Urge U.S. Steel: Redevelop Abandoned Mills in Joliet, Illinois
Joliet, Illinois is known as the "City of Steel," at one time said to be home to the second largest steel production facility outside of Pittsburgh. The story of the steel mills is strongly tied to Joliet's historic and cultural identity and a hallmark of its industrial heritage. The mills played an important role in the establishment of immigrant communities in Joliet, as well as early efforts in the formation of labor unions and worker protections. In pop culture, the Joliet Steel Mills were the backdrop for the ambitions of title character Daniel Ruettiger in the beloved 1993 film "Rudy."
The nearly 200-acre mill complex, owned by U.S. Steel, was shuttered in 1983, decimating the local economy. Located in the center of a historic working-class neighborhood just north of Joliet's City Center, the area is now home to a thriving Latinx community who is working with the City of Joliet to identify suitable reuse options for the abandoned site, particularly the striking limestone Main Office building situated on Collins Street, the neighborhood's main thoroughfare.
As of 2021, U.S. Steel has committed to the repairs of the Main Office but there is still a desire among City of Joliet community development and preservation planning staff to discuss the feasibility of a lot split to enable the Main Office Building to be sold and redeveloped separately from the rest of the site. This highly visible historic building, which faces an adjacent residential neighborhood, should be the pride of the community and not left to deteriorate beyond a reuse solution.
Though incremental progress with the Main Office Building has occurred and U.S. Steel officials have indicated a willingness to improve communication with City officials, the buildings in the complex stand abandoned, blighted and dangerous, notwithstanding almost 150 years of environmental contamination.
The City of Joliet and its community partners are seeking to bring U.S. Steel officials "back to the table" to regularly communicate with City staff, preservation, and community neighborhood officials. U.S. Steel should furthermore act in a leadership role to work with these partners to identify and establish a sustainable plan for the entire site's larger reuse.