Area Development: A Snapshot

by Jonathan Wright

In the city that houses the headquarters of the world’s largest maker of construction equipment, nearly $2 billion in capital projects are ongoing, have been completed in recent years, or are currently in the planning stages. The Milestone Project at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, the largest privately-funded construction project in Peoria history, is ready to open its doors to the public this month. As the nation slowly recovers from the “Great Recession,” the face of the region continues to be transformed by developments large and small.

Marriott Hotel
It’s been a long, tough battle, but the downtown hotel project finally received the go-ahead from the Peoria City Council on May 25th. The $102 million-dollar project, which includes $37 million in public bonds to be paid off over the next 23 years, will renovate the historic Hotel Père Marquette and construct a new 10-story Marriott Courtyard next door.

The renovation will upgrade the Père to a full-service, 284-room Marriott, while the Courtyard will add an additional 117 rooms. More than 15,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space will be added on the ground floor of the new, adjacent parking deck, and a pedestrian walkway will connect the complex to the Peoria Civic Center across the street.

Construction is expected to begin soon, with demolition of the next-door parking garage. In conjunction with the project, Big Al’s adult nightclub will relocate from its current Main Street location, one block away to the parking lot of the Madison Theater. The once-majestic, 90-year-old Madison Theater, which has been shuttered since 2003, could be revived as a result.

The new hotel project, says developer Gary Matthews of EM Properties, will create a “domino effect” downtown, igniting the potential for future development and helping the Civic Center land additional conventions and other events, adding much-needed tax revenue to the city coffers. A study by Bradley University professor Robert Scott estimates the economic impact of the new facility at more than $30 million annually, with 250 permanent jobs and 840 jobs created during construction.
The new Marriott Hotel is slated to open in 2013.

Bass Pro Shops
The long-rumored location of a Bass Pro Shops outdoor superstore to East Peoria was finally confirmed in May. The “#1 Outdoor Retailer in America,” according to Sporting Goods Business magazine, will open its 58th location—and the only site between Bolingbrook and St. Charles, Missouri—on the former CILCO ash pond site adjacent to I-74, just north of the Murray Baker Bridge.

Not your typical retail outlet, a Bass Pro Shops store is a combination of museum, art gallery, aquarium, outdoor education, conservation and entertainment center. Each store is uniquely themed to the region, so that no two are alike.

The East Peoria store will offer outdoor enthusiasts 145,000 square feet of equipment and clothing for hunting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, wildlife viewing, camping and more. A gift and nature center, an expansive boat showroom and service center, a restaurant and themed bowling facility are also planned.

With each location attracting an average of three million people annually, the East Peoria store will be a huge boon to the local economy. It is expected to employ about 300 people and open in the third quarter of 2011.

Peoria Riverfront Museum
Another project long in the works is the Peoria Riverfront Museum. Partners in the project include Lakeview Museum of Arts & Sciences, Caterpillar Inc., Peoria Historical Society, Peoria Regional Museum Society, African American Hall of Fame Museum, Illinois High School Association and the Heartland Foundation.

Located on an entire downtown city block, the Peoria Riverfront Museum will share a home with the Caterpillar Visitor Center, which will be constructed near the manufacturing giant’s world headquarters. Once complete, the 86,000-square-foot Peoria Riverfront Museum will feature a digital 3-D IMAX theatre, state-of-the-art planetarium, Illinois River Encounter gallery, history and art exhibits for all ages, children’s Discovery Worlds and the IHSA Peak Performance Center.

In 2009, the voters of Peoria County approved a public facility referendum to increase the sales tax by one-quarter of one percent for 20 years to fund the museum and allow construction to move forward. The first step is the upgrade and raising of Water Street from Hamilton to Liberty. According to Peoria City Manager Scott Moore, this work is taking place in stages, with the section from Hamilton to just past Main Street expected to be complete by July 4th. At that point, work on the section from Liberty to Main will begin.

Next, local contractors and construction workers will begin work on the underground parking garage that will form the museum’s foundation and provide access to the Caterpillar Visitors Center and museum. Groundbreaking on the $8.5 million parking lot project is expected later this summer.

The museum recently elected its first board of directors and selected officers and committee chairpersons. Officers are Dave Ransburg, chairman; Ryan Beasley, vice chairman; and Andy Herrera, secretary/treasurer. Committee chairpersons are Jane Converse, marketing and communication; Dan Daly, building and grounds; Pat Barton, education and exhibition; Mike McCord, development; and Bernie Drake, collections. Jim Richerson was elected as the museum’s first president. The rest of the 23-member board includes: Tom Bardwell, Dave Bozeman, Kevin Colgan, Dr. Marty Hickman, Frank Ierulli, Sally Johnson, Joan Krupa, Dr. Rod Lorenz, Rosemary McCullough, John Parks, Sally Snyder, Jamie Stevenson, Dr. Vicky Stewart, Sally Stone and Jim Vergon.

Next steps for the new board include finalizing the redevelopment agreement for the museum block and executing the IMAX contract, both of which are scheduled to be completed in July. The board will also assist in closing the remaining private funding gap and assist in finalization of various aspects of the construction plans and operating agreements.

The project is expected to create up to 300 local construction jobs and $45 million in labor payroll during its 25-month construction.

General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport
In October 2008, the Metropolitan Airport Authority of Peoria embarked on a new era of development when it began work on the construction of a $65 million terminal building to replace the original terminal, which was constructed in 1959. The new, state-of-the-art facility will be approximately 125,000 square feet with 11 gates, and able to service well over two million passengers annually.

In collaboration with the prime consultant Reynolds, Smith & Hills, PSA-Dewberry Inc. is serving as the local associate architect and structural engineer on the project, while AECOM is providing interior lighting, plumbing and fire protection design.

A topping-off ceremony was held in August 2009, and work is now nearing completion. Construction on the new terminal building should be complete by the end of November, with an estimated opening at the beginning of 2011.

A new rental car facility, maintenance facility and airfield improvements, along with other airfield infrastructure improvements, are expected to account for an additional $35 to $40 million in construction through 2015.

Harrison Impact Zone
On the south side of Peoria, the Harrison Impact Zone is taking shape around a new $21 million, birth-to-eighth grade Harrison Learning Center. The impact zone is a model for neighborhood revitalization developed in 2008, which focuses city programs and services within a two-block perimeter of a new school site. It is intended to reduce crime and increase safety, home ownership and community involvement.

The Harrison Impact Zone is the second impact zone in Peoria, following the Glen Oak Impact Zone on the East Bluff, which includes a new $27 million Glen Oak School and similar neighborhood improvements. The success of the impact zone concept has required a strong partnership between Peoria Public School District 150, the City of Peoria, the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission and the community, including residents, business owners, landlords, faith-based organizations and social service agencies.

The Harrison Learning Center will open this August. Also part of the Harrison Impact Zone is the new $40 million development of the Peoria Housing Authority, which will eventually include 200 housing units on 28 acres of land. Other zone investments will be made through projects yet to be determined.

401 Water
In 2000, developers Kert Huber and Dave Golwitzer converted an abandoned warehouse on the Peoria Riverfront into a mixed-use building of loft-style offices, retail, restaurants and residential condominiums called 401 Water. With all of the lofts sold and commercial and retail space at full occupancy, they are now ready for Phase II of the project.

A second-story skywalk is planned that will connect the 401 Water building to a system of elevated sidewalks and buildings across the street to form the “Commercial Street Campus” of 401. The six-million dollar project will add an additional 56,000 square feet of office space to 401 Water, allowing new and existing tenants to expand while maintaining the amenities offered at the original building.

Some structural work on two of the buildings was completed in 2009, but the project was placed on hold due to the economic downturn. The developers now have one national tenant committed and are looking for a second before restarting the project, hopefully within the next 12 months.

The Fresh Market
It was a development six years in the making, says Les Cohen, president of Cohen Development Company and developer of the 200,000+ square-foot Westlake Shopping Center. In recent years, Cohen has remodeled the center to offer a more upscale retail experience, and this fall, the next piece of that puzzle will fall into place when The Fresh Market opens its doors at the former Circuit City location.

As its name suggests, the family-owned, North Carolina-based specialty grocery chain keeps a sharp focus on fresh, high-quality foods. Founded in 1982, the company has continued its expansion into the Midwest, with three Chicagoland stores and a store in Normal which opened last fall. The Peoria location will be the company’s fifth in Illinois and 89th overall.

In its stores, The Fresh Market seeks to convey the atmosphere of an old-world, open-air European marketplace, enticing the senses with the aromas of freshly brewed coffee and baked bread and the soothing sounds of classical music. Under one roof, you can visit an array of departments, including an old-style butcher shop and fish market, large produce department and in-store bakery. Its food items are carefully selected for the highest available quality, and staff is on hand to answer questions and discuss the day’s fresh offerings. Its employees will even carry your groceries to your car!

The $4 million redevelopment project is expected to employ about 90 people and open in late August.

Metro Centre
Over the last few years, Metro Centre has undergone a series of upgrades and improvements that has dramatically improved its look and feel. New landscaping, light fixtures, outdoor furniture and signage; a repainted facade; and significant repairs to its sidewalks and the parking lot have gone a long way toward making the venerable retail center more inviting to Peoria-area shoppers. A rebranding effort has dovetailed with Metro’s new look, as has an expanded slate of community events.

Such improvements have helped Metro Centre gain five new tenants over the last few years, and it is currently in negotiations with several others. Metro’s unique partnership with its tenants can be likened to a small business incubator, with comprehensive marketing and branding services and assistance in planning a successful launch.

The former Davis Brothers/Ponderosa Steakhouse site on Glen Avenue was recently cleared and offers a new build-to-suit location for interested businesses. This fall, Metro Centre will welcome LOOP Cycling Studio and its unique workout concept to its family of businesses. A new patio area in front of Jimmy John’s, a reconfigured Farmer’s Market and a children’s outdoor play area are also in the works.

Sheridan Village
Peoria’s first major shopping center has been a mainstay in the heart of Peoria since the 1950s, but had experienced a gradual decline in recent years. The current redevelopment is putting a new face on the site.

Last summer, the land that once housed Cohen’s Furniture and several other stores was cleared to make way for a new anchor tenant. The newly constructed, 84,000-square-foot Hy-Vee supermarket will co-anchor the updated center, along with longtime anchor Bergner’s. The new Hy-Vee will be its first in Peoria and one of the chain’s larger stores in the Midwest. It is expected to provide 400 to 450 full- and part-time jobs.

Meanwhile, the CEFCU outlet at Sheridan Village has relocated to a site behind its old quarters, near where Shoe Carnival and Super Pets stores were once located. The new location has been up and running since earlier in the spring. Central Illinois Bank will also be opening a new branch in the former South Side Bank space.

Rock Island Trail
Central Illinois offers a unique network of trails linking recreational facilities and scenic areas throughout the region. The Pimiteoui Trail currently runs from the Peoria riverfront to historic Springdale Cemetery, while the Rock Island Trail runs 25 miles from Peoria to Toulon.

Efforts to connect the Pimiteoui to the Rock Island Trail are now well on the way to becoming reality after years of planning and legal wrangling. Plans to convert a portion of the former Kellar Branch rail corridor, which runs through the central part of the City of Peoria and the Village of Peoria Heights, to a multi-use recreational trail were recently approved and will provide the missing link in the system.

This project has a long history, having been conceived in the late 1960s and brought to the forefront when the City of Peoria and Village of Peoria Heights purchased the eight-mile Kellar Branch rail spur in 1984. The City partnered with the Peoria Park District to develop the trail, and the Park District applied for and received grants totalling nearly $4 million for its design and construction. Legal disputes with railway shippers and the federal Surface Transportation Board caused years of delay, which have finally been resolved.

An event was held on May 22nd to celebrate the public-private partnership that will make the trail a reality. A bidding process to construct the section of trail from Candletree Drive to Northmoor Road will begin in November, while the construction of the section of trail from Glen Avenue to Knoxville is in the planning stages. Work could begin as early as this winter.

Junction City
A lot has changed at the corner of Knoxville and Prospect since Alexis and Elizabeth Khazzam purchased the 50,000-square-foot Junction City Shopping Center and adjacent 30,000-square-foot warehouse, a former Bubble Up bottling facility, in 2005. And while Vonachen’s Old Place (VOP), the railroad-themed restaurant that once anchored the site, will be missed by central Illinoisans, that change continues to bring exciting new ventures to Junction.

Phased renovations, with great attention paid to landscaping and historic preservation, began immediately upon its purchase. The following year’s acquisition of the adjacent town hall building and troubled Grandview Hotel, and the 2008 purchase of the former IDOT building next door set the stage for the site’s current layout. Now renovated, the town hall building holds a mix of tenants, from medical offices to educational facilities and the offices of Congressman Aaron Schock. Meanwhile, the hotel and IDOT building were demolished to make way for the next phase of development.

The overhaul of the adjacent warehouse into first-class retail/office space is now complete, and the addition is nearly fully leased. What was once industrial space now holds the offices of several companies, as well as the much-heralded 309 restaurant, which opened in June. 309 is a mid-casual, reasonably priced eatery destined to make its mark on the palettes of Peorians. To honor the man who was instrumental in first developing this parcel of land nearly half a century ago, a room at 309 was named for the beloved Pete Vonachen. A new Asia Grill is coming in July, and a letter of intent was recently signed for a personal training facility.

On the northeast corner of the site, Petersen Health Care is developing an upscale senior living facility, to be known as the Courtyard Estates at Junction City. The four-story building will add a residential component to the expanding center, which will complement the rest of the site nicely. Construction is set to begin in the spring of 2011.

The conversion of the former Kellar Branch rail corridor to a recreational trail will add a whole new dimension to the Junction experience. More than three acres of property, in addition to the VOP site, are still available for future projects at Junction City. The center’s fresh approach to rejuvenation has helped to re-anchor the neighborhood and set a high standard for future development.

The Shoppes at Grand Prairie
Central Illinois residents were thrilled when Jillian’s Sports Grille opened its doors at The Shoppes at Grand Prairie on April 26th. With more than 20,000 square feet of non-stop entertainment, the colossal megaplex features dining and sports viewing on more than 20 giant high-definition screens, the latest interactive games and classic favorites, over-the-top bowling and tournament-quality billiards tables.

After years of requests, the much-loved Famous Dave’s barbeque restaurant will return to Peoria, thanks to franchisee Mercedes Restaurants Inc. A previous location closed in 2006. The building on Grand Prairie Drive that formerly housed Baker’s Square is under construction and is expected to open in mid- to late September.

Nearby, construction on the new 40,000-square-foot Bob Michel Veterans Administration Clinic is expected to be complete by the end of the year, with a scheduled opening next spring. The clinic will offer physical therapy and other health services that cannot be accessed at the current facility on Martin Luther King Junior Drive.

Also opening this August are the 160 upscale units at the Apartments at Grand Prairie, just off Orange Prairie Road. In addition, the women's fashion accessory boutique Charming Charlie recently signed a lease for a location at The Shoppes, its only location between Chicago and St. Louis.

Prairie Lakes Crossing
Plans are in the works to construct the second phase of a new retail shopping center on the north side of Peoria. The first building of the Prairie Lakes Crossing Shopping Center, located at 10001 North Knoxville at the Route 6 exit, is nearly fully leased and its tenants are opening for business. Developer Barry Cain expects the second building of 11,578 square feet to be completed this fall.

Now open for business at Prairie Lakes Crossing are Hi-Beam Internet & Voice and Lily’s Nails. Opening soon are Rock Valley Physical Therapy and Brasky’s Legendary Libations and Eatery. Several other businesses are in preliminary planning to be located in the second, larger retail building.

“We are beginning to see an upswing in demand for retail spaces in the Peoria market,” says Tom Camper of Joseph & Camper Commercial, who represents the developer in leasing the center. “I’m finding that companies who were able to maintain a strong financial footing are now strategically expanding. I am cautiously optimistic that the other business sectors in the Peoria area will follow suit over the next 12 to 18 months.” iBi

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