PEORIA MAGAZINE March 2023
‘DOWNTOWN HAS TO BE REIMAGINED’ — OSF HealthCare Vice President Ryan Spain
DOWNTOWN PEORIA DEVELOPMENT
RiverfrontDistrict Central Business District WarehouseDistrict East Bluff Growth Cell District Medical District Properties that have been or will be redeveloped
“You can certainly tell the in-person staffing is not back to what it once was,” said Craig Janssen, owner of Great Harvest Bread Co. inside the OSF headquarters building. “This hybrid schedule … it’s real. We have these wild swings. Monday and Friday, abysmal, but Tuesday through Thursday are really good.” That’s because many employers are between a rock and a hard place, given the demand for skilled workers who now have the upper hand and want a work-from-home option. “Any successful downtown is a 3-legged stool,” said Ryan Spain, vice president of economic development at OSF HealthCare and a state legislator. “You have to have a strong workday population. We used to have that. You need a strong visitor component. Before the pandemic … we were really building that. Where we’ve always been lacking … is on the final leg of the stool, which is residential. “Downtown has to be reimagined.” APARTMENTS FULL, DEMAND HIGH
Source Kretchmer Associates
Fifty years after architect Angelos Demetriou drew up plans to reshape Downtown while calling on more locals to make it their home, that has started to happen. Nearly 3,000 people live Downtown in some 1,500 units, which are just a tick short of being entirely full. Consultants say Downtown can easily handle 400 more units by 2026. Loft living is popular. While there’s shelter Downtown for people of means, such as 401 Water and the Twin Towers, and for seniors and the poor, such as the 142-unit, $47 million Providence Pointe development the Peoria Housing Authority is building on the old Taft Homes site, more is needed for those in between. Worth noting is that while few dispute the need for housing at all income levels and life stages, according to a consultant’s report commissioned by the Downtown Development Corp., nearly 70% of Downtown households report annual earnings under $35,000. Monthly rents in the Warehouse Dis trict, meanwhile, range between $750 for a studio to $2,100 for a two-bedroom, slightly less than the rest of the city. What’s lacking are the support services – a small market, drugstore, retail, etc. “Those of us who live Downtown aren’t leaving because there’s no grocery store, but a grocery store is needed to attract more downtown residents,” said Julie Enzenberger, who resides in Twin Towers and works at Peoria’s Catholic Diocese.
To that point, “The suburban attributes of East Peoria and the urban benefits of Downtown Peoria” play well off one another and are “actually an asset,” argues John Morris, CEO and president of Peoria Riverfront Museum. ON EVERYONE’S TONGUE: PARKING In some corners there’s not enough of it, in others visitors are reluctant to pay for it. Drive around too long looking for it and you may conclude Downtown isn’t worth the hassle. Those views can run counter to the eyeball test, which reveals many far-from-full lots, garages and on street spaces. Meanwhile, parking is expensive to build and maintain, often taxpayer-subsidized, unsightly and frequently unproductive regarding revenues generated. Beyond that, how many more hard surfaces are needed Downtown in a city that will have taxpayers shelling out upwards of $200 million to keep stormwater mixed with wastewater out of the Illinois River? “Rather than all these meters, just have short-term parking,” advises restaurant owner Janssen, whose customers want “peace of mind that it’s OK to park and not get ticketed.” Downtown attorney Stephen Morris concurs. “I'm looking out my window right now and there are four parking meters in front of me … There’s been 5
If office workers aren’t returning Downtown in full – “I don’t think it’s ever going to look like it did pre-pandemic,” said OSF CEO Bob Sehring — then by most accounts its salvation depends on more people living there.
30 MARCH 2023 PEORIA MAGAZINE
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