Could the state kick Joliet out of the prison now?

There appears to be no turning back on Old Joliet Prison project

So much is happening at the Old Joliet Prison that it’s hard to imagine it stopping now.

Still, it’s good to remember that the future of this project is not guaranteed.

Even next year is not guaranteed.

The city is trying to negotiate another five-year lease with the state of Illinois to continue putting the former Joliet Correctional Center to use as a tour and event site. The current lease expires in December.

Deputy City Attorney Chris Regis this week gave a guarded update on lease negotiations at a meeting of the Joliet City Council Prison Committee.

“We’re still in kind of the same place we were,” Regis told the committee without detailing just what place that is.

The state may want Joliet just to take ownership of the prison, which is a liability the city does not appear to be ready to take on without at least some support from the state.

As excited as many have been about the reopening of the prison, don’t forget it’s still a collection of decaying buildings dating back to the mid-19th century needing millions of dollars in repairs.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, managed to get $3 million for prison restoration into the federal spending bill this year. But that’s about a third of the money needed to stabilize just five buildings at the prison.

Still, the state, having let Joliet into the prison, seems to be in no position to kick the city out.

Not with $3 million in federal money being spent to fix up the place as a historic site open to visitors.

Not with the National Park Service having given a $35,000 grant aimed at having the prison put on the National Register of Historic Places as part of a program to tell the history of underrepresented communities in the U.S..

Not with the former Joliet Correctional Center getting growing recognition as a place to stop and visit when traveling through Illinois.

At least, you wouldn’t think so. And, Regis suggested as much.

“We’re in a better position now,” he told the committee, which had just heard a presentation concerning all of the above and more.

Regis looked back to December 2017, when the city negotiated its first five-year lease with the state. No one then really knew what would happen next.

“Things are trending in the right direction for site and the facility,” Regis said. “I have a much better presentation to bring to the state to say, ‘Hey, you can’t pull the pin on this now.’ We have to keep moving forward with this. That’s my pitch going forward.”

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News