DOWNTOWN, ‘A VERY NICE PLACE TO PARK’ Research what’s happening in other cities across the country and listen to what more than a few urban planners nationwide are saying, and you get a different story: Downtowns need to be less automobile-oriented and more people-oriented, with far more thought given to long-term fiscal efficiencies. To this end, notable planners such as Chuck Marohn, founder of the non profit organization Strong Towns, advocate abolishing all minimum parking mandates and subsidies. (By the way, Peoria has eliminated many of those parking minimums.) He’s been to Peoria and views it as very much over paved, especially Downtown. “Peoria’s visitors must see it as a very nice place to park,” Marohn said. The municipal planning corporation Urban3 did an analysis on Peoria and parking was a dominant theme, according to the Strong Towns website. Josh McCarty at Urban3 wrote, "The pavement is oppressive there. They have, what I'd call, a Midwestern attitude about land: It's flat and it's endless." As such, the idea of any city building more parking garages or paved parking is distasteful to Marohn, who incidentally comes out of an engineering background. “The idea we should be building big parking ramps … or making further adjustments accommodating people coming from way outside Peoria … as if that is the answer to Peoria’s problems, is a very old idea,” said Marohn. “And if you just look at how it’s played out on the ground there, it’s not worked out well for Peoria. “What has treated you well, and I think if you go back in history, the peak of Peoria’s preeminence as a city was when you had a downtown and surrounding neighborhoods that created a surrounding ecosystem,” said Marohn. “People in the core neighborhoods around downtown are being considered as an afterthought,” he said, yet “they’re more financially productive. They’re paying more taxes per square foot and

needs, he’s not going to develop. That’s just a fact.” Banks, meanwhile, won’t even give financing to a redevelopment project that doesn’t have enough parking, he said. “Developers will take their money and invest elsewhere.” Soon to be developed are 300 parking spaces to accommodate those Warehouse District developers. They’ll be located behind the buildings along SW Washington Street, from State to Persimmon. “The city is spending $9 million for purchasing the land and developing the site for parking,” said Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich. “In the agreement to purchase the land, a portion will be dedicated for business parking and spaces available for lease through National Garages,” the same company contracted to manage the city-owned parking decks Downtown, he said. In addition, the DDC and the City of Peoria have identified the site for a future parking deck in the Warehouse District. Urich pegs the cost to construct the deck at $12 million. The city has asked its legislators to assist in securing a state grant to cover the cost of construction. However, Urich is not prepared to recommend that city taxpayers subsidize more parking. “Developers should subsidize parking,” he said. “The city has tapped itself out to help with parking and can’t do any more.” Elsewhere Downtown, there’s suffi cient parking in the Central Business Dis trict, and thanks to the two Downtown hospitals, there’s plenty in the Medical District, he said. Meanwhile, plans to redevelop Riverfront Park has City Hall in discussions about parking with the various stakeholders there, including merchants, many of whom have adapted. “Sometimes, parking is a challenge here,” acknowledged Shannon Cox, executive director of the Peoria Art Guild, which often holds its classes in the evenings and on weekends as a result. “People just have to get used to the fact they’ll have to park and walk a block or two.”

contributing more to the overall health of the community balance sheet than the places out on the edge that are more affluent. “They cost less to serve. They have less cost per foot of public investment.” Marohn poses a different question: “Those people who are driving Downtown to work in those buildings, why wouldn’t they want to live closer to those buildings? Why would they want to drive? “In really successful cities, those neigh borhoods are attractive to those people.” Meanwhile, there are environmental considerations, as hard surfaces absorb heat and release gases, contributing to global warming. Unfortunately, they don’t retain water, which also is an issue in a Peoria that is under a federal order to keep waste water that mixes with stormwater out of the Illinois River, and will be spending upwards of $200 million to see to it. DÉJÀ VU It's not the first time the locals have butted heads over parking. In the late 1960s, as Peoria was getting a new Courthouse, the Peoria County Board wanted to surround the building with a blacktopped parking lot. “A group of spirited citizens campaigned so forcibly that the County Board cancelled its plans,” recalled Jerry Klein in his 1985 book, Peoria! Landscapers were hired instead. The result was today’s Courthouse Plaza. Was the correct decision made? If parking once upon a time seemed like a no-brainer, well, it turns out to be a bit more complicated. Who knew? Can Peoria do it better, smarter, less visibly, more attractively? Let the con versation begin. Linda Smith Brown is a 37-year veteran of the newspaper industry, retiring as publisher of Times Newspapers in the Peoria area. Peoria Magazine editor Mike Bailey contributed to this report


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