The landmark Cohen building, left, constructed in 1892, and the former Shearson American Express building, also known as the Rashid building, have been vacant since the 1990s

in the hospitality business, battled staffing shortages and rising food and energy costs. “It’s time for entrepreneurs with fresh ideas and a fire in their belly to take over those spaces,” said Driscoll, 48. “That guy was me for 20 years.” The entire second-floor banquet facility — all 19,429 square feet of it — or 10 separate suites can be leased. The suites range from 163 to 8,537 square feet. “We’ll consider any creative ideas for that second-floor space,” Driscoll said. "There are offices throughout the building. Perhaps it's time for offices to occupy the second floor and bring some continuity to the building.” CSE Software, Architectural Re search & Design, Hall Rustom, Reath erford Wealth Management, A Royal Remembrance and The Waterhouse, Driscoll's firm, are the businesses inside the MAXAM Building. Driscoll moved The Waterhouse banquet facility to the MAXAM Building in 2014 from its original spot on Water Street in downtown Peoria. The restaurant in the MAXAM Building also operates under The Waterhouse umbrella. Downtown office inventory has seen livelier days. Tom Camper, a broker with Joseph & Camper Commercial in Peoria, told Peoria Magazine a year ago that a survey showed office vacancies in Peoria had increased from 23% in January 2021 to nearly 32% in January 2022, with many of those echoes reverberating Downtown. Camper said he’s certain that percentage hasn’t changed much

in the past year, and likely won’t in the near future, in large part because more and more employees are working primarily or totally from home. The surge in remote workers is a nationwide trend, fueled in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last September through its American Community Survey that between 2019 and 2021, people working primarily from home tripled from 5.7% (about 9 million) to 17.9% (27.6 million), the highest percentage since the ACS started in 2005. But empty buildings aren't a recent phenomenon in Downtown Peoria. There are multiple examples of prop erties lying idle and slowly deteriorating in some very prominent Downtown locations, quite literally for decades in some instances. The office market specifically Downtown “has been slow for seven to 10 years,” Camper said. “It was a trend before COVID exposed it and blew it up.” Will Hayes, also is a broker at Joseph & Camper, agrees. He’s listing the MAXAM Building's spaces, which are going for $14 per square foot. “When Caterpillar (headquarters) left Downtown Peoria, that was a gut punch,” Hayes said, referring to the company hierarchy’s relocation to Deerfield in 2017 after calling Downtown Peoria home since 1930, though the company still employs some 13,000 people in the Peoria area. Hayes said he's optimistic offices could begin filling up in Downtown Peoria, but it will be a slow process. One

variable is parking. A lack of it or having to pay for it can be drawbacks, he said. “When business owners and prospective tenants are considering locating a new office, the availability of convenient parking and the cost of parking are factored into that decision,” Hayes said. “Some people just don’t want to pay to park in Downtown Peoria. “I know the city is doing its best to improve the parking situation Downtown and free parking probably isn’–t the answer, but something needs to be done with the parking to attract more downtown tenants,” he said. OFFICE VACANCIES IN PEORIA HAD INCREASED FROM 23% IN JANUARY 2021 TO NEARLY 32% IN JANUARY 2022 Driscoll said he addressed parking issues at the MAXAM Building by leasing 100 spaces near the building for MAXAM employees and customers. "Is Downtown going to flourish again? I'll give you a short answer — yes," Driscoll said. "It has gotten through COVID and we're seeing residential and commercial growth. All we need now, the third component, are places to keep Downtown going strong after 5 p.m. on weekends. “That's why I'm excited to see who has ideas for our spaces in the MAXAM Building."

Steve Stein is a longtime Peoria area print journalist


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