JOLIET – Joliet Township Supervisor Dan Vera’s decision to back away from a deal for Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park leaves the city with some decisions of its own to make.
Vera’s pitch for township control of the park stirred up opponents, who said the historic location should remain in the hands of the city. But it also focused attention on the decline of park activity from pre-recession years and the need for better upkeep.
One of the first questions asked of City Manager Jim Hock after he announced Vera’s decision at the City Council meeting Monday was whether the city had budgeted money to continue running the park this year.
Hock assured the council that not only is there money in the budget, but there’s enough to hire a park supervisor. The position has been vacant for months. Hock said he will fill the position.
“At this point in time, it looks like the city will continue support and ownership of the park and move forward,” Hock said.
Bicentennial Park still is an active place with community theater, summertime concerts and occasional events such as Family Fiesta, a three-day, outdoor fundraiser for the Spanish Community Center.
But Vera said he wanted to stage major events, such as were held during the pre-recession years when the park hosted a car show on Father’s Day weekend, fireworks on July 3, a Waterway Daze boat festival that took advantage of the riverside location and a Pumpkinfest in the fall.
“We had envisioned new events and programs to add to the established calendar,” Vera said in a Jan. 29 letter announcing he was withdrawing the township’s proposal.
Vera said the township had “verbal commitments” from four corporate sponsors for “three new events planned for the 2016 season.”
Councilman Michael Turk, the council’s liaison to Bicentennial Park, said the city should talk with Vera about those potential sponsors to see whether it would still be possible to add events at the park.
But Vera’s letter also noted problems at the park that could cost the city money. The city had given the township permission to bring contractors into the park to inspect conditions.
“Several critical health safety repairs and needed improvements were identified,” Vera said in his letter, noting roof problems, electrical issues and broken concrete.
He also noted that the city is aware of the need for repairs.
The $431,000 Bicentennial Park budget includes $60,000 for repairs. In 2015, the city budgeted $160,000 for repairs but only spent $5,000.
Hock, however, said he does not know the extent of repairs needed at the park and will look toward the township inspections to provide guidance.
“I am going to rely somewhat on what his inspection reports say,” Hock said. “I have no idea what the costs will be.”