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Local News

Joliet Township gives up Bicentennial Park plan – for now

Several slabs of stone face the Des Plaines River with Bicentennial Park's name etched into the surface.  Wednesday, Sept. 9, at Bicentennial Park in Joliet.
Several slabs of stone face the Des Plaines River with Bicentennial Park's name etched into the surface. Wednesday, Sept. 9, at Bicentennial Park in Joliet.

JOLIET – Joliet Township won’t take over Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park – at least not for now.

Township Supervisor Dan Vera has notified the city, which owns the park, that the township is “withdrawing our interest to acquire and operate Bicentennial Park at this time.”

Vera’s position was stated in a Jan. 29 letter released Monday at the Joliet City Council meeting.

Vera also said the township “would welcome the opportunity to explore this matter in the future.”

But Vera said too many issues remain unresolved since the city in September gave the township permission to bring contractors into the park to examine conditions there.

It was never clear whether the City Council would accept a formal proposal from the township to take ownership of the park. The idea faced opposition from residents in the neighborhood around the park. But Vera’s proposal also stirred some interest because he suggested the township would have the wherewithal to bring back popular events such as Pumpkinfest that were dropped because of budget issues.

“I actually see this as a loss to the city,” Councilman Pat Mudron said, adding that he thought the township would have been able to make improvements at the park.

But Candace Johnson, co-president of the St. John’s Neighborhood Association, said after the meeting that she was concerned that Vera’s letter was “very open ended” and left open the possibility that the township proposal could be revived.

At the meeting, Johnson told the council, “We still stand firm that we don’t want anyone other than the city of Joliet to hold Bicentennial Park.”

Johnson and others have said that the park, built on the historic site of the Joliet’s first commercial district, should remain property of the city.

Joliet resident Robert Hernandez said the city should put more funding into the park to bring back some of the festivals held there before.

Councilman Mike Turk noted that Vera’s letter mentions verbal commitments from four corporate partners willing to sponsor events in 2016. Turk asked City Manager Jim Hock to talk with Vera about those partners and see if they would work with the city to fund events.

Vera was not at the meeting.

Among the unresolved issues Vera mentioned in the letter was “deferred maintenance and neglected repairs,” including roof problems, broken concrete and “electrical issues.” Vera also noted the city had not made a decision on whether park employees would stay with the city or go with the township if the park changed hands.

Vera faced a deadline this week to report on his intentions to the council after Turk and Councilwoman Jan Quillman last month said they wanted to hear his plans. They said the matter had been dragging on too long, leaving the future of the park uncertain.

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