The City of Washington continues to experience rapid growth and development. Residential expansion has been its core strength in recent years. Since 2000, construction permits have been issued for over 1,400 new residential housing units valued at nearly $250 million, with the city’s population increasing from about 11,000 to an estimated 15,000. Several factors have been key to Washington’s success, most notably:
- Close and convenient proximity to regional employers
- The quality of life afforded to residents, particularly young families with school-age children
- Availability of land for development
- The willingness of local builders and developers to invest private capital to meet the varying needs and demands of the growing housing market.
Despite the well-publicized national housing decline, Washington continues to exceed its planning target of 100 new residential units per year. Building lots accommodating an additional 900 units are currently in the development and/or planning process.
While single-family structures for young families account for the majority of the new housing starts, duplex and multi-unit assisted living facilities targeted to seniors, persons needing special living accommodations and others who desire downsizing options have been important to the mix as well. The 60-unit Washington Supportive Living facility opened in the fall of 2007, and the 61-unit Good Neighbor Care assisted living facility is currently under construction.
The city realizes that its long-term financial viability relies in large part on its ability to gain new commercial development to complement and support its residential growth. Since 2000, more than 900,000 square feet of new commercial space valued at nearly $68 million has been built. Recent additions include the new Menards store, the Sleep Inn Motel, three new banks (Washington Community Bank, South Side Bank and National City Bank) and two multi-tenant commercial centers (Barry Business Center and Mallard Crossing Retail Center). Prospects for further commercial development along Illinois Route 8, Route 24, McCluggage Road and Cummings Lane are encouraging. The infrastructure is in place, customer traffic is expanding, and a variety of site options are on the market.
The centerpiece of the city’s recent success is clearly Five Points Washington, a 130,000-square-foot multi-purpose facility that has Washingtonquickly become the focal point of community activities for recreation, entertainment, learning, fitness and social interaction. The $20 million project was the culmination of a broad-based undertaking spanning over 20 years and involving cooperation from throughout the community: individuals, civic and social organizations, private businesses and government. Five Points Washington has just completed its first year of operations. A source of special pride and distinction for the community, it has far surpassed expectations and offers an invaluable tool in recruiting permanent residents and guests.
The preservation and economic vitality of the city’s historic downtown square remains among its highest priorities. Washington has been able to avoid the deterioration and blight that has plagued many traditional central business districts. Its mix of specialty retailers, services and office use has helped maintain its commercial viability. Building renovation and historic preservation projects have ensured the long-term structural integrity of several of the classic downtown structures and solidified the future of the “Square.”
The city and its public sector partners have played a central role in downtown improvements through Tax Increment Financing assistance. While the ultimate burden of building preservation and renovation falls to the property owner, TIF assistance has been essential to several projects that would have otherwise been uneconomical and has enabled others to achieve a higher-quality, finished product. The city is currently seeking the support of local taxing bodies to extend this important redevelopment tool beyond its scheduled expiration in 2009.
Growth clearly comes with a price tag. An increased population affects all aspects of public services: schools; streets and traffic; police, fire and ambulance; and drinking, storm and waste water. All Washington- area taxing bodies take their respective service responsibilities very seriously, as they have a duty to both current and future residents. Importantly, elected leaders and the public at large have been very supportive in providing the means of addressing these needs, financial and otherwise, as most notably evidenced by recent and ongoing investments in schools and public infrastructure. The city’s efforts have focused primarily on the upgrade and expansion of its water, wastewater, stormwater and roadway systems. Most residents appreciate that Washington’s growing pains are clearly preferable to the costs resulting from stagnation and decline that face many less fortunate communities.
Washington is certainly not without its challenges. The lack of progress in the redevelopment of the Sunnyland Plaza has been a disappointment at the very least. While the city has expressed its willingness to support and assist in the property’s redevelopment, meaningful progress is ultimately dependent on private investment and market demand. In addition, despite the clear need and years of lobbying by two Washington administrations, the lack of funding for the reconstruction of Illinois Route 8 is discouraging as well. The city’s original commitment with IDOT on the Route 8 improvement dates back to 1997. The project’s cost has doubled since then. The city’s share of funding is in place, as is the support of our legislative leaders, but the state’s ongoing budgetary stalemate remains problematic. Despite these difficulties, the city’s resolve in addressing these challenges remains undeterred.
Washington realizes that its future is directly linked to the economic well-being of the larger Peoria region. It is willing and eager to play its role in regional affairs, be it transportation, business recruitment, environmental or quality-of-life issues. It has partnered with its neighbors regarding tourism and economic development, the Eastern Bypass, the Summit Road extension, and stormwater and sediment control. We realize that we all stand to benefit from each other’s successes and suffer from setbacks.
Lastly, we should be mindful that many of the benefits experienced in recent years in Washington and throughout the Peoria region have been built upon decisions made and actions taken decades ago by leaders of that time. Clearly, actions taken today, or the lack of action, will have similar consequences for those who follow. iBi