Thanas: Community effort needed to revitalize downtown Joliet
By Bob Okon email@example.com
Business and community leaders need to become “cheerleaders” for downtown Joliet to help spur redevelopment, City Manager Thomas Thanas told a Chamber of Commerce audience on Monday.
Thanas said downtown Joliet has a promising future because of projects already in the works and trends favoring urban lifestyles.
But, he said, city planners sometimes feel like they’re working alone as they map out the future of the old central business district.
“We spend a lot time working on downtown Joliet. We frequently ask why,” Thanas said at a business luncheon for the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Downtown advocates, he said, encounter “a lot of negativity about downtown Joliet.”
He called at least three times in the speech for more citizen involvement in the downtown redevelopment efforts.
“I’m looking for all of you to step up and be part of it,” he said. “This is not a city of Joliet downtown. This is your downtown.”
The biggest projects in the works now involve public money: a $42 million public transportation center to be built mostly with state and city money; and an expanded Joliet Junior College campus estimated to cost $50 million.
Meanwhile, Thanas acknowledged, the downtown district continues to lose firms that look elsewhere for the kind of office space they need. He noted the migration of law offices out of downtown to other sections of the city.
Thanas also addressed the recent decision by the Diocese of Joliet to move its offices to Crest Hill. Most of those offices are not downtown now. But the diocese opted not to take downtown space suggested by City Hall. And, the move eventually means that Catholic Charities will leave the office space it now occupies downtown.
Still, Thanas pointed to the future JJC campus as an example of how downtown can be modernized with new buildings. The building will be constructed with lots of glass, which, Thanas noted, contrasts with what some people want to see in downtown architecture.
But, he said, JJC officials sold him on the concept with the message, “You want this building to be alive. You want it to shine brightly on North Chicago Street.”
Thanas said there are trends toward more urban lifestyles and greater use of public transportation that should help attract people downtown. He cited recent news articles in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.
The biggest residential projects downtown recently have involved senior housing, which, Thanas said, do not necessarily add economic vitality to the area.
“Seniors are more frugal than young people,” he said. “You need young people spending money.”