Leveraging economic development in Joliet a priority
Two and a half months into his tenure, new Joliet Economic Development Director Steve Jones and staff have compiled a list of potential development initiatives to undertake in the coming years.
At the Joliet City Council’s March 16 meeting, Jones gave a presentation outlining a number of recommendations that officials would like to see put into action.
Among them are increasing efforts to engage in organizational analysis, narrowing the focus on the downtown plan by strengthening the city’s image as a “mecca for young adults” and launching an economic development website.
In exploring areas of focus, the city’s first-ever economic development director said many of the ideas were generated through his own observations, while others were based on discussions within the business community and input from city staff.
Jones added that one of the most notable economic development goals pertains to organizational analysis.
“I think we need to know what can really take Joliet economic development to the next level,” said Jones. “What can we learn from some of the towns that are pretty comparable to us, who have gone through that cycle of changing demographics and changing business approaches.”
Within the next year, Jones said he would like to have a report that compiles what works, what doesn’t work and some of the best practices have been for comparable towns such as Aurora and Elgin.
Ultimately, he would like to see Joliet enter 2017 with a list of items the city council can consider.
Over the next five to 10 years, Joliet also plans to focus its attention on downtown development.
The city council approved the Joliet Downtown Development Plan at its Feb. 16 meeting.
And while the city has a number of additional objectives, Jones said there is one particular aspect of his development plan that may be hidden among the various priorities.
“As you recall, we have a goal in our downtown development that references creating a ‘mecca for young adults,’” he said. “That’s something that has to happen with additional housing stock.”
The economic development director said the city has a number of buildings that are underutilized. With the right developer, Jones feels the city could encourage the types of projects that would use those spaces to create new housing.
Additionally, Jones would like to see the city expand its online presence with respect to economic development.
“There’s not a lot that I would call a resource within our own website,” he said. “We need to bring our standard up to 2016. We need to be a real resource, not just a list of permits and requirements and contact people.”
Jones said that online resource should focus on what developers are looking for, whether it’s retail or industrial manufacturing.
He suggested introducing items such as building site data that will help users decide if Joliet is a good match for them.
“We’re starting a little bit of discussion with regard to the design of that site, but it’s going to be a lot of work,” he said. “And of course with a website, it’s never completed… You need to make sure that you’re on par with other communities and find things that really will show Joliet in images.”
Jones added that a website is the “front porch for the city,” giving those who travel in and around the area a glimpse of what it’s like to live and do business in Joliet.
Following the presentation, Jones told the Bugle that he expects the city to launch the online economic development site within the next six months.
He added that other recommendations would be made toward the end of the year, coinciding with the city’s yearly budget process.
Blight reduction program 2 approved
Joliet’s effort to address the issues related to blighted properties moved forward March 15, with city officials unanimously agreeing to partner with the Illinois Housing Development Authority on its Blight Reduction Program 2.
The vote comes after officials learned that Joliet would receive a $980,000 grant from the Illinois Housing Development Authority. Funds will be used to purchase and demolish blighted property in the neighborhoods north of I-80 along the Des Plaines River, according to the agreement.
Once demolished, the properties would be tendered over to adjacent property owners or become available for other redevelopment opportunities. In June 2014, Joliet formed a partnership with the South Suburban Land Bank and Development Authority that officials say directly helped the city in obtaining the monetary grant assistance and has so far resulted in $1.26 million in funding.
City awards contract for water meter reading devices
Also at that meeting, the City Council approved a $119, 655 public utilities department contract for the purchase of water meters and smart point radios.
Automatic Meter Reading system allows city staff to read and monitor data from about 46,000 meters on a monthly basis. They system uses three main components, including water meters, SmartPoint radios and the radio-read-tower infrastructure.
In 1987, Joliet first started using sensus meters, and officials now say these mechanisms need restocking. The funding to reshelve the devices will be charged to the Water and Sewer Improvement Fund.
Well 15D rehab
The City Council voted to authorize a bid contract for rehabilitation of Well 15D, in which is located at 1900 Drauden Road in Joliet.
Although three bids were received, Water Well Solutions failed to renew prequalification with the city of Joliet prior to the March 1 bid opening, removing it from consideration.
On March 15, the contract was awarded to Great Lakes Water Resources Group in Joliet, given that funds are charged to the 2016 Water and Sewer Improvement Fund.