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Bays wants "big-time restaurant" in downtown Joliet

Developer John Bays told a Joliet City Council committee on Thursday that he is trying to bring a "big-time restaurant" to this downtown building at Cass and Ottawa streets.
Developer John Bays told a Joliet City Council committee on Thursday that he is trying to bring a "big-time restaurant" to this downtown building at Cass and Ottawa streets.

JOLIET – John Bays laid out his plans for “a big-time restaurant for downtown Joliet” at the Joliet City Council meeting Thursday.

“I want something to pull people from the West Side, but you’ve got to have a big name,” Bays told the Economic Development Committee. “I’m trying to prove a point to people who say I can’t make this happen.”

He said that Cooper’s Hawk and Olive Garden are the kind of restaurants he would like to see in his building.

Bays is one of the biggest commercial property developers downtown. His buildings include the recently redeveloped First Midwest Bank on Chicago Street and the Cass Street building occupied by The Forge nightclub.

About a year ago, Bays bought the Catholic Charities building at Cass and Ottawa streets, where he since has been renovating the ground floor to make room for a future restaurant.

The committee gave preliminary approval to tax increment financing incentives that would allow Bays to recoup renovation costs by keeping the hike in property tax dollars he otherwise would have paid when the assessed value of the building rises with improvements.

The TIF plan will advance to the full City Council for a vote, which likely will meet Nov. 7.

“What you have is virtually the same agreement that you did for First Midwest,” economic development director Steve Jones told the committee, referring to the TIF incentives previously approved for that Bays project.

“First Midwest is a glowing success,” committee chairman Larry Hug said.

Catholic Charities continues to occupy both the third floor and part of the second floor of the building, which at one time was Al Baskin’s, the biggest clothing store in Joliet.

Bays said he could rent out the ground-floor space now, but wants to wait to attract a recognized restaurant that could draw a lot of business downtown.

One sticking point, he said, is that restaurant companies want to see Chicago Street opened up before they move in.

The city has moved forward the plan to reopen Chicago Street, promoted for years as a way to bring more traffic to the heart of downtown.

Phase-one engineering has been completed for the project, which would make Chicago Street, the main thoroughfare downtown, directly linked to Interstate 80. Traffic still coming downtown from Interstate 80 on Chicago Street is diverted south of the Will County Courthouse, where the street is cut off for one block.

Preliminary estimates say that construction could start sometime in 2018 and continue into 2019.

“Everybody I’m talking to wants that traffic downtown,” Bays said after the meeting. “They want to see [Chicago Street] open. I tell them it’s going to open, but it’s been talked about for years. They want to see it.”

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