What kept Wilmington abuzz in 2023

THE LAUNCHING PAD, along with the Gemini Giant, went up for sale near the end of 2023.


Twelve months have already flown by.
Now that the ball has dropped to welcome 2024, here are a look at some of the stories that kept Wilmington talking in 2023:

Wildcats are State Champs
When they needed it the most, Wilmington (13-1) put together one of those patented back-breaking drives and added two insurance scores, claiming the Class 2A state championship 28-3 over Athens (11-3) at Hancock Stadium in Normal on Nov. 24.
Linebacker Brendan Moran and guard Brody Benson became the first Wildcats to start in two state championship games. They were sophomores in 2021.
“We are a tight team. All these seniors are guys you want to be at practice with and guys you love seeing in the hallways at school. They make your school and community better so I'm very proud of them,” commented Coach Jeff Reents.
Wilmington finished the season with just one loss.

WFPD plans for new Station 1
It was at the end of the year when the Wilmington Fire Protection District went before the city with plans to build a new Station 1 at the site of old Booth Central School.
The district obtained that site 10 years ago for future growth, is finally ready to move ahead.
The design will incorporate four pull-through bays that open both to Kankakee Street and Joliet Street, as well as a 20,146 square foot, 1.5 story building.
The $9 million project will be funded with $5 million that the department has on hand in its capital improvement fund specifically designated for the fire house, and the additional $4 million will be financed, meaning the department will not be seeking any additional tax dollars to pay for the construction of the new building.
Chief Tim Zlomie added that the department also owns additional land throughout the district boundary for future growth, such as adding a substation. However, this new site at Booth is significantly bigger than Station 1, and allows for growth and expansion in a way that the current pole barn building does not.
The Wilmington Fire Protection District tentatively plans to break ground at the site in March 2024, with occupancy in 2025.

SRO returns to 209-U
For 32 years Wilmington police Sgt. Dan Brimer has kept a watchful eye on the community.
And, after he retired, he came right back to the job, this time as the new School Resource Officer.
The city approved the hire of a dedicated SRO for the first time in nearly 20 years. The agreement will provide for an officer specifically trained as an SRO to serve the district during the regular school year.
Brimer serves the district during school hours, excluding summer school, from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., with salary and benefits totaling an expected $51,576 and paid for by a 50-50 split between the school district and SOWIC, while the city of Wilmington provides the officer, a vehicle, and gear.

Water Street makeover
Long overdue plans to repave Water Street finally came to fruition in 2023.
Over the summer, the council approved this year’s Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) projects at a cost of $975,000, which included resurfacing of Daniels Street as well as Kahler Road between Water Street and Wildcat Court and Kahler Road between Butcher Lane and Barr Road.
Due to those planned projects that came in under cost, plus funds available from the High-Speed Rail project, the city was also able to add Water Street to the resurfacing program.
In August, Water Street was repaved from Baltimore Street north to Chicago Street. Repaving was also done on connectors to Water Street, including Mill Street, Van Buren Street, and Jackson Street. Along with repaving, Water Street also got a full restriping of lanes, crosswalks, and parking.

Administration changes at 209-U
With the start of the 2023-2024 school year, there was a change at the helm in the district’s administrative offices.
As of July 1, Kevin Feeney is now the District 209-U Superintendent, swapping seats with Dr. Matt Swick who will take over as Assistant Superintendent.
Over the past seven years, the pair have been the top two administrators in the district, with Swick in the superintendent’s chair and Feeney serving as the assistant. The swap was announced two years ago.
The two administrators said the ability to transition into each other's roles, versus looking at an outside hire, helped to make the effort leading up to this point to be fairly seamless.
Swick and Feeney have both spent the bulk of their careers in education in Wilmington.

Launching Pad for sale
Wilmington’s famous Route 66 attraction has been a hot topic over the past few years, following a brief grand re-opening that eventually led to the Launching Pad shuttered once again and a much talked about graffiti covered car blocking the Gemini Giant much of the time.
But in November. Launching Pad owner Holly Barker announced via X (formerly Twitter) that she was selling the restaurant for $1.4 million.
The listing comes after a contract to sell the establishment to the Joliet Area Historical Museum fell through at the end of September.
The Museum had secured a $1 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) “for costs, including any that are prior incurred, associated with operating expenses and the acquisition of the Launching Pad Restaurant and Gemini Giant landmark statue, located at 808-810 East Baltimore Street in Wilmington, IL.”
However, museum officials have said they will only consider making another offer if the price comes down.
Barker purchased the restaurant along with her former business partner Tully Garrett in 2019, five years after the 60-year old site had been closed down and left in disarray.
The restaurant reopened in 2021, but in the two years since has been fodder for social media disdain, predominantly surrounding the restaurant’s hours, business practices, and messages scrawled in white paint in the windows, on the fence, and on a car blocking the Gemini Giant.
Barker’s business license was not renewed last year. Garrett said the business relationship between him and Barker was suspended in June of 2022, and said Barker was the sole proprietor at that time.
The Launching Pad is owned by Gemini Giant LLC, of which Barker is the manager. That LLC is list as “not in good standing” by the Illinois Secretary of State’s office.
The property’s delinquent property taxes were sold to Sabrina Investments LLC, of Highland Park. Those taxes were redeemed by Garrett in November for $12,718.