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Visitors center to open at Old Joliet Prison

The Old Joliet Prison on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Joliet, Ill.
The Old Joliet Prison on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Joliet, Ill.

A visitors center is slated to open this summer at the former Joliet Correctional Center, another step forward in the conversion of the prison into a destination spot.

Plans for the visitors center were announced last month as the city and Joliet Area Historical Museum waited to hear if a $250,000 matching grant would come through. The grant has been approved, Councilman Don Dickinson announced at the Joliet City Council meeting on Tuesday.

Joliet will match the grant with $250,000 in prison restoration funds for a total of $500,000 to be spent on the visitors center, interpretive signs and lighting, said Dickinson, who is now chairman of the council’s Prison Committee.

The visitors center will be created inside the guard house on the edge of the main parking lot at the prison.

Worn interpretive signs that were put in the main parking lot years before the city gained access to the prison will be replaced, and signs will be added inside the prison to add to the tour experience.

Lighting will be added to the exterior walls along Collins Street and adjacent to the main parking lot.

Economic Development Director Steve Jones said the improvements could take up to a year to complete but opening a visitors center in some fashion is a priority.

“We hope to have the visitors center by midsummer,” Jones said.

The grant comes from the state’s Tourist Attraction Program, and requires Joliet to spend the first $125,000 of its share by June 30 and the remaining $125,000 by June 30, 2020.

Restoration funds are being generated by fundraisers, tours and other activities at the prison on Collins Street that was opened for visitors last year after the city took out a five-year lease on the state-owned facility.

Also at the council meeting, three proclamations were read on behalf of groups that have helped restore, open and promote the prison:

• The Three Rivers Construction Alliance, the Will and Grundy Building Trades Council, and 13 specific union locals

• The Old Joliet Prison Preservation Coalition

• The Old Joliet Prison Burnt District Artists.

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