With a growing medical community, a flurry of activity in downtown Peoria and Peoria Heights, and significant investments from a prosperous entrepreneur who recently returned to his hometown, Greater Peoria is experiencing a 21st-century makeover.
The opening of a $100 million business and engineering complex at Bradley University promises to bring new opportunities to the region. A mixed-use development known as Keller Station has come online near Donovan Park, where a sculpture garden is also coming to fruition in 2020, while East Peoria’s Levee District continues to see new investment. As the world changes, Greater Peoria continues to redefine itself as well.
SPURRING HEALTHCARE INNOVATION
Last December, a brand-new Ronald McDonald House opened its doors in downtown Peoria. The four-story, 40,000-square-foot structure serves families with children receiving care at area medical facilities. It was the collective work of hundreds of volunteers, donors, artists, businesses, families and other supporters who invested their time, talents and treasure to create this very special place.
Meanwhile, the $130 million development of OSF HealthCare’s new headquarters is leading a wave of investment in downtown Peoria. With the approval of state and federal historic tax credits, work is well underway on rehabilitation of the 114-year-old building, an iconic structure slated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Just across the street, OSF HealthCare is working with other stakeholders to create the Peoria Innovation Hub. This collaborative space—which sits right in the heart of Peoria’s newly-approved, nine-block Innovation District—will catalyze multidisciplinary solutions in healthcare, manufacturing and agriculture, while spurring long-term economic activity and job creation. OSF also plans to construct a $237 million comprehensive cancer center on its Saint Francis Medical Center campus, bringing additional cutting-edge cancer treatment and technologies to central Illinois.
A DOWNTOWN RENAISSANCE
A decade-long wave of development has revived the downtown core—and with the new Innovation District at its center, this renaissance continues. From new distilleries and arts venues to axe throwing and escape games, downtown Peoria and the Warehouse District are teeming with new energy.
Billed as Peoria’s first and only craft distillery, Black Band Distillery is bringing distilling back to the Whiskey City. Housed inside a renovated warehouse on Southwest Adams, the new distillery is slated to open this spring. Nearby, another historic building was redeveloped for a famous game company. The Kansas-based Pop-A-Shot, which produces and sells electronic basketball arcade games, recently relocated its headquarters to Peoria, with a grand opening held in January 2020.
Alongside an explosion of public murals and sculptures, new entertainment options are attracting residents and visitors alike. First Ascent Peoria brought a new climbing gym to the downtown, while Gone Axe Throwing and Gone in 60 Escape Games introduced the hot sport of axe throwing and the immersive experience of escape rooms. The opening of Crafted - DIY Studio will soon create another hot spot for entertainment, allowing patrons to create their own crafts—including jewelry, leather goods and woodworking projects—while enjoying craft cocktails, beers and wines.
From Bearded Owl Brewing to Thyme Kitchen + Craft Beer, there are plenty of fresh, new settings for dining and drinks, while downtown retail is also taking hold. Sous Chef has brought a specialty grocery store to the neighborhood, while Casa de Arte features food, drinks, art and live music in a gallery setting. The new owners of Riverview Plaza plan to inject retail life into the 20-story structure at 411 Hamilton—and there is much more to come!
DESIGNS FOR URBAN LIVING
The Downtown Development Corporation is working to attract investment and bring new housing options to young professionals and other downtown residents. Recently constructed condos and renovated loft apartments already offer the desired features of urban living: open floor plans, exposed brick, vaulted ceilings, hardwood floors and historic architectural details, plus all the modern amenities. Redevelopment of the Builder’s Warehouse building on Washington Street is expected to create another 124 residential units, while work continues on various other projects.
The Adams & Oak development will transform a pair of warehouse buildings on the 800 block of Southwest Adams into a go-to spot for upscale residences, retail and commercial spaces. More than 90 high-end apartment units will accompany a diverse mix of commercial tenants, while across the street, plans for another mixed-use development are coming together to anchor an entirely new retail district. With additional public art, community festivals and entertainment-based businesses, these projects will engage more people to come downtown and enjoy the many new amenities.
Another recent project known as “The Block” rehabilitated five historic buildings on the 1000 block of SW Washington into a destination space anchored by Venue Chisca, a banquet facility with a French Quarter feel. Elsewhere, the historic Hotel Pere Marquette will soon see multi-million-dollar upgrades, while the Four Points by Sheraton complex—Peoria’s largest hotel—is expected to reopen this spring. Meanwhile, a developer’s recent purchase of the Scottish Rite Cathedral, among other investments, is leading a revival of downtown Peoria’s bygone theater district.
Kim Blickenstaff is a California-based entrepreneur who grew up in central Illinois and recently returned to share his success with his hometown. As chairman of KDB Group, his slew of development projects announced over the last year have not only rescued several historic structures from the wrecking ball—they are reshaping the face of Greater Peoria.
Blickenstaff’s purchase of the Scottish Rite has brought the beautiful, architecturally significant landmark back to life as a performing arts and event center. While renovations are ongoing, the venue is already hosting regular events. Just blocks away, the developer and his team are helping the Peoria Women’s Club restore its historic second-floor theater, while their investment in the iconic Peoria Armory is sure to breathe new life back into the long-dormant property.
KDB Group is also facilitating a number of projects in Peoria Heights. The former Heights library is now home to the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts, named for Blickenstaff’s mother, a performer in the Big Band Era. Nearby, plans to build a 55-room boutique hotel on Prospect Road are in the works—with additional designs for loft-style apartments, shops and restaurants fleshing out a comprehensive vision of creating a boutique destination in the Heights.
Even before Blickenstaff’s return, Peoria Heights was experiencing a renaissance as a culinary corridor and hub for specialty retail. It started with the $5.5 million Trefzger’s Bakery project—which repurposed a historic warehouse as a bustling center of activity—and continues unabated, with new public sculptures, performance spaces and a focus on the arts expanding possibilities in the village.
Along the Peoria Heights riverfront, a onetime amusement park is being brought back… with a twist. A century ago, Al Fresco Park was a regional attraction along Galena Road, featuring a roller coaster, Ferris wheel and other amenities before closing near the end of World War II. KDB Group recently entered into a long-term lease to create a new Al Fresco on the property—but one that is more of a nature park. Plans call for two spring-fed lakes and a wildlife habitat to be constructed on the property, providing a range of recreational opportunities. The new Al Fresco Park will be one component in a much broader vision connecting communities on both sides of the river.
DESTINATIONS IN NATURE
In November 2019, Kim Blickenstaff and KDB Group unveiled plans to transform more than 200 acres near the village of Spring Bay into a world-class outdoor resort. The Sankoty Lakes Resort and Retreat already boasts three aquifer-fed, 60- to 75-feet-deep lakes which—along with a mile-long, manmade trout stream—are the centerpieces of a getaway destination that will include glamour camping (“glamping”), an RV park and much more.
The four-season resort will feature fishing, hunting, birdwatching, kayaking, swimming and scuba diving, along with hiking trails, a beach, picnic area, playground and entertainment stage. Environmental education will also be a priority, with plans for a fish hatchery and science facility. Sankoty is set to open in the spring of 2020, with other developments—including a lodge and spa—to be implemented in phases.
Blickenstaff envisions the Sankoty resort working in tandem with Al Fresco Park, perhaps with water taxis transporting visitors back and forth across the river. Additional plans call for the extension of hiking and biking trails along both sides of the river, connecting smaller communities and creating a nature-based tourist destination in the beautiful Illinois River Valley. PP