Joliet has vision of downtown redevelopment around Gateway Transportation Center

RTA grant funds study for future development around transit center

A train waits to depart at the Joliet Gateway Center train station on Wednesday, Jan. 3rd, 2024 in Joliet.

Visitors to an open planning session were generally upbeat about the prospects of downtown redevelopment around the Gateway Transportation Center.

The city has no specific plans for the area around Joliet’s downtown transit center.

The open house held Tuesday evening at the city train station was “a visioning workshop,” city Planner Jayne Bernhard said.

“This is the first step of asking the public, ‘What if?’” Bernhard said.

Just being asked is a positive step, Don Ciesielski said.

“I think this is a great thing,” Ciesielski said of the city’s invitation of public opinion for its development plans. “The more information we have from people, the better it is.”

About 30 people came to the open house.

Dillon Kim said he believes the Gateway Transportation Center can be a catalyst for downtown development.

“People are moving into Joliet,” Kim said. “I used to live in Naperville.”

A map for the Joliet Equitable Transit Oriented Development Plan sits on display at the Open House for city redevelopment plans around Gateway Center on Tuesday June 11, 2024 in Joliet.

Now, Kim lives and works in the downtown Joliet building he owns, running his Yura Nuna restaurant and his American Family Insurance business.

Kim said his daughter is making plans to move to downtown Joliet and will use the train to commute to Chicago, where she now lives and works.

“The train station brings young people from downtown Chicago,” Kim said. “Downtown Joliet has a lot of merits. I like the train station. It’s only an hour from downtown Chicago.”

I think it’s a good idea to identify the problems that we have and to get the residents’ input.”

—   Juan Moreno, Joliet resident

The Gateway Transportation Center is relatively new.

The train station and new boarding platforms opened in 2018. A bus depot opened in 2022.

The old Union Station, located just across the tracks from the new train station, no longer is used for transportation but now provides banquet space for events.

The open house included information for the public about the city plan. It also included a board where visitors could use stick-it notes to post suggestions.

Ideas included housing, professional office space, a convention center and a building that would contain a collection of small shops.

Guest are encouraged to put ideas on a board at the Open House for city redevelopment plans around Gateway Center on Tuesday June 11, 2024 in Joliet.

“Anything but a liquor store,” one note read.

‘We want to be inclusive’

The plan is in its fourth of 14 months before completion.

It’s primarily funded by a $114,750 grant from the Regional Transportation Authority, which operates the Metra trains and Pace buses that run through the Gateway Transportation Center. Amtrak trains also stop at Gateway.

The official name of the plan is the Downtown Joliet Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Plan.

The RTA funds a number of such plans around the Chicago area, said Robert Morris, a principal analyst with the RTA’s planning division.

The equitable aspect of the plan provides safeguards against displacing lower-income people if such plans are successful in attracting new development.

“We want these plans for people who want to live here but also for people who already live here,” Morris said. “We don’t want to kick anybody out. We want to be inclusive.”

Gentrification may seem an unlikely prospect in downtown Joliet, where the city has struggled for decades to bring back development since it once was the business and retail center of town.

Lots along East Washington Street are targeted for redevelopment around the Gateway Center on Tuesday June 11, 2024 in Joliet.

But downtown has seen a resurgence in recent years, and young entrepreneurs have been attracted to the area. The city is redesigning Chicago Street, the main thoroughfare through downtown, hoping to spur the trend. The Gateway Transportation Center could become the next focus for downtown redevelopment.

The city owns the former Lyons Lumber site, 6.2 acres of now-vacant property on the edge of the Gateway Transportation Center that would be available for development.

Dwight Bendel, who owns a storage business nearby, said the Lyons Lumber site could use some cleaning up, as the weeds are high.

Bendel said he believes the transportation center can attract development, although he noted there is not much open land nearby.

There are older buildings, however, in need of redevelopment, including a stretch of 19th century row houses to the east on Washington Street now empty but once used for commercial property and housing.

Juan Moreno, who had never been in the train station before he attended the open house, said he liked having a voice in the city’s attempts to find answers for redevelopment.

“I think it’s a good idea to identify the problems that we have and to get the residents’ input,” Moreno said.

Brent Fraser, Chief Operating Engineer for the City of Joliet, goes over potential sites for redevelopment with Joliet City Councilwoman Suzanna Ibarra at the Open House for city redevelopment plans around Gateway Center on Tuesday June 11, 2024 in Joliet.