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Spooks and haunts coming to old Joliet prison in 2018

Plans to bring Halloween spooks and haunts to the site of the old Joliet prison have risen from the dead after discussion by members of the Joliet City Council at their Feb. 6 meeting.

In a 5-4 decision, officials extended a one-year, $25,000 sublease agreement to Evil Intentions Haunted House, with Mayor Bob O’Dekirk casting the tiebreaking vote. Council members Pat Mudron, Larry Hug, Don “Duck” Dickinson and Michael Turk voted against the deal.

O’Dekirk said prior to Evil Intentions, no proposals of note were of desire for the former Joliet Correctional Center.

Discussions between the City of Joliet and the Elgin-based entertainment company regarding the site in question date back to August 2017.

“It was before the City actually had the [intergovernmental agreement,]” Deputy City Manager Steve Jones said. “It was at a point of where we had our on-again, off-again discussions of whether the city would want to get into the prison business, as I’ll call it.”

When Evil Intentions originally came forward to the City, they had a desire to introduce some plans for hospitality beyond the idea of a haunted house. Since then, Joliet staff has been in talks with the State of Illinois to accelerate the effort to make the project possible.

“We still don’t have the answers,” Jones said. “I mean, we’re trying to figure out some of the utility issues. We’re still trying to figure out how this can go from where it is now—with very limited power on that side—to something that could accommodate potentially thousands of people.”

The City has determined that Evil Intentions is a viable entity to occupy the correctional center.

To date, there have been at least five inspections by the prospective tenant to assess and analyze the site’s conditions.

Mudron questioned why the council should consider moving forward with the vendor, considering that no single City staff member knows what’s best for Joliet.

The City of Joliet has received some other inquiries pertaining to the site, to date.

Jones said time is of the essence, and the City needs to ride the momentum of this particular vendor to get the project started.

“We’re so far into this [process] with trying to do the analysis, so that when we do it, we do it right,” he said. “If we do open this up for other proposals at this point, I think we take 2018 out of the game because, in effect, I think it’s going to have to have a lot more analysis for someone starting out from scratch.”

Jones negated the idea of holding off on approving the sublease agreement for two weeks and said some of the issues pertaining to what types of vendors operate the site are to be worked out at the Prison Committee level moving forward.

Hug questioned if the sublease agreement is fair to Evil Intentions.

The City of Joliet is aware that Evil Intentions would like to make this a permanent commitment.

Jones tried to reassure Hug that the vendor is aware the agreement is for a limited run.

“We also have to figure out what it is we want this prison to be,” he said. “Those discussions really have to occur at the Prison Committee.”

The agreement stipulates that a rent credit of up to $100,000 is extended to the tenant for any expenses they put into the building, opening up an opportunity to extend the length of the deal in terms of time.

“Our staff recommendation is that we proceed with Evil Intentions, but obviously, as I said, there’s a point where the big picture starts to come into play,” Jones said. “I think that’s the point of where we open this thing up and we make sure that whatever the vendor situation is, it’s not just a haunted house, it’s a full-blown entertainment center. We look at things on the east side, as I call it, [as] more of the circus atmosphere—the fun stuff, the heavy crowds. The west side, clearly, is more historical in nature.”

Jones said it is his vision for the City of Joliet to consider purchasing the property from the State of Illinois in the future, if the venture proves to be something worthwhile.

“We’ve hitched our wagon to this horse because it’s gotten us from nowhere to having the potential to open up the prison, to start some of the tours, to start some of the improvements, to start some income coming in, but, in effect, there’s going to be a decision [that] has to be made where we’re all in,” Jones said.

Plans for the east prison have not yet been identified, to date.

Councilman John Gerl gave kudos to the efforts of Joliet staff in getting the project started.

“It sounds like there’s been a rapport that’s been created, as well, with Evil Intentions,” he said.

Evil Intention’s Halloween programming is slated to begin on site this fall.

Police officers’ eligibility list extended

Also at the meeting, the Joliet City Council examined an ordinance authorizing the extension of the Joliet Police Department’s police officers’ eligibility list.

The measure intends to help the City in meeting the demand for hiring new police officers.

“It is currently a year old, and the chief had asked that we extend that for one year,” Gerl said.

The measure, as presented, was scheduled to expire on Feb. 14.

Members of Joliet’s Fire and Police Commission recommended that the City extend the police officers’ eligibility list.

Council action will save Joliet an estimated $35,000 in recruiting and testing costs.

Annexation agreement for land near former Silver Cross Hospital repealed

The City took action to repeal an ordinance allowing for the execution of an annexation agreement for land near the former site of Silver Cross Hospital.

It was brought to the City’s attention recently that some of the property identification numbers and one of the legal descriptions were incorrect. Joliet staff relies on the land surveyor/consulting engineer hired by the petitioner to submit the correct technical information.

Officials took action in December 2017 to annex eight parcels of land at the former site of Silver Cross Hospital near Maple Road and Hebbard Street.

The City Council’s vote positions Joliet to review the annexation agreement at a later date.

A public hearing is to be held Feb. 15 by members of Joliet’s Plan Commission to get community input.

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