settlement that was offered but never brought to the council for consideration. That settlement would give the city an oversight committee while leaving Evergreen Terrace in private hands. It also would not require payment of the other side’s legal bills. City officials say Joliet will have to pay $7 million in opposing legal bills if it does not take ownership.

“I believe now that they’ve lost the case, if they were willing to eat the attorney’s fees when they still had a chance of winning, I don’t know why they wouldn’t be willing to do that now,” O’Dekirk said.

But business leaders said the city should not leave the complex in private ownership.

“We need to improve the safety and quality of life for those who live in Evergreen Terrace, as well as those in neighboring communities,” said Mary Jaworski, president of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

James Roolf, a Joliet banker who was part of the original effort to take control of Evergreen Terrace, said a lot has changed since then, but added, “I would suggest there is a cost to doing nothing. That cost may be more than the millions of dollars you’re talking about spending now.”

The City Council will consider Evergreen Terrace again at its next regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 4.

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