News - Joliet and Will County

Joliet council to consider joint ownership of Collins Street prison

Officer John Struna walks between buildings March 28 at the Collins Street prison complex in Joliet.

JOLIET – The Joliet City Council on Tuesday will consider a proposal to take joint ownership of the old Collins Street prison.

The resolution would only start a process that would require state legislation before the city and Joliet Area Historical Museum could take ownership of the prison. The state owns the prison, which it closed in 2002.

City Manager Jim Hock on Friday said he is recommending that the city and museum become joint owners of the prison for the sake of better securing the property and making it available for potential tourism.

The joint ownership, he said, would make it possible for the city and museum to pursue multiple sources of revenue and take on different tasks in putting the prison to use.

“There are some government grants that we can get as a government unit, and some foundation grants that [the museum] can get that we wouldn’t be able to get,” Hock said. “They’re the ones who are going to do the tours. It makes sense that we co-own it.”

One task the city could take over is securing the prison, which has been an issue under state ownership. Trespassers are known to regularly break into the prison, which has been heavily vandalized.

Hock said the city’s image is getting tarnished by conditions of the empty prison.

“Everybody thinks we already own the prison,” Hock said. “When they go by it, they complain to the city, ‘How come you guys aren’t cleaning this up or maintaining it?’ We’re getting blamed already.”

One potential snag in the plan is that museum leaders are not necessarily on board with it.

“On paper as a concept, I think everyone thinks it’s a great idea,” museum Director Greg Peerbolte said.

The museum board, however, is concerned about what financial liability it could take on and would need to know about its responsibilities under joint ownership, he said.

“We just don’t want to put ourselves in a position where our financial wherewithal is threatened,” Peerbolte said. “No one knows what the liability is.”

Peerbolte for years, however, has been trying to work out some sort of arrangement in which the museum could conduct tours at the prison. The old Joliet Correctional Center is a popular attraction for out-of-town museum visitors, he has said.

The Illinois Department of Corrections has not provided access to the property.

The prison property can be acquired at a token price because the state would be happy to give up ownership, Hock said.

The aging limestone structure, which was opened in 1858, has been decaying since it was closed.

The city has been considering potential ownership for years, and a study in 2013 determined that just stabilizing the prison to protect against more deterioration would cost $3.8 million.

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News