Ricky Rockets (copy)

The site of the old Kmart building on East Court Street in Kankakee where the Ricky Rockets Fuel Center was to be built. Planner Mike Hoffman said, “I sincerely doubt that project is going anywhere. It’s time to move on from that.”

KANKAKEE — Many issues can be debated when it comes to local politics and Kankakee. But there is one subject in which there is likely no dispute: Kankakee’s eastern entrance at Interstate 57 and East Court Street is the pits.

With planner Mike Hoffman leading the charge, the city would like to change the unwelcoming image the entrance has on those arriving from the east.

Hoffman will be helping develop plans to change this impression by creating welcome signage, upgrading landscaping and improving lighting.

The city is eyeing a better entrance at the same time it is hoping to significantly expand the East Court Tax Increment Financing District to kick-start improvements and development in this area.

At Monday’s Kankakee City Council meeting, Hoffman said a meeting has been scheduled to approve additions to the TIF district. That meeting will be 5 p.m. Jan. 6 in the city council chambers.

The goal is to eventually drive development, Hoffman said, adding that the first job is to make the entrance something less than an eyesore.

“You have an entrance in which the first things travelers see is a cemetery and a senior center,” Hoffman said after the council meeting. “It’s not inviting. It’s not interesting.”

With pending changes coming to the I-57 312 interchange by the Illinois Department of Transportation, Hoffman said improvements would need to be outside of that area to ensure upgrades will not be damaged by construction.

The first order of business, though, will be making changes to the area which has struggled since the closure of the former Kmart store in the early 1990s and the relocation of the Dodge-Chrysler dealership to Bradley. It is plagued with many closed and vacant business locations or vacant lots.

The Kmart building was cleared only a few years ago, but a planned Ricky Rockets Fuel Center never developed. Hoffman said people can stop waiting on that project.

“I sincerely doubt that project is going anywhere,” he said. “It’s time to move on from that. I believe this can be a great site and provide great opportunity.”

But first, the area must be made presentable.

There are funds to help make improvements. Comptroller Elizabeth Kubal said the East Court Special Service Area, an account established several years ago to assist development, has a balance of $105,526. She said the account will grow by up to $23,000 when property taxes are paid in mid 2020.

Teska Associates Inc., the urban planning firm which has helped develop city projects such as the downtown Kankakee streetscape project, will be paid no more than $13,800 to design gateway plans.

Regarding the expanded TIF district, the plans now call for the boundary to be west along East Court Street until it reaches Harrison Avenue. It would include properties from Eastgate Industrial Park to downtown Kankakee.

Basically, a TIF district is a public financing method for a designated area in which development is being sought. Its creation allows a municipality to collect increased property taxes for that designated area and set the money aside for potential development or improvements in the area which it was collected.

The expanded TIF could be approved as early as the Feb. 3 council meeting.

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