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Local
Investors see promise in downtown Kankakee

KANKAKEE — Business partners Dustin Kooy and Erik Wojtecki are not in need of an eye examination. It is safe to say, however, this duo sees things a little differently than most.

Where most downtown Kankakee motorists or pedestrians likely see old, worn-out, past-their-prime buildings along Court Street, Schuyler Avenue, Merchant Street or any number of other street names, this pair sees opportunity, possibility and potential.

“There were people long ago who said the world was flat,” Wojtecki offered. “They weren’t right either.”

He put it another way.

“We’ve had other business owners thank us for what we are doing. We are just two dudes,” Wojtecki said. “People are rallying with this sense of community. I believe there is going to be a renaissance of Kankakee.”

Kooy, 32, of Bradley, and Wojtecki, 44, of Bourbonnais, have become major property owners in and around downtown Kankakee. They conduct their business out of a second-floor office which overlooks the intersection of East Court Street and North Schuyler Avenue.

They own such prominent locations such as the three-story, 28,000-square-foot former Turk Furniture Store, the former Jaffe Men’s Clothing Store at the corner of East Court Street and North Schuyler Avenue, the 7,200-square-foot location which had most recently been the site of Crawford’s Barber Shop, and the 8,400-square-foot property at 213 E. Court St., as well as 18,000 square feet at 257 S. West Ave.

In all, the two men own and plan to renovate some 150,000 square feet in the downtown Kankakee area.

$5 MILLION INVESTMENT TARGETED

While redevelopment will take time — meaning years — these two appear willing to devote that time and the necessary resources. They say they believe as 2021 comes to a conclusion, they will be investing some $5 million in their Kankakee properties.

They will not be doing this alone. Kooy noted they have investors backing them to help fund such a large investment.

“I’m fully invested in Kankakee,” is how Kooy sums it up.

A 13-year ComEd lineman, Kooy believed there was more for him and walked away from the position in the middle of a pandemic in October 2020.

He had been investing in properties, but it wasn’t until he began exploring downtown Kankakee that he discovered what he felt was his calling.

He knew he could not tackle these issues on his own so he approached Wojtecki to see if he wanted to do more than just work on properties. Would he be interested in becoming a business partner?

In 2019, they formed a partnership and “complement each other perfectly,” Kooy said.

But what does this pair see as the potential for Kankakee?

CAPITALIZE ON HISTORY

They believe redevelopment in the area has only just scratched the surface. They believe retail can and will return. They see significant opportunities for residential dwellings, mainly on the upper levels of business locations.

The planned 92-unit residential property immediately east of the former Midland States Bank site in the 300 block of South Schuyler Avenue is proof they are not looking at the area through rose-colored glasses.

“There is so much history here,” Kooy said. “We are always looking at what’s available. And people are always calling us asking if we have space available here to rent. That says something.”

Kankakee Mayor Chris Curtis said the speed of development is likely to increase as more companies see the potential and the willingness to invest.

“I’m extremely encouraged,” the mayor noted. “We are making the right progress and the right moves. These developers obviously see the potential here.”

DEVELOPERS ARRIVING

There are many, of course, who will not agree with Curtis, but he believes the proof is in the pudding as developers without Kankakee roots are seeing opportunity.

The days of relying on a single developer may finally be over.

“It’s hard for one developer to do it all. ... I view what is happening now as us being in the first quarter of the game. There is a lot of opportunity here for a lot of people,” Curtis said. “This is exciting.”

Kooy backs up Curtis’ theory. He said the fact that the J. Jeffers & Co., a development group based in Milwaukee, Wis., has planted a flag in downtown Kankakee speaks volumes.

“I ignore the naysayers. I don’t have the time for them,” he said. “There are young developers like us who see what is happening. Our age group is at the forefront of these entrepreneurs.”

Sometimes, Kooy noted, he can’t believe this is all real.

Wojtecki added, “We have so many good people around us. We just see so much around every turn.”

That lone developer people speak of is Joe Franco, the man behind the Executive Officer Centre and the Kankakee Public Library. Without Franco’s presence, downtown Kankakee would look much different.

His company also redeveloped the former Kankakee Public Library into what is now City Hall, as well as the Donald Green Public Safety Center.

“I wish them well,” Franco said of the new faces of development. “Anything we can do downtown is very good. I want them to know I’m always available for consultation. I wish all of them good luck.”

The Kooy-Wojtecki tandem could take Franco up on his offer as the pair say they have other plans they hope to announce in coming months.

“We look past what is here. We see what it can be. I get goose bumps just talking about it,” Kooy said. “We’re happy to be here.”

Scott Smith, president of Kankakee Development Corp., the downtown organization which has led the charge of helping restore the downtown area, noted Kooy and Wojtecki could develop in many areas but they chose Kankakee.

“We’re thrilled to see a couple of local entrepreneurs developing within our district. They are picking up on the momentum we see here,” Smith said.

“We certainly love to see the energy these guys are bringing,” he said.


Local
Christmas is coming to Perry Farm

Daily Journal staff report

BOURBONNAIS — Starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, Christmas will be coming to Perry Farm Park in Bourbonnais. The elves are busy preparing the grounds for the first Christmas on the Farm.

The festivities will begin with an Ugliest Sweater Run/Walk for which participants are encouraged to come dressed in their favorite holiday attire and start the day with a brisk walk or run and a cup of hot cocoa.

Also starting at 9 a.m., the Perry Farm House will be busy with games and activities for the entire family. From 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m., the star of the event will be Santa, who will be available for pictures in the farm’s barn. Families are encouraged to arrive early if wishing to visit with Santa.

There will also be activities happening while children wait for their turn to talk with Santa, including games such as lumberjack toss and penguin bowling. For those who enjoy crafting, there will be cookie-decorating stations and do-it-yourself backpacks.

The Kankakee Valley Theatre Association carolers will be on hand to celebrate the season with holiday classics. There also will be carriage rides through the woods.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at any of the Bourbonnais Township Park District facilities. To learn more, visit BTPD.org/Christmas.

Pre-sale family ticket bundles are on sale now for $40 and include a family photo session, carriage ride and 15 activity tickets for cookie decorating, crafts, games, barrel train rides and more.

Purchasing tickets in advance is strongly encouraged, as pre-sale tickets will include an additional five free tickets for activities to use that day, which is a $5 savings.


Local
Giving Tuesday kicks off charitable season

Daily Journal staff report

After a weekend of shopping till you drop comes an international day of giving called “Giving Tuesday.” Set for the Tuesday after Thanksgiving — falling this year on Nov. 30 — this annual day of giving has been in place since 2012 and has assisted more than 300 communities worldwide with acts of generosity.

The day kicks off the charitable season, and there are a number of ways to give back locally. Local organizations taking part in this national movement this year include the United Way of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties. The nonprofit will be hosting a Giving Tuesday fundraiser in honor of the organization’s recent 80th anniversary. The goal is to raise $5,000 to benefit United Way programming throughout Kankakee and Iroquois counties.

Donors who give $80 or more will receive a “Live United” crewneck sweatshirt. A fundraiser is available on the organization’s Facebook page, @localunitedway. Facebook pays all the processing fees, so 100 percent of every donation goes directly to the local United Way.

Other opportunities to give back include the following:

Fortitude volunteer training

At 7 p.m. Monday at 240 S. Dearborn Ave., Kankakee, there will be shelter volunteer training for those wishing to help Fortitude Community Outreach. Fortitude is seeking shelter volunteers throughout the shelter season, which runs through the winter.

For more information, visit fortitudecommunityoutreach.org.

Fill The Bus Toy Drive

The Dugan family’s annual “Fill the Bus” toy drive will be 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 4 at Dick’s Sporting Goods, 2054 N. State Route 50, Bourbonnais. Look for the River Valley Metro Bus. Bring a new, unwrapped toy or gift card that will be given to children in the community. For more information, visit bit.ly/dugantoydrive21.

8th Annual Strings For Food

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 4, a food drive at King Music at 670 W. Broadway St. in Bradley will exchange a free restring of a six-string electric or acoustic guitar for six non-perishable food items. The food donations will benefit Maternity BVM Parish Food Pantry. For more information, go to kingmusic.com or call 815-935-1115.

Holiday Toy Drive

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and Kankakee County Community Service Inc. (KCCSI) is partnering for a holiday toy drive at the KCCSI building, 657 E. Court St., Kankakee. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 4, they will be collecting new and unwrapped toys for all different age groups. Pickup service is available by calling 815-348-7525.

Kankakee Jingle Bell Run

From 9 a.m. to noon Dec. 5, the Arthritis Foundation’s Jingle Bell Run will take place at Kankakee Community College. This fun-filled family event allows participants to embrace the spirit of the season by dressing up in their favorite holiday costumes. The cost is $35 per person. Those interested in volunteering can email illinois@arthritis.org. For more information, visit jbr.org/kankakee.

Ongoing opportunities to give back

Holiday Rising Spirit

Throughout the holidays, send a letter to a veteran to spread some holiday cheer as part of Operation Rising Spirit. The Manteno Veterans’ Home is taking part again this year.

Letters may be mailed to Manteno Veterans’ Home, Attn: Volunteer Services, 1 Veterans’ Drive, Manteno, IL 60950.

The Salvation Army of Kankakee County

Throughout the holiday season, the Salvation Army will have red kettles outside of various locations in the county to collect money for those in need. For more information, go to centralusa.salvationarmy.org/kankakee.

Additionally, the Salvation Army will have Angel Trees that provide gifts to local children in need. Angel Trees are on-site in shopping malls, churches, organizations and corporations. For more information, go to tsamm.org/angeltree.

I-KAN Angel Trees

Iroquois-Kankakee Regional Office of Education is working on a list of locations for this year’s Angel Trees. The trees allow individuals to provide Christmas gifts to local children in need. Tags adorning tree branches have information for local children in need, including name, age and gender. For more information, visit i-kan.org.

Salvation Army Annual Coat Drive

The Village of Bourbonnais will host collection barrels for The Salvation Army of Kankakee’s annual coat drive. Bring new and/or gently used winter coats (no jackets or warmer weather items please) for drop off at either the Administration Building (600 Main St. NW) or Police Department (700 Main St. NW) between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Shop with a Cop Collection

The Village of Bourbonnais, Bourbonnais Police Department and Kankakee County Sheriff’s Department are collecting donations for Kankakee County’s annual Shop with a Cop event.

In 2020, 82 children from 48 families shopped with 56 officers for gifts for themselves. Each also received hats, gloves and books, as well as a food basket so that they can share a holiday meal with their families.


Crime
Appeals court affirms Kankakee man's 2019 murder conviction

A 2019 murder conviction in the death of Sarah Washington was recently affirmed by the Third District Appellate Court of Illinois.

The court announced its decision on Nov. 19 in the case against Rex Frank, 29, Kankakee. Frank is serving a life sentence in the state prison in Menard, according to Illinois Department of Corrections records.

Frank was convicted of killing the 25-year-old Kankakee woman who was an aspiring model. Washington was shot twice while in her apartment and a family member discovered her body.

Frank argued that the Kankakee County Circuit Court erred by admitting evidence from other crimes — specifically the 2014 slaying of Rian Maiden — at trial. He also argued that prosecutors committed prosecutorial misconduct during its rebuttal argument.

In its opinion, though, the appeals court disagreed and ruled the prosecution and conviction stand. In its ruling, the court said the prosecution filed a motion prior to trial seeking to admit the additional evidence.

The court said, “On July 13, 2015, the defendant pled guilty to first-degree murder for the shooting death of Rian Maiden which occurred on or about July 4, 2014. The motion sought to admit certain details regarding Maiden’s murder because the .380-caliber cartridge cases found next to Maiden’s body matched the cartridge cases found next to Sarah’s body.”

At the time of Frank’s 2019 trial in Washington’s death, he was serving a 45-year prison sentence on his conviction of first-degree murder in the Maiden case.

While a weapon was not found in either homicide, an Illinois State Police forensic scientist testified in 2019 that the shell casings found at each crime scene were shot by the same type of weapon.

Forensic evidence led Kankakee police investigators to charge Frank with Washington’s murder in April 2016. Police say that on July 4, 2014, Maiden walked in on Frank, who had broken into Maiden’s Sun River Terrace home. Frank shot Maiden four times after forcing him to give up his PIN number and ATM card, according to police. Frank used money he withdrew to buy a ring and other items for a woman he was dating, police say.

Frank also appealed his guilty plea in the Maiden murder. That appeal remains pending.


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