Photo by Dennis Slape.
Some people see damaged windows, cracked walls and uneven sidewalks. But City of Peoria leaders see buildings with “good bones” upon which to restructure the warehouse district. It’s been a long time coming. The Peoria City Council created the warehouse TIF (tax increment financing) district six years ago as an incentive for developers to invest in the area just south of downtown. Half of a building owner’s property tax is rebated when improvements are made in a TIF district. But the economy kept developers at bay – until now.
With a $25-million public investment in infrastructure, builders have shown renewed but cautious interest. While the lending environment has improved, developers won’t soon return to the days when they built on speculation. They first need a revenue stream for projects, lining up clients in advance. City Manager Patrick Urich believes “The city has to be prepared to work with the developer, the property owner and the lending institution in a collaborative effort.”
There have been some signs of activity. A new restaurant called Sugar will soon open in a smaller building at 826 SW Adams Street. But the city’s Chris Setti knows it’s the big warehouses that are critical to overall success. “The 700 and 800 blocks of Southwest Washington are ground zero.” To that end, Setti and Craig Hullinger, a development consultant to the city, last week showed the warehouse district to developers from the Chicago area. Hullinger touted the huge job base in downtown and wants to complement that with a residential element. “You must get the middle class back to downtown and rebuild from the downtown out.”
To attract urban dwellers, Hullinger wants a mix of new in-fill buildings and renovated warehouses. He envisions retail on the first floors with residential units above. A recent study by Tracy Cross and Associates showed the core of the city could support 200 new housing units per year, plus 11,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.
The city is offering other incentives for developers. In addition to the TIF district, there are federal and state historic tax credits totaling 45% for certified projects. And the city will soon create the River’s Edge Redevelopment Zone that will allow builders to buy construction materials without a sales tax.
However, Setti says it’s the street improvements that have been the game changer. “The phones have been ringing since we started tearing up the streets.” A combination of federal, state, county and city money is improving Washington Street from the Peoria Riverfront Museum to Persimmon Street. The thoroughfare will have one lane instead of two in each direction with on-street parking on both sides, wider sidewalks with benches and landscaping, and improvements to storm water drainage and utilities. The U. S. Route 24 designation has been removed and shifted to the east side of the Illinois River. To reduce truck traffic, the city installed a roundabout at Harrison and is promoting a southern approach to the ADM plant, while the company is enlarging its staging area.
The public investment has been made. The city now awaits the private sector to step up.