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Mayor: Joliet ‘ready to reinvent itself’

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A rendering shows what downtown Joliet would look like with a new multimodal transportation center and other changes. VOA Assoc. Inc. rendering courtesy of Joliet

Updated: April 1, 2012 8:12AM

JOLIET — The city of Joliet is showing it’s “ready to reinvent itself,” Mayor Thomas Giarrante said more than once in a State of the City speech Tuesday.

Giarrante pointed to new business coming to town, a leaner city government and public projects in the works during an optimistic outlook on what’s in store for the city.

The speech to the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry at the Autobahn Country Club was the first state of the city message given by a Joliet mayor.

City managers gave past annual reports during the late Mayor Arthur Schultz’s long tenure. Schultz’s loss of his vocal cords due to throat cancer made it impractical for him to give long speeches.

Giarrante, who became mayor in May 2011, said he and city staff have been recruiting businesses and see the beginnings of a turnaround from the economic doldrums of recent years.

“Joliet like other cities experienced a screeching halt to the economy,” Giarrante said. “While the struggle is not over, there are signs that the city of Joliet stands ready to reinvent itself.”

The good

Giarrante offered a laundry list of business developments and public projects in the works — the usual fare of such state of the city addresses.

Given in one presentation, however, the number of projects did suggest that the city’s business climate is improving.

A sampling of the projects mentioned by the mayor includes:

The new Home Depot distribution center, which, Giarrante said, employs 350 people now and “may be adding 150 soon.”

The future transportation center in downtown Joliet, which could become a stop for high-speed rail trains by 2014.

The Joliet Junior College building, planned for downtown, for culinary arts and hospitality classes.

A Veterans Affairs medical clinic coming to the former Silver Cross Hospital campus along with an Aunt Martha’s Health Center nearby.

Re-use of the closed Saturn dealership for a D’Arcy Volkswagen location on Jefferson Street.

The recently opened Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery, which Giarrante said has helped Westfield Louis Joliet Mall reach 95 percent occupancy.

A Paula Deen’s Kitchen restaurant coming to Harrah’s Casino.

Giarrante said the arrival of the Tilted Kilt and Paula Deen restaurants will help the city recruit other businesses to town.

“We are working to attract the level of restaurants and retail shopping that our residents deserve,” the mayor said.

The bad

Not everything is going well, Giarrante said.

Casino taxes are down and not likely to rebound, Giarrante said.

But he did say it was promising that Gov. Pat Quinn opposes slot machines at horse race tracks, which Joliet sees as potential competition for the city’s casinos.

The city workforce is down 160 jobs from three years ago. But Giarrante said the city is operating on a leaner budget and will stop dipping into reserve funds to balance the books.

Crime is down 4 percent since 2007, Giarrante said, adding, “This is being done in spite of a shortage of police officers.”

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