JOLIET – The Collins Street Task Force has some plans for the old Joliet Correctional Center but can’t get very far without some help from Springfield.
And, they’re not getting much, task force members said at one of their quarterly meetings Wednesday.
State Sen. Patrick McGuire, D-Joliet, started off the meeting with some bad news from the state’s capital.
McGuire said he checked with a governor’s representative on a possible prison tour for a group from Pennsylvania with experience converting an old prison into a tourist attraction. The answer, McGuire said was, “Not without a budget.”
Other efforts needed to make progress on the prison also have been stymied with the governor’s office response that nothing will be done until the state has a budget.
“This moratorium on the state’s cooperation will not end our work,” McGuire told the task force.
He added that he believes that he believes the local task force is making progress by getting environmental assessments that will be needed to eventually convert the prison.
But the situation is frustrating, said Greg Peerbolte, executive director for the Joliet Area Historical Museum.
Peerbolte has been talking with the group from the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia that wants to tour the Joliet prison. He said the tour will go on in some fashion with or without the state’s cooperation.
“One way or another, they’re coming down. We’ll walk around until someone throws us out,” Peerbolte said.
Peerbolte said there is much interest among travelers in the prison, which is famous in both song and story as the legendary destination of Chicago bad guys. Many out-of-town visitors want to get into the prison, and Peerbolte wants the museum to conduct walking tours there.
As to when that might happen, he does not know.
Local donors have offered to contribute money that could be used to board up an administration building and keep out vandals who have been tearing it up, Peerbolte said. But the state won’t let them in.
“I have people willing to give us money. But we can’t even get in there to spend our own money,” he said.
The task force appeared undaunted, however, and did get some good news.
Genell Scheurell, a senior field officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the agency has a National Treasures program that could help market the prison for eventual redevelopment.
“I would love to see the penitentiary become a National Treasure,” Scheurell told the task force.
People at the National Trust office in Washington, D.C., have been impressed with what they’ve heard about the Joliet prison, she said. Some, she added, would love to take a tour.