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City's entrance set for upgrade on east side

KANKAKEE — Plans to beautify and make Kankakee’s eastern entrance more welcoming are nearing completion and if all goes as planned, the project could be finished yet this year.

At a public meeting unveiling the “Gateway Project,” held earlier this week, city planner Mike Hoffman outlined what he anticipates to be a $200,000 project.

The highlights of the project at East Court Street and the Interstate 57 interchange — an area in desperate need of beautification — include construction of a nearly 10-foot-tall by nearly 12-foot-wide stone structure at the northwest portion of the interchange along East Court.

The lighted masonry structure would provide the base for an approximate 3-foot-tall-8-foot-wide “City of Kankakee” sign, which has served as the city’s logo for the past three years. The construction would match Kankakee’s downtown streetscape.

The second key portion of the design, Hoffman noted, will be the closure of North Hammes Avenue. The street currently has access to East Court, but is extremely close to I-57’s southbound exit to Kankakee.

“You want an inviting entrance. Right now this area doesn’t say that. The goal is to create a positive image as people come in,” Hoffman said.

The area is slated to see significant investment as a revival of the Ricky Rockets Fueling Center project has been announced for the northeast area of the interchange. The hope is this development will spur other investment.

The immediate area is home to the LaBeau Bros. truck dealership, two Kankakee schools, as well as an assisted-living complex and the Eastcourt Village Apartments.

Hoffman noted that the Hammes closure has already been discussed by the Illinois Department of Transportation. He noted that IDOT had been planning to close Hammes Avenue when the state eventually redesigns and builds the 312 interchange.

The upgrade of the interchange has been discussed for several years, but is not yet part of IDOT’s project list.

With the closing of Hammes Avenue, motorists would be not have an entry point to northside neighborhoods until St. Joseph Avenue, roughly a block west.

Some concern was expressed about more traffic on St. Joseph, which is a typical two-way street. It was asked if St. Joseph could be widen, and a widening project there would be years away.

Another obstacle to development of this area is the location of the Mount Calvary Cemetery. The cemetery is immediately south and west of the interchange.

Hoffman said the project includes plans for shrubbery to be planted near the cemetery’s entrance to somewhat block the view of the it.

Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong said the gateway project is in response to the community’s concerns about the unsightly look at one of the city’s main entry points.

The location is in the city’s 7th Ward, which is represented by Carl Brown, D-7. He said this area has been in poor condition since the former Kmart store closed in 1994 and the city must focus on projecting a positive image to those entering the city.

“Right now we have a cemetery and many empty lots. We need to project a better image. This is very important to the entire city. This certainly won’t solve everything, but it will definitely make a difference.”

Hoffman is hoping the project can go out for bid shortly and the project contract could be awarded within the first two weeks of September.

Kankakee police investigating homicide

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct the license plate number of the victim’s missing truck.KANKAKEE — Kankakee police and the Kankakee County Coroner’s Office are investigating the death of Albert Zaragoza, of Kankakee.

Police Chief Frank Kosman said the 66-year-old Zaragoza was found dead in an apartment in the 400 block of West Bourbonnais Street at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

A person with the apartment building’s management located Zaragoza’s body in the residence. A preliminary investigation indicated that Zaragoza had suffered wounds consistent with him being involved in a struggle, according to police.

Kosman said Zaragoza was last seen on Saturday. Zaragoza has lived in Kankakee County since 2009, Kosman said.

Police are searching for Zaragoza’s silver Ford F-150 pickup truck bearing Illinois license plate TRUCKR, which was not found parked at the building.

Kankakee police are asking anyone with information to call the department at 815-933-3321.

His death marks the third homicide in the city this year. There were four in 2019, according to police records.

It’s the second homicide this month. On Aug. 6, Roger E. Jackson, 30, of Kankakee, was found shot multiple times on the front porch of a house in the 300 block of South Rosewood Avenue in Kankakee.

A preliminary investigation by police indicated Jackson was the intended target and was not struck by random gunfire.

UPDATED: Power fully restored to Kankakee County

Daily Journal staff report

In the hours just before the calendar page turned to an entire week without power, ComEd’s outage map shows service has been fully restored to Kankakee County and its neighboring counties with the exception of Grundy County. One outage there is affecting less than five customers.

Systemwide, ComEd was reporting 10 outages affecting 55 customers early this morning. Through its social media outlets, the utility told customers that crews are still working around the clock to restore power and rebuild parts of the grid.

The derecho storm that blew through the area on Aug. 10 resulted in widespread power outages. ComEd reported that 810,000 customers systemwide were without power following the storm.

In the days that followed, more than 3,300 ComEd employees and contractors were working to restore power.

“This was a storm of historical proportion, both meteorologically and in its impact on our system,” Terry Donnelly, president and COO of ComEd, said on Wednesday. “In many hard-hit areas, we are not repairing the system, we’re rebuilding it.”

The National Weather Service in Chicago confirmed a total of 15 tornadoes during the storm. It’s the second-highest number of tornadoes to occur on a single day for the NWS’s Chicago region, according to ComEd.

Buy a Bears keepsake and help fund a history project

BOURBONNAIS — Buy a piece of Chicago Bears Summer Training Camp history and at the same time help the Village of Bourbonnais save another piece of history.

On Monday, the village will begin selling its Bears banners that adorned the decorative lamps along the community’s main thoroughfares from 2001-2019 in recognition of the annual summer training camp in “Bearbonnais.”

All proceeds will benefit the Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society and the 1837 Log Schoolhouse Restoration Project. Earlier this year, the village donated its portion of the 2020 Chocolate Tour — $5,000 — to the project. The society’s fund goal for the project is $120,000.

Over the past three years, $48,000 has been raised in donations and pledges toward the restoration, according to the historical society.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to own a village training camp keepsake and also contribute to Bourbonnais history,” said Mayor Paul Schore. “We received a large volume of requests for the banners and couldn’t be more pleased to donate the proceeds to the original Bourbonnais Log Schoolhouse Restoration Project.”

The village will have 128 cloth banners and 26 vinyl banners available for sale on a first come, first served basis.

Banners are approximately 18 inches wide by 35 inches long. They are available in cloth for $30 each or vinyl for $15 each. Due to expected popularity, the village is limiting banners to three per customer.

The banners welcomed the Bears organization and fans to the village, the team’s training site at Olivet Nazarene University and Kankakee County.

Last summer, after 18 years, the Bears announced they were moving training camp to the team’s headquarters at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.

In-person purchases may be made via cash or check from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the administration building at 600 Main St. NW.

For out-of-town football fans, the village will ship banners for an additional postage fee. Requests may be sent to beginning Monday. Payment must be received within seven days after request and banners will be shipped upon payment receipt.

Images and shipping costs can be viewed at

The banner design

Current Kankakee County Clerk of the Circuit Court Sandi Cianci worked for the village when the Bears began training in Bourbonnais and helped design the banner.

For more than eight years, Cianci worked as the administrative assistant to the village administrator, and executive secretary to Mayors Robert Latham and Schore.

“It was a cooperative effort between the Village of Bourbonnais administration and the front office/marketing division of the Chicago Bears organization,” Cianci said. “While it is a simple design, approvals of the trademarked Chicago Bears logos chosen took a little longer than I expected. There were a lot of hoops to jump through. It was a good learning experience.”

Cianci said she recently received an original banner.

School restoration project

The schoolhouse dates from 1837. It was discovered in 2011, when the village of Bourbonnais was in the process of demolishing a home in poor repair and found the structure of a log house underneath.

The building was operational as a school for 11 years. For a while after that, the structure served as part of the Methodist circuit. Throughout most of its existence, it served as a private residence, although many additions obscured its original history. It had even been a gas station for a couple of years.

The logs from the building are now being stored by the village.