By Megann Horstead | For The Bugle
Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk recently announced that officials will be granted access to tour and assess the site of the old Joliet prison on Collins Street this week.
It is an opportunity that surfaced after much discussion by the council in recent months.
“Finally, we have gotten permission to get inside the prison,” he said. “Myself, the [interim] city manger, and a contingent of city employees have signed waivers and next week we’re going take a walk through the prison.”
The city intends to put its new access to use and get an assessment of the facilities’ needs. The site in question, though it’s deteriorating, could turn Joliet into a tourist destination, much like San Francisco’s Alcatraz and Pennsylvania’s Eastern State Penitentiary, officials said.
Joliet council members last discussed the prospect of taking ownership of the old Joliet prison in May, at which point former City Manager James Hock and Joliet Area Historical Museum Executive Director Greg Peerbolte recommended city-museum action be taken to acquire the property, which is owned by the State of Illinois.
City of Joliet and Joliet Area Historical Museum officials intend to turn the Collins Street site into a penal museum with paid admission.
The idea of taking ownership was halted in May, at which point city officials sought the state’s permission to access the property to assess its condition. Costs to renovate the site were projected at the time to amount to at least $3.8 million.
Recently, the city took action to cut the weeds growing along Collins Street resulting from the state’s neglect. Complaints had risen regarding the prison site’s appearance.
“Are we going to send the state a bill for the maintenance on that property?” Councilwoman Jan Quillman asked.
O’Dekirk said the city has discussed that idea internally.
The City of Joliet is currently working with the State of Illinois on a number of projects, including the new train station and Houbolt Street bridge.
“I’m not sure if it’s prudent,” O’Dekirk said. “They’re working with us. Maybe we should work with them. Certainly, it’s a concern when our police and our fire are in that facility putting out fires or arresting people. They’re putting themselves in harm’s way. It’s not our property… I’m frustrated about it as we all are. I want to be prudent, though, in dealing with the state.”