JOLIET – They came not to praise it but to raze it.
Des Plaines Garden Homes is coming down.
At a demolition ceremony Friday, speakers lauded the future Water’s Edge development that will replace the city’s first public housing project. There were no signs of remorse for the end of Des Plaines Garden.
“I was a product of public housing,” Michael Simelton, CEO of the Housing Authority of Joliet, told the gathering at the ceremony. “I grew up in public housing. I know the problems of public housing.”
Simelton said the replacement of Des Plaines Garden with a mixed-income community is “making history.”
“It’s going to impact Joliet in a big way,” he said.
Des Plaines Garden consists of 122 apartments that will be demolished over the next month.
Water’s Edge will have 69 single-family homes and townhomes.
The less-crowded community is seen as a better option to large public housing projects. Water’s Edge residents also will have a variety of income levels, which housing officials view as a better mix for a neighborhood.
Des Plaines Garden residents received Section 8 vouchers and have moved elsewhere. They will be first on the list to move to Water’s Edge if they are interested.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk lauded the transition, looking back to his years as a Joliet police officer in the Forest Park neighborhood that once included the Poole Garden Homes project.
Poole Garden was torn down and replaced by Liberty Meadow Estates, a mixed-income subdivision that includes single-family homes and options to buy homes.
O’Dekirk called the transition to Liberty Meadow “a great project,” leading to the elimination of crime associated with the Poole Garden Homes. The mayor said crime at that project and other public housing typically is committed by people who don’t live there.
“These projects are magnets that draw crime, and the victims are the people who live there and are trying to raise families,” he said.
Not everyone at the ceremony was completely glad to see Des Plaines Garden go.
Glenda McCullom, a onetime resident of Des Plaines Garden and now pastor at Kingdom Builders International Church in Joliet, praised the transition while speaking at the ceremony.
Later, however, she said the demolition was “bittersweet” as she pointed to the apartments where she lived from 1966 to 1972.
“We lost our house, so we ended up here,” McCullom said.
The family house in Forest Park did not have running water, however, and the move to Des Plaines Garden “was a step up for us,” she said. “We were close to downtown where we could walk. We could take the bus.”
Des Plaines Garden, located on Des Plaines Street, is just south of downtown. Not a high-rise, the apartments were two-story units in a number of buildings that line the street. They were built over a period running from 1954 to 1966, according to the Housing Authority.
Mittchelena Meade, chairwoman of the board at the Housing Authority, said she believes the $19 million Water’s Edge development will be an improvement for the surrounding neighborhood, where she once lived.
“I grew up one block down the road,” Meade said. “What this is going to do for the community is so exciting. There have been changes. But it’s going to come back.”
• Demolition expected to take about a month.
• Construction then begins on Water’s Edge.
• First Water’s Edge homes available for occupancy in 2018.