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Council OK's deal with Ricky Rockets

KANKAKEE — The new redevelopment agreement for the Ricky Rockets Fuel Center could net Kankakee budget up to $6 million of additional revenue versus the agreement originally approved by the council more than five years ago.

The redevelopment agreement eliminated 20 years of sales and gaming tax-sharing language, which would have amounted to about $8 million of tax revenue based on the former agreement, noted city comptroller Elizabeth Kubal at Monday’s Kankakee City Council meeting.

Even with Kankakee providing $2.2 million of upfront infrastructure work, the city will benefit between $5 million to $6 million, depending on sales and gaming receipts, Kubal said.

The net result is a much more positive outcome for the city, Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong noted just before council members unanimously approved the agreement.

Rick Heidner, of Hoffman Estates and owner of Ricky Rockets, is working on finalizing financing for the project, which is expected to cost between $10 million to $12 million, the city’s legal firm noted during discussions. The firm noted it anticipates development financing to be completed within 14 days or so.

If all goes as planned, the 7th Ward project could be underway by mid-2020 and the location is expected to be ready for business by the first quarter of 2021.

Per the development agreement, attorney Burt Odelson said the sales tax money will help add about $250,000 annually toward the payments to the city’s underfunded police and fire pension accounts. He also noted that because the property is in the East Court Street Tax Increment Financing District, the new revenues going into the account should help woe potential business development into this area.

The administration also noted that ownership anticipates 20 full- and part-time jobs being created to operate the fuel center and car wash and another 20 to 40 full- and part-time jobs for the yet-to-be-announced fast-food restaurant.

In days of such bleak economic news, this development is a ray of a light for an area in need of uplifting news.

The site for the development is the location where the Kmart store once stood for many years, just east of the Interstate 57 at the 312 interchange.

The city is dedicating $1.2 million for construction of the new North Eastgate Drive and another $1 million for such work as interior roads, sidewalks and landscaping, among other expenses. The $1.2 million is being borrowed from the Exit 308 TIF district on the city’s south side. Those funds are expected to be repaid by mid summer as the city will be selling bonds.

“This is a first major development project taking lace on the east side of town and a gateway into our city. I believe it will pay great dividends from this day moving forward,” the mayor noted.

City planner Mike Hoffman said an offshoot of the project is the extension of North Eastridge Drive. The extension not only provides more access to the project, but creates a new front door into the Eastgate Industrial Park — just east of the site — helping promote development of some 290 acres of industrially zoned property.

Fortin Villa day care closes

KANKAKEE — When the coronavirus began significantly impacting the United States and government began closing schools, the Fortin Villa Learning Center in Kankakee followed suit.

Parents of the approximate 125 children — ages 6 weeks to 12 years — were informed on March 13 the center would be back in operation once life returned to normal.

However, exactly one month later, on April 13, parents received a two-sentence text message from the director of the center which delivered a gut-punch to parents.

The text stated: “I know most of you have heard the news, Fortin Villa is closing permanently. If you have questions I’m [the administrator] available at the villa now.” Her telephone number was left for parents to call.

To date, however, parents have received no explanation as to why this action has been taken as they scramble to find childcare alternatives.

Fortin Villa management was contacted for comment, but referred inquiries to Molly Gaus, Ascension Living communication’s director. In an email message, Gaus stated that after a great deal of consideration and study, the company made the difficult decision to close the center.

“Despite exemplary work by the team, we are unable to balance meeting student, family and community needs while continuing to invest in our associates and operations,” she stated. “As a result, we had to make the difficult decision not to reopen. ... We understand the challenges families face in finding quality day care and with that in mind we are giving notice at this time so parents can have significant lead time to begin looking for a new day care space for their children.”

She added the organization is grateful for the support the community has given Fortin Villa and have been honored to be a part of some many Kankakee families.


Fortin Villa has operated a day care in Kankakee County since 1974. It was located along Main Street in Bourbonnais for many years and relocated to 1025 N. Washington Ave., Kankakee, near the Brookmont Bowling complex, about 10 years ago.

“This was just so unexpected,” said Carrie Greenley of Bourbonnias.

Greenley, a nurse, had been using Fortin Villa as the day care for her children since 2016.

“This is an excellent daycare. I certainly understood closing for the pandemic. But we were given no indication the center would be closing,” she said.

In fact, Greenley said she was at work when the group text message arrived to her telephone. When she read and digested the brief message it took her by such surprise that she had to step away from her work for a few moments to regain her composure.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do,” she explained regarding alternative care once the region returns to some sense of normalcy. “I’ve called a couple places. But you don’t just trust anybody with your children.”

She and the other parents are hoping they won’t be forced into that situation.

The parents started a Facebook page called Fortin Villa Staff, Parents and Friends. Through the page and an online petition at Change.org, it has gained 712 signatures as of Monday afternoon. It has also been shared more than 200 times.


The petition is asking Ascension, a national health care system based in St. Louis and the owner of the day care center, to re-open the location once such businesses are allowed to resume normal activities. If Ascension does not agree to that request, the group is asking that it sell or donate the facility to an entity which would continue the daycare. The final request is to re-open the facility for at least six months, giving families a chance to find alternative child care options.

Elyssa Macias, of Kankakee, has had her two girls at the location for about six months. She noted she was on a waiting list for 14 months before accepted at the location. She created the Facebook page. She noted a couple individuals have expressed interest in operating the site.

But without communication from management, finding a solution is difficult, if not impossible.

“It was everyone’s thought that once the pandemic ended, things would be back to normal. My children had been at a different day care, but we moved to Fortin Villa due to all the great things they do. The fact this has happened without any warning, that’s what really hurts,” Macias said.

She said the region is not blessed with an overabundance of year-round daycare facilities. Most, she said, have waiting lists.

She said the ideal situation would be for Fortin Villa to rethink its decision.

But, she said, she believes that would be a miracle.

“We want answers and they have not told us anything,” she said.

The group notes that the Ascension mission statement reads in part that it “advocates for a compassionate and just society through our actions and our words.”

“If there were a time to show compassion, that would be now,” the parents noted on change.org.

Pritzker: Illinois ‘curve is bending the right way’

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday that the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, is showing signs of slowing down and that the social distancing measures put in place have saved thousands of lives.

“Our curve is bending the right way,” Pritzker said during his daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago.

His comments came as the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,151 new cases of the disease and 59 virus-related deaths over the previous 24 hours. That brings the statewide total to 31,508 confirmed cases and 1,349 deaths since the pandemic first appeared in Illinois in late January.

One of the figures Pritzker cited is the number of people currently hospitalized for COVID-19. On April 6, there were 3,680 people hospitalized for the disease in Illinois. Four days later, that number had grown to 4,020, an increase of 340. Over the following four days, the number grew by 263, and from April 14 through Sunday, April 19, the number grew by another 316.

As of Sunday, there were 4,599 people hospitalized for the disease in Illinois, accounting for 24 percent of all hospital beds in the state, according to IDPH.

“For context, early modeling in mid-March showed that without social distancing, we would have exceeded our hospital capacity by more than 25,000 beds by April 6,” he said.

Among those being hospitalized are 1,239 people in intensive care units, accounting for about 40 percent of all ICU beds, according to IDPH data.

“And to be clear, we are still seeing too many Illinoisans hospitalized with this virus, but because Illinoisans have come together by social distancing, learning at home and staying at home, we’ve so far prevented our worst-case scenarios,” Pritzker said. “As you can imagine when fewer people are contracting COVID-19, not only are there fewer hospitalizations, but also fewer ICU beds and fewer ventilators needed.”

Pritzker also noted that there are 757 COVID-19 patients on ventilators, accounting for 23 percent of the state’s ventilator stockpile. Without social distancing and other forms of mitigation, he said, the state would need “thousands” more ventilators than it has.

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities

Pritzker also said the state is ramping up COVID-19 testing for both residents and staff at nursing homes, veterans homes and other long-term care facilities, including those where no cases of the disease have yet been reported.

IDPH also is now making public detailed information about long-term care facilities where outbreaks of the disease have been reported.

Pritzker said the state is prioritizing testing at long-term care facilities because they house populations among whom an outbreak is more likely to result in serious complications, or even death.

He said the Illinois National Guard and the Department of Transportation began delivering testing supplies to facilities without any known cases over the weekend and that those efforts will continue until all such facilities have been supplied.

When a COVID-19 case is reported at a long-term care facility, Pritzker said, the state operates under the assumption that any resident displaying symptoms of the disease has the disease, regardless of whether they’ve been tested, and it recommends those residents be isolated and given appropriate care.

Pritzker said the state is also ramping up testing of staff at facilities where an outbreak has been reported. Until recently, he said, the state was urging facilities to give those staff members a wellness check, including taking their temperature, before starting their shift. Now, he said, the state is requiring that all staff at those facilities be tested, even if they’re not showing symptoms, in order to identify workers who should be at home in isolation.

Pritzker said that so far, long-term care facilities in Illinois have complied with IDPH guidance and he praised the staff at those facilities as “front-line workers” who dedicate their lives to caring for the state’s seniors.

“That said, we will not hesitate to hold any bad actors at the management level accountable,” he said. “These private facilities are home to some of our most vulnerable Illinoisans, and we expect owners and managers responsible for their care to take every action at their disposal to keep them safe.”

Status of the stay-home order

The executive order directing people to stay at home as much as possible is set to expire April 30, but Pritzker gave no indication Monday that he is preparing to lift it.

Pritzker said he accepts guidelines from the White House that say there must be a steady decline in the number of cases over at least a 14-day period, but he said there also needs to be much more testing in order to know for sure that the numbers are coming down.

“What would make you feel comfortable going back into your place of work?” he asked in response to one reporter’s question. “What would you need to feel comfortable as you go to work every day knowing that everybody in your workplace goes home, and they go to the grocery store and they go to, you know, wherever it is, they go visit their grandmother and so on, and then they come back to work the next day?”

“We need a lot more testing across the country before I think everybody’s going to feel comfortable, including the business owners and managers and people who work there not to mention the customer,” he added.