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Local News

Joliet and Will County announce deal for future downtown development

Snow gently falls over Chicago Street on Jan. 11, 2016, in downtown Joliet. The city and Will County on Wednesday announced a land swap that will make possible city plans to reopen Chicago Street and create a downtown plaza.
Snow gently falls over Chicago Street on Jan. 11, 2016, in downtown Joliet. The city and Will County on Wednesday announced a land swap that will make possible city plans to reopen Chicago Street and create a downtown plaza.

JOLIET – Joliet and Will County announced a land swap Wednesday that will make possible city plans to reconnect Chicago Street and create a downtown plaza.

The city already has begun planning and spending money for the downtown redevelopment project, confident that a deal with the county eventually would be reached.

But having it done is a benchmark moment that Mayor Bob O'Dekirk noted in a written statement in a news release announcing the agreement.

"Every downtown development plan the city has invested in indicates that reconnecting Chicago Street is key to revitalize downtown Joliet," O'Dekirk said. "The city has talked about this for years but took no action to make it happen."

The mayor said the agreement with the county means "reconnecting Chicago Street and building the city center square is no longer just an idea. It will be a reality."

Planners see reopening Chicago Street as a potential boost to downtown business because it ties the main street downtown directly to Interstate 80.

The route has been blocked for decades at the Will County Courthouse by a parking lot.

The deal announced Wednesday gives the city land now occupied by a parking lot just east of the courthouse. That land will be converted to road connecting to South Chicago Street, which runs to Interstate 80.

In turn, the city will give the county a commuter parking lot next to the courthouse parking lot, which expands the number of parking spaces for the courthouse from 166 to more than 200.

In the release, Will County Executive Larry Walsh also praised the deal.

Noting that Joliet is the county seat, Walsh said, "I have always advocated to keep a strong county presence in the downtown city center, and I am very happy after many years of negotiations we were able to reach a deal that works for all parties involved."

The city also will be able to expand Van Buren Plaza, an area across from the Rialto Square Theatre that contains a fountain and is used as a public gathering space. The city gets the former Will County State's Attorney's Office building and parking lot next to the plaza.

The deal still must be approved by the City Council and County Board.

But City Council members have looked forward to completing the deal, and county leaders also appear to be on board.

In the news release, County Board Speaker Jim Moustis called the agreement a deal that "will benefit both Joliet and Will County residents."

Joliet council member John Gerl, who have been the council's liaison to the county, told The Herald-News that a number of county leaders and their staff were at the meeting when the agreement was reached.

"They felt comfortable that the County Board would be amenable to approving it," Gerl said.

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