Editor's note: This story looks at the effect of a newly expanded special service area on Cass Street. The Herald-News will visit Collins and South Chicago streets, which were also part of the area's expansion, in future stories.
JOLIET – Businesses along Cass Street will pay more taxes this year. What they get for their money is still to be determined.
Cass Street is one of three business corridors being added to the downtown special service area, which creates a special property tax aimed at fostering economic development.
Just what economic development Cass Street needs is something city officials say they will work out with business owners in the near future.
Business owners interviewed by The Herald-News weren’t so sure either, but they did have a few ideas to improve the neighborhood.
One thing they agreed upon is that the city needs to fix a smell that emerges from the Cass Street sewer, especially when weather is warm.
“You come here in the summer, and there’s a sewer smell,” said Dan Gutierrez, owner of Vela’s Tap, a restaurant and bar. “Can you imagine coming out of your car, and you smell a sulfur or rotten egg smell, and you’re going to a restaurant to eat?”
Gutierrez also questioned the need for parking meters on Cass Street and suggested that the city offer small businesses some kind of relief on regulations.
He wanted to pave an empty lot next to the restaurant to create off-street parking. Paving the lot would have cost $4,000. But the cost of meeting regulations, including changing the level of the land to meet storm sewer requirements and adding landscaping, was estimated at $200,000.
“I can’t afford it,” Gutierrez said.
JCM Uniforms spent $100,000 to create a parking lot in 1979 when the business was moved from another location on Cass Street where customers had to park on the street and pay the meters.
“Part of the deal I had was we had to have parking because we were paying parking tickets for our customers,” owner Nick Polykandriotis said. “I had customers who were so upset that when I bought this building I added parking.”
Cass Street, he said, has some of the same problems as downtown: parking and one-way streets. Free off-street parking would be helpful, Polykandriotis said. But now that he has his own parking lot, one-way streets are his top priority.
“If they really want to improve the entryways downtown, let’s get rid of the one-way streets,” he said. “People who don’t know this town don’t know how to get in and out.”
Making Cass Street two-way and keeping parking on both sides of the street could prove difficult because of its width, Polykandriotis said. But he’s interested in joining the board that oversees spending of special service area funds to pursue the issue.
“I need to get involved,” he said.
The Joliet City Center Partnership oversees the spending of special service area funds downtown. The plan is to bring business owners from the Cass, Collins and South Chicago street corridors, which are being added to the special service area, onto the partnership board.
Joliet Economic Development Director Steve Jones said an open house will be set up so business people in the new corridors can learn more about the special service area and talk about their needs.
Business owners in the new special service area may not know what to make of it because the city has not had an economic development program for those streets, Jones said.
“We’ve done little or nothing in that area for years,” he said. “Until there’s a real program in front of somebody, a lot of this is conceptual.”
Kris Collins, co-owner of Dan’s Homemade Candies, mentioned a Cass Street sidewalk program that improved the neighborhood. But that could have been 25 years ago, she said.
Changes in shopping patterns since downtown was the city’s retail hub have had the biggest impact on business on Cass Street, Collins said. Reversing those patterns will be tough.
“That’s a million-dollar question,” Collins said. “If I had the answer to that, I’d be rich.”
SPECIAL SERVICE AREA EXPANSION
• Adds Cass, Collins and South Chicago streets to downtown special service area;
• 1,224 parcels of property;
• Special service area property tax will be paid on new properties in 2017;
• Tax is 95 cents per $100 of assessed valuation;
• Estimated $230,000 a year to be generated in new areas.