Ricky Rockets

A sign advertises the planned Ricky Rockets Fuel Center at the northeast corner of the Interstate 57 and East Court Street interchange. With development slated to begin this year, the now $20 million project aims to open in fall of 2021.

KANKAKEE — A project talked about in Kankakee for the past five years appears about ready to begin.

The Ricky Rockets Fuel Center, slated to be developed at the northeast corner of the Interstate 57 and East Court Street interchange, is to begin this year, said Bruce Larson, a project engineer told Kankakee City Council members during their meeting Tuesday.

Development of the fuel center has been discussed in Kankakee since 2016. Construction was initially slated to begin in the fall of 2017.

If the project timeline follows the path described by Larson, the location is to be ready for customers by the fall of 2021.

This 7th Ward location has been largely unused since the former Kmart store closed here in 1994. The 104,000-square-foot store was demolished in 2015.

The project, which was originally proposed under the Mayor Nina Epstein administration and then put back together by the Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong administration after lying dormant for a couple years, was slated to cost in the range of $12 million to $13 million.

However, Larson told the 14 council members on Tuesday that the project had grown to $20 million as more development is being included. Larson said there are ongoing discussions with two large national fast food restaurant chains.

He also noted the original footprint of the development was to be approximately 16,000 square feet. He said the project has been increased to 27,250 square feet — a 70 percent increase in the project’s size.

Larson did note development leader, Rick Heidner, owner of the Ricky Rockets’ chain, has already invested some $4 million into engineering and legal work. He said that dollar amount is not part of the overall $20 million development figure.

Final architectural designs likely to be completed within the next 60 to 80 days. A general contractor has already been selected — George Sollitt Construction Co. of Wood Dale, which was the general contractor for the construction of the Kankakee Army Aviation Support Facility and Readiness Center on Kankakee’s south side. Larson said it is likely local labor and businesses will have opportunities to bid as subcontractors.

The site will also include 7,000 square feet of undeveloped space for future retail.

“We are trying to maximize as much as we can,” Larson told the council by telephone. “We believe this will be one of our most successful sites. We believe this investment will be worth it. We are comfortable with the city and the location.”

Once construction begins, Larson said the goal is not to stop until the project is finished.

“We have to finish this fast. Money is too expensive to drag this out,” he said.

He noted Heidner has started a new development in Hickory Hills about three weeks ago so there is much happening with the Ricky Rockets brand.

Currently, the company has five fuel centers in operation. It has two locations in Hoffman Estates and single locations in Midlothian and South Elgin as well as one in Garland, Texas.

Alderman Fred Tetter, D-7 and chairman of the council’s Economic Development Committee, said after the meeting the project is long overdue.

“It has taken a lot longer than originally planned, but the citizens will be quite pleased when this is ready. This is going to create a tremendous amount of good for the entire east side,” he said.

“This is a win for the entire city.”

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