JOLIET, IL-The next step in this river city’s redevelopment should include bringing a mixed-use project to a site across Cass Street from Harrah’s casino, as well as marketing retail opportunities in the Downtown area. Those were among the recommendations made by an Urban Land Institute and Campaign for Sensible Growth panel, which spent two days in this city about 40 miles southwest of Chicago.

The city also should consider issuing request for proposals for key development sites, such as the crossroads of Cass and Chicago streets, the panel suggested, and hire real estate advisors to guide officials through the process.

And although it may go against their political leanings, Joliet must consider tax increment financing not only to kick-start redevelopments at home, but remain competitive with other Will County communities, added attorney Kristina Dalman. In addition, the city may want to consider paying for tenant improvements for high-profile tenants.

“A lot of other small towns in the US would love to be in your position,” said Dalman, an attorney with Gardner Carton & Douglas, echoing other panelists who note the Downtown’s historic buildings and riverfront vistas.

The city council should set priorities and move to control key development sites, the panel recommended. Although the 2004 convention is out of the question, the 2005 International Council of Shopping Centers meeting should be on city officials’ calendars, the panel said.

One suggestion that hits close to home for Dalman is convincing Metra to provide express service on at least one of the two commuter rail lines that connect Joliet with Downtown Chicago. The shortest train ride is an hour and six minutes, panelists noted. Dalman says 60% of Gardner Carton & Douglas support staff commute from Will County, suggesting retailers near Joliet’s Union Station could capture additional sales.

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