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Planning consultant calls Joliet 'a mecca for young people'

A planning consultant met with the Joliet City Council during a special session last week to present and discuss development guidelines for the city of Joliet and with it, officials hope they can begin envisioning a future for Joliet in the coming months.

Bill James, a consultant for Camiros, likened Joliet to a “mecca for young people,” where downtown living would be its greatest strengths.

“We’re talking about a dynamic urban center,” he said. “Something that’s big not small. It has a lot of different uses. It’s multifaceted. It’s pulsing.”

He said the strategy of making Joliet a mecca for young people is a strategy that they believe can work, in part, because representatives for the University of St. Francis have responded well to the idea but cannot provide capital investment.

“Housing for students and recent graduates is a potential source of demand,” James said. “We’re really hungry for key private sector projects to happen in downtown and this is something that could happen (frankly) fairly short term.”

The city has a number of anchor establishments, including the Rialto and the Will County Courthouse, bringing people from in and around the area.

James said they believe there are more potential investments that could become possible.

Councilwoman Bettye Gavin wasn’t sold by James’ presentation.

“I see downtown Joliet as a little bit different animal to work with,” she said.

To this concern, James sought to less the confusion by pointing out that improvements between the city and the nonprofit organization City Center Partnership and their responsibilities can help Joliet become more economically viable.

“As a 501c3, they’re better positioned to get funding for other kinds of things that haven’t been looked for to date,” James said. “They can do things as a private entity that the city cannot in terms of buying property, stockpiling, and facilitating private sector investment actions.”

Mayor Bob O’DeKirk noted a number of instances where James’ presentation conveyed holes and inaccuracies leading him to interject.

“I think it’s a little misguided to make (reorganizing stakeholder responsibilities) the No. 1 priority,” O’Dekirk told James. “I think the roles are clear.”

James said importance of reorganizing stakeholder responsibilities several times over the course of his presentation citing problems with inertia among city officials.

O’DeKirk said although the city will be looking for an economic development director, he said he believes Joliet has all the necessary components in place.

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