Small Business and the Downtown

by Michael J. Freilinger
Downtown Development Corporation of Peoria

When we talk about downtown development, we are talking about small businesses.

When people think of downtown, many think of the large employers like Caterpillar, the regional medical centers, or city and county government. However, downtown is also where many small businesses make their home and earn their livelihood. In the two short years the Downtown Development Corporation of Peoria has been in business, we have seen numerous small businesses relocate or start up in the downtown. They have discovered the benefits of conducting business in the heart of the city. Not only do these businesses rent or own space in the downtown, they provide jobs, goods and services that make life in the city better for everyone.

It is good for us to remember that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Together, they provide more jobs than their larger colleagues, provide most of the goods and services on which we rely, and contribute to the community through their taxes and community service. Small business is good for America and its downtowns.

Meeting the Housing Demand
When it comes to mixed-use development, we have seen that all of the projects recently completed or currently under construction are being undertaken by small businesses. You may not have heard about them or know much more than their names, but they are the ones—the small business owners—who have stepped up to meet the demand for urban living.

It may good to mention them here. The Jumer family restored the Kickapoo Building; Larry Winkler is finishing up construction of Winkler Lofts; Mike Chihoski, APG, Brian Murray and the Murray family are renovating the soon-to-be-completed Murray Place Apartments; Kert Huber of Huber Development—who has many projects in the downtown, including 401 Water—is wrapping up the Marquette Building Apartments; Pat Sullivan, another longtime resident and developer in the Warehouse District, has redeveloped the Sealtest Building; Trevor Holmes and Becker Brothers are finishing up the redevelopment of Persimmon Lofts; Jacob and Rainy Shorey, WD Investments, are proceeding with construction on Cooperage 214; and Jon and Angie Walker, Union Depot LLC, are finishing up construction on the former Union Depot Hotel at 803 SW Adams, which will soon house Zion Coffee Bar and an upstairs residence.

These individuals and their small businesses are adding all of the nearly 150 new apartments in the downtown to serve the demand of people who want to live downtown.

Moving to the Downtown
When it comes to providing goods and services, we have recently seen several small businesses choose to move downtown. Some are renting office space, while others have decided to purchase and redevelop their own property. Either way, when a small business decides to move downtown, they help the area become even more successful.

To mention just a few of the small businesses that have purchased and renovated their own buildings in the past couple of years: Adam and Marie White, Running Central, 311 SW Water Street; Josh Waite, Northwestern Mutual, 410 W. Fayette Street; and Court and Karen Conn, Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery, in the Cornerstone building at 321 NE Madison Avenue. In addition, Travis Mohlenbrink of Sugar Wood-Fired Bistro, 826 SW Adams Street, recently purchased the building he had been renting after it was renovated to become its first home.

Those businesses that have chosen to rent space in buildings owned by other small business owners/developers—such as Kert Huber, Les Cohen, the Jumer family, Pat Sullivan, the Murray family and Dennis Slape, to name just a few—also contribute to the redevelopment of downtown, not only by the goods and services they provide, the people they hire and the customers they bring to the area, but by the rents they pay to the local developer, which funds the development project. Some of the small businesses that have recently chosen to start up or relocate in the downtown include: 8 Bit Arcade; Alani De’Lancy Haute Coutoure; Blue Duck Barbeque Tavern; Creativity Uncovered; CrossFit Peoria Downtown; CSE Software; Electronics Diversified; Farnsworth Group; Freedom Ink; John S. Rhodell Brewery; Lily V Designs; Northerly, Inc.; OneFire; Prairie Engineers of Illinois; Thirty-Thirty Coffee Co.; Thyme Kitchen and Craft Beer; Waxology by Meliss; and Zion Coffee Bar. What an impressive list!

The Urban Pioneer
As you can see, when we talk about downtown development, we are talking about small businesses. The small business owner is the first one in, taking the risk to be a pioneer in urban redevelopment. Many times, their willingness to step forward creates an environment in which larger developers eventually follow, but they couldn’t do what they do without incentives like tax increment financing and historic tax credits. Sometimes that gets lost in the debate over subsidies and incentives and whether or not that is the best use of public funds—an argument often characterized as the public versus the rich, large developers. The developments we are seeing in the downtown, however, are almost exclusively being done by small businesses. These businesses hire local people, spend their incomes in our community, and provide growth for the local economy—not to mention that many of these incentives are really a reduction in taxes that wouldn’t exist if the development wasn’t incentivized. Sometimes, we can lose sight of the forest for the trees.

In this issue of iBi, a focus has been placed on small business. I hope my contribution has reminded us all how important small business is to our downtowns. iBi

Michael J. Freilinger is President/CEO of the Downtown Development Corporation of Peoria.

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