JOLIET – Downtown real estate developer John Bays added his voice this week to those who say the city needs to reconnect Chicago Street.
Bays was among a number of people who attended a meeting Monday when the Joliet City Council Economic Development Committee reviewed priorities for the new downtown plan.
The committee agreed reconnecting Chicago Street is the top priority.
Bays said it has to happen if downtown is going to thrive.
“Chicago Street is the key,” Bays told the committee. “You open it up, and you get traffic flow up and down the street. ... You need traffic. You need people.”
Chicago Street is the historical main street of downtown Joliet. But a redesign decades ago converted it to a mall-like atmosphere. The street connects with Interstate 80 south of downtown, but the route is interrupted by a Will County Courthouse parking lot. Incoming traffic is diverted to Scott Street.
“Every study has said we have to open up Chicago Street,” Councilwoman Jan Quillman said at the meeting. “That is our lifeline. Every other study hasn’t worked because we haven’t been able to make it happen.”
The downtown plan prepared recently by the Chicago-based Camiros group also lists Chicago Street as the top priority for redevelopment.
Councilman Terry Morris expressed doubt that county officials will give up the parking lot until a new courthouse is built, which could be years. The city in August pledged $10 million to help the county build a new courthouse downtown.
“What do we do in the meantime?” Morris asked.
Bays, who rents office space to the county, said he believes county officials would be agreeable to giving up the space if the city can provide alternative parking.
“We’ve got to get traffic downtown,” Bays said. “We need people downtown. We need action downtown.”
The Camiros plan recommends converting Chicago Street into a multi-modal urban thoroughfare that would be busy with vehicles, pedestrians and even bicyclists.
Kendall Jackson, director of planning for Joliet, said the city is working with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which will provide consultants to develop a plan for redesigning Chicago Street.
COMMITTEE DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT PRIORITIES
1. Reconnect Chicago Street
2. Extend the tax increment financing district to encourage development
3. Reorganize the stakeholder responsibilities, including City Center Partnership
4. Improve parking
5. Address vagrancy
6. Stimulate housing development
7. Convert Chicago Street to a multi-modal thoroughfare
8. Build a park
9. Negotiate an agreement with the county on a downtown courthouse