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Local News

Deck parking: low tech, low price

But city has $2 million plan to upgrade downtown facilities

A visitor to Joliet waited for the elevator to reach the ground floor at the Ottawa Street parking deck.

“This thing’s as slow as a snail,” said the man, who would only identify himself as a resident of Worth who comes to Joliet once a month on court business.

The parking deck has a slow elevator, an antiquated cash-only payment system, and an entry gate and ticket dispenser that may date back to the 1970s, when the facility was built.

Cleaning crews visit the stairwells early every morning, sometimes ridding them of urine and even feces left by overnight visitors.

Still, as the man from Worth noted, “it’s convenient and it’s cheap.” He said that it’s not unusual to pay $10 to $15 for parking in other towns.

The rate is 50 cents an hour at the downtown parking decks on Ottawa and Scott streets.

Rates could go up if Joliet moves forward on a plan, now on hold, to upgrade the decks.

Downtown businessman George Rydman said improvements are overdue.

Rydman said he’s seen people beat on the elevator doors or walk away in frustration waiting for the elevator to descend from the fourth level to the ground floor.

“What’s the takeaway from people who use the deck and need the elevator? What’s their takeaway from downtown Joliet?” Rydman asked.

Rydman runs a court reporting business located near the Ottawa Street deck. His employees and vendors typically use the deck, carrying equipment and files on carts, and depend on the elevator.

When the elevator breaks down, his employees go up and down the ramps with their carts. In June the elevator was out of service for a week.

“You have three choices,” Rydman said. “You have a slow elevator Or, you can come down the stairs, and you have urine, feces and secondhand smoke.”

The third choice is the ramps.

Joliet Parking Superintendent Tom Schwerha said cleaning crews do encounter feces and urine.

It’s not on a daily basis, he said. But a crew is sent early each morning to ensure the stairwells are clean before the workday starts.

The city has been putting money into the decks.

“We replaced all the lighting with LED lighting,” Schwerha said. “We’ve been replacing doors in the stairwells, and we’ve been replacing some of the landings and the stairs themselves.”

Next priorities are updating the cash-only payment system and changing the antiquated gateway entry system.

Upgrades are needed, interim City Manager Steve Jones said, who refers to the cash-only payment system as a “cigar box approach.”

Jones was working on a plan to upgrade the decks. But that project was put on hold last month when he was assigned to duties as interim city manager.

“The central factor in all this is
$2 million in repairs are needed in the two decks,” Jones said.

The total cost of the project, as well as rate increase needed to fund it, have not been determined.

Attorney Bruce Zumstein, who has had an office downtown since 1973, has used the decks since they were built.

Two weeks ago, he got stuck in the Ottawa Street elevator when the doors did not open on the fourth level and thought of the June breakdown when someone was trapped inside.

“I didn’t panic,” Zumstein said. “I pushed the down button to go back down. When I got to the ground floor it opened. ... I didn’t want to be the next guy they had to call the fire department to get out of there.”

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