Joliet council wary of U-Haul plan, questions economic development efforts

Reardon says people are disappointed with redevelopment plan for ‘gateway” site

Joliet Plaza Inn & Suites can be seen Jan. 17 in Joliet.

The City Council is getting restless about economic development before a vote on whether to let U-Haul take over what was called a “gateway” location for Joliet.

Council members at a workshop meeting Monday questioned both whether a U-Haul operation was the best use of the site at 4200 W. Jefferson St. and how the city is handling economic development.

“I don’t mean to pile it on, but economic development has completely stalled,” council member Joe Clement said, adding his comment to others.

On Tuesday, the council will vote on the U-Haul plan for a $20 million truck, trailer and self-storage complex on 7.5 acres now occupied by the Joliet Plaza Inn.

The hotel, which originally was built as a Howard Johnson’s at a prime location just off Interstate 55, has aged and fallen on hard times. It is now only partially occupied. But some council members are wary of turning it into a U-Haul facility.

Council member Sherri Reardon said she was “thrilled” that the site was getting redeveloped.

Councilwoman Sherri Reardon at the Joliet City Council Meeting. Tuesday, May 17 2022, in Joliet.

But, she quickly added, “I am disappointed that it’s going to be seven acres of prime real estate at a gateway to Joliet.”

Reardon said she was not alone.

“We have a lot of people disappointed with what that utilization will be,” she said.

Reardon called for a discussion on the city’s economic developments efforts and an update on the city’s long-stalled comprehensive plan.

City Manager Beth Beatty said the comprehensive plan is “a top priority.” But completion of the plan is still at least a year and a half away.

In the meantime, council member Suzanna Ibarra, said the city seems to operate “in more of a crisis mode” in dealing with projects. Ibarra represents District 5, which includes the proposed U-Haul site.

“My constituents over there would have liked to see something more family friendly,” Ibarra said.

Council members also questioned why Economic Development Director Cesar Suarez was not at the meeting.

Councilwoman Suzanna Ibarra looks over a slide at the Joliet City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 18th, 2023.

Represents from both U-Haul and the Joliet Plaza Inn were there.

“What we’re doing currently is much more modern that what you may have seen in the past,” Rick Rottweiler, area district vice president for U-Haul, told the council.

Rottweiler said U-Haul would build a facility that would provide consumers a step-up from aging self-storage operations that may appear unsafe. The U-Haul facility would be well lit, secure and inviting, he said.

“You wouldn’t have any problem sending your grandmother there alone at night,” Rottweiler told the council,

A special use permit from the council is required before a self-storage operation can be built, and the council has generally approved the permits. But it has held back at times.

The city in 2020 balked at a proposal to build a self-storage operation to replace the old Kmart, which had stood vacant for years at Jefferson and Larkin Avenue. Eventually, the city instead worked out an incentive package that brought in Tony’s Fresh Market, which opened a supermarket and has developed other commercial space on the corner.

Council member Larry Hug, who heads the council’s Economic Development Committee, said economic development activity has fallen off in Joliet.

“We need to do a kickstart to get it back to what it used to be,” Hug said.