Joliet council debates future of U.S. Steel site
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org January 6, 2014 9:34PM
Updated: January 6, 2014 9:34PM
The Joliet City Council on Monday tried to come up with a way to deal with the old U.S. Steel property, which has become a deteriorating eyesore.
“What’s happening with that site?” Councilman Jim McFarland asked, raising the issue ahead of a fellow councilman who had planned to make a proposal for the site.
McFarland suggested that the city condemn the former steel mill on Collins Street to make room for potential redevelopment. He was cautioned, however, that condemnation for private development was not a promising path.
Council members discussed the matter without resolution, suggesting that the vacated U.S. Steel site may remain an unresolved problem for some time.
Mayor Thomas Giarrante made redevelopment of the land a campaign issue in his 2011 run for mayor.
Councilman Robert O’Dekirk, a potential candidate for mayor in 2015, had planned to make the site an issue again this week at the council meetings. But McFarland jumped on the issue first on Monday, saying he was disturbed by the lack of progress on the property.
“I want to make sure we are keeping these hot-button issues on the front burner,” he said. “We need to start improving the appearance of this city.”
O’Dekirk said Joliet should pursue federal funds to clean up of the site, which he said would make redevelopment more likely. He said he would like to see the land redeveloped into a training campus for police and firefighters.
Giarrante, who has been dealing with U.S. Steel and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for two years while pursuing redevelopment, said it has been challenging to get the two sides to make progress.
“It’s tough to get U.S. Steel to do something,” the mayor said. “We have been trying to work with them and IEPA to get something done.”
Giarrante said the front section of the property along Collins Street is clean land and has the potential for redevelopment for commercial use. It’s the back end of the property that is polluted, he said.
City Attorney Jeff Plyman advised against pursuing condemnation until city officials can agree on what should be done with the site. He also said using Joliet’s condemnation power to acquire land for a private developer is not likely to succeed.
“Condemnation, I don’t think, would really help the development process,” Plyman said, adding that the property “has significant environmental issues that condemnation would not help.”