JOLIET – Planners on Wednesday presented what they called a “catalytic project” that would bring downtown Joliet national attention and compel visitors to get out of their cars and walk along transformed Chicago Street.
But some in the audience at the forum wanted to know the future of a parking lot for patrons of the Joliet Public Library.
That parking lot in the plans presented at the forum would become part of a new downtown square, which also would have green space for playing, a stage for performances and a ground-level fountain area that could be converted into a skating rink in the winter.
The forum at the Joliet Area Historical Museum was held to present the public with a detailed look at plans being drawn up for an improved Chicago Street and a public square that would expand the existing Van Buren Plaza and provide a downtown gathering space.
The expansion plan also takes in the library parking lot, which would become a section of the square that planners call “Library Garden” with sculptures on which kids could climb and a seating area designed for storytime.
“Right now, this is a city without a green square,” said city planner Ferhat Zerin, noting the lawn and trees that would be put into the square. “There is no place you can go and hang out in the sun or shade, or in the winter.”
Architect Matt Strange said the square is designed to be “multigenerational.”
“It draws not only a younger crowd but also an older crowd,” Strange said.
But two people asked about the library parking during a question-and-answer session that followed the presentation.
“A public library needs public parking,” one person said. “That’s my concern. Where is the public parking for the downtown public library?”
The parking lot at Chicago and Clinton streets is located across the street from the library and offers free parking for library patrons. The parking lot still belongs to the library, but currently is closed to accommodate the demolition of the former Will County State’s Attorney’s Office building, which is being knocked down to make room for the plaza.
Rita Renwick of Joliet said many library patrons might not want to use the nearby Ottawa Street parking garage if the free parking lot is taken away.
“I see families with kids in strollers, and I’m thinking handicapped people maybe would not go to the deck for parking,” Renwick said.
Zerin, an owner of Ginkgo Planning & Design, which developed the square plan, acknowledged that parking is “a very critical component” of the plan and that the library is “a major anchor for this park.”
City planning director Michael Schwarz said there would be more parking spaces on Chicago Street with the street redesign. He said the city is working with the library to create designated parking for library patrons on the street and in the parking garage.
Chicago Street would be converted from the mall-like design that exists now to create more room for cars and parking spaces, while also accommodating bicyclists, pedestrians and outside cafe dining, according to the plan.
The redesign of the street is part of the reopening of Chicago Street, which would become a direct route to Interstate 80 in 2019 under the current construction schedule.
Planners believe the opening of Chicago Street will bring more cars into the heart of downtown and more customers for the businesses there.
Another member of the audience asked the planners if they had any estimate on the number of cars that would be coming downtown once Chicago Street is opened and redesigned.
“We really have no way of guesstimating that,” Zerin said. But she noted that State Street in Chicago was revitalized when a similar redesign was done there.