JOLIET – The Camiros “Downtown Plan” presented last week to the City Council can be interesting reading – if you’re interested in downtown Joliet.
Hardly written with rose-colored glasses on, the report delineates many of the problems that lie ahead for downtown economic development, including the low- to moderate-income neighborhoods that surround the business district.
The report provides details not easily available otherwise, including occupancy rates in downtown office buildings, business trends since the 1970s and employment numbers.
It also recognizes downtown strengths, recognizing that government is adding the most jobs but noting that education has become the fastest growing source of new employment and a potential catalyst for a “Mecca for young adults” that Camiros sees as an economic opportunity for the city.
Rod Tonelli, president of the City Center Partnership, said people should read the 45-page report and not rely on media accounts or other summaries without looking at Camiros’ findings in detail.
“If they take the time to actually pick up a copy and read it, there’s reason to be excited,” Tonelli said.
The report can be found on the city of Joliet website, www.cityofjoliet.info.
The excitement, Tonelli said, is the potential to take advantage of opportunities provided by the new Joliet Junior College campus slated to open in January 2017, the Robert W. Pilaster Free Enterprise Center opened in 2014 by the University of St. Francis, and the transportation center under construction downtown.
“This is the first time in decades that we’ve had this number of catalyzing projects,” said Tonelli, who also counts the future Will County Courthouse while admitting future construction is still iffy.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk was not so enthusiastic about the report. The mayor criticized Camiros planner Bill James for not providing dollar amounts and other details.
“We’ve had years of talk. I was looking for a blueprint going forward,” O’Dekirk said later.
But he did say the ideas in the plan are good if the city can put them into action.
Some have criticized the plan for being too repetitive of past plans in what it recommends for the future of downtown Joliet. But more than half of the plan is an analysis of existing conditions and recommendations for how to implement changes downtown.
Some key projects proposed in the plan are:
• A Chicago Street redesign to reverse the past attempt to create a pedestrian mall, make downtown more accessible from Interstate 80, and create a more dynamic street with cafe dining and bike lanes;
• A focus on rental housing for young adults to bring residents downtown and create a market for business;
• Making metered parking payable with Smart Cards to upgrade the image downtown and make it more user-friendly, especially for cash-averse young people;
• Creation of a park at Chicago and Clinton streets that could be used for special events and would provide a recreational amenity to future residents;
• Make bikeway improvements that, combined with the new transportation center, would fit with a trend toward multi-modal transportation, appeal to young adults and other bicyclists, and connect with regional bike trails.
SOME FACTS AND FIGURES FROM THE DOWNTOWN PLAN
• The largest land use downtown is for parking, which takes up 64 of 149 total acres. Commercial use comes in second with Harrah’s Casino being the largest. Public use, including government offices, churches and schools, ranks third.
• In 1975, Chicago, Ottawa, Clinton and Van Buren streets had more than 80 stores, restaurants and bars. In 2013, there were 13 such businesses on those streets.
• More than 5,200 people worked downtown in 2011, up from 5,000 in 2002. Education was the fastest growing job sector although a small one.
• Government jobs downtown grew from 3,000 in 2002 to 3,400 in 2011. Retail trade jobs in that period fell from 109 to 71.
• The two large apartment buildings downtown are: Louis Joliet Apartments, which has 61 units and a 92 percent occupancy rate: and Senior Suites of Joliet, which has 90 units and 100 percent occupancy.