PEORIA MAGAZINE March 2023
S itting in the Zion Coffee Bar with Casey Baldovin offers a real world exercise in show and tell. Baldovin, at 38 one of the most active current developers Downtown, gestures to the building across Adams Street – formerly known as the Federal Warehouse facility — where as owner and general contractor he’s busy getting 90 one- and two-bedroom apartments completed to meet the growing demand for residential properties Downtown. “The floors are framed. Windows are next,” he said. A social club also has shown interest in occupying 10,000 square feet on the ground floor that would house duckpin bowling, among other activities, he says. A rooftop garden is in the works, as well. Work also is underway on the former Grawey Building, a few doors down from Zion, where Baldovin is investing in the 3Rs – “rooftops” with 16 apartments, restaurants and retail — with an anticipated grand opening in the summer of 2024. A third Baldovin housing development, a three-story building located near Persimmon Lofts, is in the planning stages. Suffice it to say, Baldovin may be the man of the moment in Peoria’s Warehouse District. ‘NEVER A FINISHED PRODUCT’ The Warehouse District is an area of the city with a collection of activities you can’t find anywhere else in town, said Erik Reader, president and CEO of Illinois Business Financial Services, an organization once known as the Peoria Economic Development Association. “Zion Coffee, Black Band Distillery, Bearded Owl Brewing, Sugar, Thyme and Casa De Arte are a nice mix that weren’t there in the early 2010s,” said Reader, who returned to Peoria last year after five years in Rock Island and Muscatine, Iowa working on urban development issues. “What’s frustrating for most is that downtown is never a finished product,” said Reader. “It’s not like a new build that has a groundbreaking and a
completion with ribbon cutting. It’s always changing.” MOMENTUM BUILDER As one heavily involved in the changes going on in the Warehouse District, Baldovin senses the momentum he’s had a major hand in creating. “A lot of the interest in this part of town is entertainment-based. What do people 25 to 40 want to do? How do I get people from Morton or Bloomington to come down here for the night? We need more venues, more variety. We need more food options,” he said. “If we get them here, they can circulate through the district,” said Baldovin, expressing a belief that consumers will stay and play if the variety and the vibe are there. “I always loved architecture. Historic buildings have always drawn my attention,” said Baldovin, who worked for the P.J. Hoerr construction firm for 11 years before going out on his own. “I was flipping houses. I started looking at the Warehouse District over 10 years ago.” Baldovin grew up in Morton, the son of a union carpenter. A young man in a hurry, he’s also proven his patience. “It took me six years to buy this building,” he said in reference to the Grawey Building, which he purchased from the late Trev Hoover. “Historic buildings are hard to do. You need incentives,” he said, specifically referring to the historic tax credits that have proven particularly helpful in the Warehouse District. “I knew the process was difficult but I never realized how detailed until I got into it. Everything has to be drawn, inspected and approved by the National Park Service. It takes a long time,” said Baldovin. One person who sensed that Baldovin would become a major player in the Downtown development scene is former Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, who served in that position for 16 years through 2021, a time when the Warehouse District took shape.
“The fact that Casey has become a major investor and developer in the Warehouse District doesn’t surprise me in the least,” noted Ardis, now a strategic philanthropy officer with the OSF HealthCare Foundation. “When we met several years ago, I was impressed with his vision and his energy. He’s a breath of fresh air and brings a younger person’s perspective to the discussion.
‘HISTORIC BUILDINGS HAVE ALWAYS DRAWN
MY ATTENTION’ — Casey Baldovin
Needless to say, Baldovin also is pretty popular with longtime Warehouse District stalwarts such as Pat Sullivan, whose investments in the district go back to the 1980s. “Business draws business,” said Sullivan. “You have to keep plugging away to get more people to live down here.” ‘GREAT THINGS GOING ON IN PEORIA’ Michael Freilinger, president of Peoria’s Downtown Development Corp., calls Baldovin’s conversion of the Federal Warehouse Building “the flagship for the Warehouse District. given its strategic location and scale.” With all that he has going on at present, Baldovin can be forgiven for not buying into the notion there’s nothing going on in Downtown Peoria. “I understand the negativity,” he said. “There’s a lot of frustration here regarding a city where we haven’t seen much progress over the last 20 or 30 years, but Peoria has a lot of great attractions. I think we’re pretty hard on ourselves.” Longtime Peoria residents can be the most critical, he said. “People come here from someplace else and like it. They don’t understand all the negativity they hear from Peorians,” said Baldovin. “There are great things going on in Peoria and I want to be a part of it.”
Steve Tarter is a regular Peoria Magazine contributor
MARCH 2023 PEORIA MAGAZINE 47
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