Joliet’s Chicago Street project gets thumbs up from downtown businesses

A couple walks along North Chicago Street in downtown Joliet on Monday July 8, 2024.

Whatever impact a redesigned Chicago Street and new city square has on the future of downtown Joliet, it’s already had an impact on the present, local businesspeople say.

The City Council last week approved a $20.1 million contract that will put into action a big part of a downtown redevelopment plan that has been in place since 2015.

Construction starts at a yet to be determined date this summer, but the project’s completion is planned for December 2025.

Some Chicago Street business owners can hardly wait for the long gestating plan to be realized.

“I’m so excited to see it,” said Tiffany Johnson, co-owner of Audiophil’s Records at 76 N. Chicago St., a location just a block away from the future city square. “I can’t wait until they have the first event.”

Audiophil’s relocated to Chicago Street this year in large part because of the city plans to improve what serves as Main Street for downtown Joliet.

Tiffany Johnson, who owns Audiophil’s Records along with her husband Phil, stands in her shop in downtown Joliet. Friday, July 15, 2022 in Joliet.

“We want to be part of it,” Johnson said. “That’s the strip. That’s the drag. That’s the place to be.”

It will be the place to be when construction is done, although surviving the interim could pose a challenge for some businesses.

The square offer will offer newly developed park space with trees, greenery and seating to replace the parking lot that has been the location for downtown festivals and events.

The new street will replace a design created in the 1970s for another era when city officials hoped to bring back retail being lost to what were then new indoor malls. Chicago Street retains the wider sidewalks aimed to appeal to pedestrian traffic for a downtown mall concept that never worked.

“We want to be part of it. That’s the strip. That’s the drag. That’s the place to be.”

—  Tiffany Johnson, co-owner Audiophil’s Records

Just the planning for a new downtown has made a difference, said Amber Duffy, a real estate agent who handles downtown property.

“We have so many people wanting to move in,” Duffy said. “They come in knowing that it’s going to take a couple of years of work.”

Sisters Hope Shelby, left, and Amber Duffy help run their mother Gina Duffy’s Jitters coffee house along North Chicago Street in downtown Joliet on Monday July 8, 2024.

The Chicago Street plan is seen as a difference maker, she said, in large part because of the introduction of green space in a downtown that has none now.

“I think we’re all very excited down here for the project,” Duffy said. “It’s going to make downtown Joliet a real destination spot. It’s going to be more family friendly.”

The square, which will be located on Chicago Street across from the Rialto Square Theatre and across Clinton Street from the Joliet Public Library, in concept will create a park setting more conducive to family visits.

The redesign of Chicago Street, meanwhile, will provide a much needed upgrade, Duffy said.

“Just like anything else that’s old, you have to go in and update it, “she said.

In addition to selling space downtown, Duffy lives in an apartment overlooking Chicago Street and is a member of the family that has run the Jitters coffee shop the past 20 years.

City Planner Jayne Bernhard noted the Chicago Street project is part of a 2015 plan approved by the city for downtown upgrades, which included opening up Chicago Street so motorists heading into the city off of Interstate 80 would not be diverted from the core of downtown.

“It’s an example of a plan that didn’t sit on a shelf,” Bernhard said.

Chicago Street was opened up in 2020, giving retailers and restaurants on the street more exposure to travelers coming into Joliet.

The plan also included the creation of more downtown housing, which has been happening.

In addition to eliminating the old pedestrian mall, the Chicago Street project includes new trees, new planters and a new look overall.

“The goal is to give more continuity to our downtown,” Bernhard said. “These are needed elements that will add to our downtown.”.