JOLIET – Joliet is gaining some control of the prison that brought the city’s name to movie buffs and TV watchers for decades.
The City Council on Tuesday voted to enter into a five-year lease that gives Joliet access and some responsibility for the Joliet Correctional Center, which the state shut down in 2002.
The state retains ownership, while city officials said the five-year lease provides an opportunity to explore potential uses of the prison and possibly stem the deterioration that has occurred since it was shut down.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk called the lease “a measured step forward” to take action on the prison.
“This has been sitting there for 15 years,” O’Dekirk said. “It looks horrible. It sits at an entryway to the city.”
O’Dekirk said the blight of the property would not be tolerated it if was located in a more prosperous section of Joliet.
“I believe this is an intelligent agreement,” he said.
The City Council voted, 6-2, for the intergovernmental agreement with the state.
Voting no were council members Pat Mudron and Larry Hug, who said they were not satisfied that the city had sufficiently explored costs associated with the lease.
“I do believe that it’s an opportunity, but not at this time,” Mudron said. “I cannot get involved with an agreement like this without a solid business plan.”
Hug questioned the city’s potential liability under the lease that now puts security for the prison, which has been broken into and vandalized for years, in the hands of Joliet. He called the lease “very open-ended.”
The lease also calls for the city to maintain the prison.
But Assistant City Attorney Chris Regis said that the city would not be obligated to maintain the prison beyond what the state has been doing.
“We all know that the state has provided zero maintenance for the last 15 years,” Regis said.
He said the city has not budgeted any money for the prison and would not be pouring funds into it. But the city is negotiating with other parties interested in the prison.
Quinn Adamowski, co-chairman of a prison acquisition committee with Joliet Area Historical Museum Director Greg Peerbolte, urged the City Council to approve the agreement.
“There are people who are extremely interested in the project,” Adamowski said. “They see potential there. What they are trying to do is find a way to preserve the property for the public trust.”
Adamowski noted there is “international interest” in the prison.
The Joliet prison has been a reference point in crime movies and TV shows, as well as providing the opening scene to the movie, “The Blues Brothers.”