Wayne's Words: How about a new direction?

Two years ago, then newly elected Mayor Bob O’Dekirk issued a report titled the 2015 Mayoral Transition Report. In the section of the report titled ‘Community Relations Committee Recommendations’, it declares: “the City should actively explore whether it is prudent to build a convention center.” It’s an idea worth pursuing. The City of Joliet needs a convention center.

The same section of the report said the stadium (Silver Cross Field?) “should be viewed as an economic development anchor.” The narrative suggested the ball park should be self-sufficient within five years. The idea was to have a more equitable arrangement for use of the stadium when a new lease was executed in September of 2017. Whether by design or just happenstance, a new lease has been completed with the current tenants and the stadium is being reconstituted in order to accommodate other uses in addition to baseball. The cost is about $2 million.

In a previous column I suggested the baseball stadium has become a sinkhole for taxpayer dollars and the stadium site should be the location of a convention center. The City has spent more money maintaining the stadium than it has received in rent and naming rights fees. Those dollars do not include the $28 million cost to build the place.

Perhaps none of this is news since the issue has been discussed many times over, particularly here in my column. When I’ve suggested the city sell the stadium, several people, including the previous mayor and current mayor, Bob O’Dekirk, have asked “Who would buy it”? Truth is, nobody wants it. Previous City Manager Tom Thanas actually tried to sell it on a couple of occasions. No takers. That says something about the viability of the stadium. Taxpayers seem to be the buyers of record who can’t get rid of the place.

Then why bring it up yet again? A new report compiled by consulting engineers CDM Smith lists almost all of the city-owned real estate and the many millions of taxpayer dollars it will cost to maintain the properties over the next 20 years.

(By the way, I say “almost all” because one of the most expensive properties the city owns is not listed. That would be the public housing complex known as Evergreen Terrace. Technically the city doesn’t own it yet, they’ve just paid for it. However, that’s a topic for another column.)

The comprehensive list of city-owned real estate includes four properties that will cost $6.4 million in the immediate future for maintenance. That includes the $2 million for the baseball field, the former Joliet Catholic gym on Hickory and Jefferson, the visitors center on Bluff Street and the Rich and Creamy ice cream stand on North Broadway Street. Over the next 20 years these properties could cost more than $14 million to maintain and they offer little or no return on the upkeep.

According to the 2015 Transition Report every piece of real estate owned by the city should be justified on a bi-yearly basis. In other words, pay for itself or be sold. It’s on page 18 of the transition report.

The Transition Report was developed by mayoral appointed committee members with various areas of expertise and knowledge of the subjects examined. The Report is a non-binding guideline open for discussion. It was not written in stone. It mostly contains common sense expertise.

I believe the City Council should consider tearing down the baseball stadium and replace it with a convention center that will advance economic development to a much greater extent than a limited use outdoor facility that provides a very limited amount of revenue. There is no better place to put a convention center than downtown Joliet. The location is minutes from one of the major interstate crossroads of America. The proximity to the train station makes it convenient to access downtown Joliet by rail. The train station will also be the location for bus transportation. There is also room for hotel space in the immediate downtown area.

The City Council has committed itself to economic development in the downtown City Center. It’s time to take the next step and move forward with an idea that can make money, not spend it. Your comments are welcome. whorne@thetimesweekly.com and follow me on facebook @thetimes

Stay tuned…