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Courtesy of VOA Associates

VOA Associates' plan for Joliet includes improving traffic flow and adding retail, dining and residential facilities.

Joliet's potential face lift stays true to historic vision

by Brooke Bowen
Oct 21, 2009

A recent Regional Transportation Authority grant moved Joliet’s Multimodal Transportation Center from dream to reality. The city may be seeing an even brighter future if a larger re-development plan is realized.

A wide-ranging proposal that would rejuvenate downtown Joliet was presented Wednesday at a meeting of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s land use committee in downtown Chicago. Kendall Jackson, Joliet’s director of planning and economic development, presented a plan that was developed by VOA Associates, a national architecture firm.

The project retains a campus setting first envisioned by Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett in their 1921 plan for Joliet, Jackson said. It would connect current walking and biking paths on the north, west and east and add additional parking, dining, retail and residential facilities.

“A lot of people have been waiting for a Joliet renaissance,” said Ty Warner of CMAP.

Within the next few weeks, Jackson and planners from VOA Associates will be sitting down with county staff to make things happen, Jackson said. The city’s Tax Increment Financing district will help pay for the project, but they also aim to obtain a grant from the Department of Transportation plus money from the private sector.

A 900-acre freight rail yard is currently under construction in Joliet, but the city also wants approval of a high-speed passenger rail from Chicago to St. Louis. That line would include a stop in Joliet, and trains would travel between 79 and 110 mph.

Centerpiece of the plan for downtown Joliet would be Rialto Square, an open plaza in front of the historic Rialto Theater. It would be created by relocating the state attorney’s office. In the summer, Jackson said, vendors could use a laminated glass shed for festivals and country markets.

“When I grew up in Joliet in the 1960s, downtown was vibrant, the center of the world,” said David Galowich of the Urban Land Institute. “But now it’s a ghost town because the retailers left.”

The plan also aims to create a Will County Courts Complex resembling one designed by Burnham and Bennett that was torn down years ago. It would house an additional 10 judges.

VOA’s design, which would improve traffic circulation while enhancing riverfront opportunities, “fits in nicely with the sustainable communities plan,” said , Mark Avery, a CMAP board member and planning division manager for DuPage County.