A Publication of WTVP

Patrick T. Sullivan is co-owner of JP Companies, which currently focuses on developing riverfront properties. He's also a partner in S&H Floor Covering, Inc.

He was born and raised in Peoria and is a Peoria High School graduate. Sullivan's career began when he worked part-time at Columbia Rug & Linoleum. He later took a full-time position with Columbia, and in 1972 started Sullivan Floors, the predecessor of the current S&H Floor Covering, Inc. He started JP companies in 1988.

Sullivan was the Golden Glove State Boxing Champion and AAU State Champion from 1970 until 1972. He co-founded the Peoria County Boxing Club in 1977, and founded the Richwoods Tennis Parents' Association. He's past president of the Richwoods Swim & Dive Parents Association. In 1989 he received the Neve Harms Meritorious Service to Sports Award.

Sullivan is on the board of directors of the Peoria Boys & Girls Club, and is a member of the Peoria Area Heritage Tourism Commission and the Riverfront Investors for Development and Expansion.

He's married to Lark Roehnelt Sullivan and they have three children: Stephanie, Molly and Sean.

You are co-owner with John Hunt of JP Companies. How did this partnership come about?

John and I have been friends since attending St. Bernard's Grade School and Peoria High School together. During high school we worked together at Columbia Rug & Linoleum. We also began boxing while we were in high school, and later became boxing coaches and founded the Peoria Boxing Club.

I started Sullivan Floors in 1972 on my own. As the floor covering business began to expand in the mid 1980s, John and I decided to become partners and formed S&H Floor Covering. With time, our individual expertise developed, and John focused more on the bid/blue print/business end of floor covering, and I focused more on the direct service of installation and supervision of staff in the field.

In relation to JP companies, we decided that John should continue to focus on S&H Floor Covering, and I would focus on the renovations and development of JP Companies. We keep each other informed on each business, and it works well for us.

What types of business is JP Companies involved in?

Currently we are focusing on the development of riverfront properties and the continued upkeep of all of our buildings.

Your company owns a complex of six historic buildings on the riverfront. Which buildings are they and what are your plans for them?

The buildings align the intersection of State Street and Constitution Avenue. The buildings on State Street begin at Commercial Street and continue around the corner to Constitution Avenue, encompassing the former O'Neil Brothers Building. We currently have a total of nine tenants/businesses housed within the six buildings, and continue to renovate unoccupied areas.

What's the cost of renovation for the complex? How is the renovation funded? Grants? City dollars? Private contributions?

Other than the city's streetscape program (sidewalks, streetlights and streets), this enterprise is 100 percent private, and funded by John and me. "Sweat equity" is the name of the game, along with the hands-on approach.

An estimated total dollar cost to renovate the buildings (excluding the cost of the buildings) is about $1.5 million.

How did you select the second floor of 100 State Street as your office?

We first housed our offices at 114 State Street. However, as people began to rent spaces, we had to move our offices to make way for others. In essence, we have pushed ourselves to the end of the block out of necessity. Interestingly enough, we were intrigued by the second floor office space, not knowing at the time the full history of the office.

It was the former office of Bernard Distributing. While the office had solid oak and walnut walls and woodwork, it needed a great deal of work. With those original offices, we were able to clean up and renovate other areas for the companies.

You call the complex Le Vieux Carre. What does that mean and how does it suit the location?

Le Vieux Carre is French and stands for "small quarters." We met with our tenants to brainstorm about names for the complex. We were trying to develop a French Quarter and McClead's Landing mix, but suitable for the location.

Dr. John Burdon suggested the name, and due to the French history of the area, it was a perfect match. In fact, the 1830's French Claim Line runs through the center of Commercial Street.

What offices or businesses, other than your own, currently occupy the buildings? Tell us a little about them.

Nine businesses are now occupants of Le Vieux Carre. Most recently Rizzi's on State, an Italian restaurant, opened in June. Others are Haberdashers Playhouse (dinner theater), Lonnie Stewart (world renowned artist), Tandem (professional temporary employment agency), Riverfront Studios/Gary Walters Photography (photographer), Risk Management Solutions (provides services to banks/insurance for major catastrophe), Bradford & Gault (computer programming consultants), Mariam Willis Fine Art Studio (artist), and Peoria Brew-on-Premise (brew your own beer).

Who are some of your future tenants?

Keith Berry, a professional photographer, will be joining us within the next two months. I am consistently giving tours to interested business people. We have a couple of interested parties, and hope for those to be firmed up shortly.

How old are the buildings in the complex? Give us a brief history of the complex.

Charles Balance, who rode the circuit with Abraham Lincoln, was the primary property owner. This includes all the property from Harrison Street (former Hudson Street) almost to MacArthur Highway (former Pear Street). He sold off different parts of this property during the years, including selling parts to the railroad.

The buildings at 114 and 115 State St. were built in the late 1800s and housed the E.G. Ish Co., which was a buggy and farm implement company. 100 State St. was a boarding house for railroad workers. In 1880 the Union Hotel took over 100 State St., and in 1903 W.C. Black (from Boone, Iowa) bought the Union Hotel and changed its name to W.C. Black European Hotel.

In the late 1930s, Marvin Goodman, Julian Ven Ezky, and Robert Silberstein Sr. bought all the properties at 100, 112 and 114 State St. for their business, Pebble Springs Distilleries, after Prohibition. It's said that Sheridan Village was designed in their offices.

In the late 1950s, Goodman and Silberstein moved out, and Julian Ven Ezky's nephew operated Bernard Distributing out of the buildings. Evidently, he distributed new television sets–the first TV in Peoria was distributed by Bernard Distributing.

The third floor of 100 State St. has large built-in, walk-in wall safes. There are also large windows to view workers, as well as lots and lots of phone wires. You can draw your own conclusions about what activity might have taken place on the third floor.

At 600 Commercial St. the Friezy Pump Co. occupied the building. After that the building housed railroad workers. In fact, we found that a barkeep named Mike Sullivan lived there. This building was the most boarded-up and unused of all the buildings. In 1960 DeHater Paper Co. owned the building along with 114 State Street, until Owen Roehnelt bought the building in the 1970s.

The O'Neil Building was built in the 1880s as well. Reeves Mfg. (farm implements and buggies) occupied the building until it was bought in 1927 by O'Neil Brothers Transfer Co. This building had been empty since 1970, and was purchased by JP Companies in 1995.

Rumors still persist that possibly Al Capone operated whiskey stills and gambling devices out of any or all of these buildings. We are always looking for more information and photos on the buildings. If anyone has more details to share, we're interested in meeting with you.

Where do you begin with renovation? Which architects or designers have you worked with?

We began the renovations to the buildings on an as-needed basis.

For example, one day I'm working on Commercial Street, and Lonnie Stewart comes walking down the street. He had been living and working in New York, had relocated to Peoria and was looking for a new studio location. I showed him all the space I had at the time, except for the boarded-up area at 600 Commercial St. We took down the board, discovered an excellent area for his art studios, and began renovation work in that area.

As other tenants signed on, we went to work in those areas.

John and I called upon Lonnie Stewart's artistic knowledge, and the architectural knowledge of Gary Sandburg, and began discussing building concepts. We kept coming back to the ideas of open areas, retaining as much originality of the buildings as possible, and keeping the interior and exterior designs of the buildings exposed.

We had a host of future architects share their ideas and concepts. These included Illinois Central College architectural students, Peoria Heights High School work program students, and Carl Johnson, a fourth year renovation and architect student from the University of Illinois.

What original materials have been preserved in the renovation?

Nothing gets thrown out! And everything gets reused.

For example, the partitions in Rizzi's that separate the smoking from nonsmoking areas were doors from the back side of the building. The tin ceiling was taken from another part of the building. Carts, wheelbarrows, old light fixtures, bench decorations, and pulleys and gates from the elevator are just a few more items that have found new use in these old buildings.

After a lot of sand blasting and removal of hundreds of nails, all the hardwood floors are the original ones, as well as the brick walls.

How many square feet of tenant space is in the complex? What kind of premium price does riverfront space demand?

There are approximately 70,000 square feet in the total complex. Rent prices range from $7 a square foot to $17, including free parking, all depending upon location.

You also own S&H Floor Covering. How did you get into that business? Is it retail or commercial?

I began working at Columbia Rug & Linoleum when I was 13 years old, and continued working and learning the trade of installation during high school through the work-study program. I graduated from high school on a Friday and began work full-time on Monday.

I always say my formal education is from the school of hard knocks. John and I assisted in the formation of an apprentice floor-covering program.

In 1972 I went on my own and began Sullivan Floors, providing both retail and commercial work. S&H Floor Covering is now just commercial.

Are you a lifelong Peorian? Tell us about your education and business background.

I was born and raised in Peoria along with nine siblings. I've lived in the South End, East Bluff, West Bluff and north part of Peoria.

In my late teens I began boxing at the Boy's Club, and now serve as a member of that board of directors, knowing how important that agency is for young people.

I met my wife Lark when we were freshmen in high school. We've been married for 26 years and are the proud parents of three children: Stephanie, Molly and Sean.

When and why did you become interested in developing riverfront property?

Our first and original building actually was owned by my father-in-law Owen Roehnelt. In the late 1970s, when the police department had plans to build a new police station, they were going to displace his warehouse building. So he purchased the property at 114 State St. and 600 Commercial St.

Then the economy took a nosedive, and plans for a new police station were dropped. But now he owned two buildings, and since I was looking for a warehouse for S&H Floor Covering, we purchased the building. That was in 1988, the beginning of it all.

What is your vision of Peoria's riverfront five years from now?

I see a very active and occupied riverfront, and a different–but revitalized–downtown area. I envision a larger portion of the older buildings like ours coming to life again. People will come back to the "river hub," just as the early settlements of Indians, French and English began at the river.

I also believe that more technological businesses will be moving to the Midwest to seek a more reasonable price of running their businesses.

Do you have other properties in the area? Any plans to invest in more?

The old PP&U railroad yard and property adjacent to the former Foster & GallagherbBuilding are a couple other properties that we own. We're always interested in property, but we have a commitment to ourselves with our existing buildings.

What's the most challenging part of your Le Vieux Carre undertaking?

As an ongoing project since 1988, many challenges have presented themselves. Among them is keeping focused on the vision, and trying to convince everyone that this is a diamond in the rough with a great deal of potential.

Possibly the greatest challenge has been with incorporating 1998 regulations (zoning, electric, plumbing, etc.) into buildings built in the 1860s. These buildings had not seen any improvement since the day they were built.

I believe that as the riverfront and the downtown areas begin to be rebuilt, flexibility has to be accorded with these old warehouse buildings, without sacrificing safety. Trying to educate others on this point has been the greatest challenge.

What are some of the pleasures and difficulties associated with being a commercial landlord?

Being a landlord always has its ups and downs, and fortunately more pleasures than difficulties.

We have a great mix of tenants throughout the buildings who share the vision and are excited about working in these buildings. It's amazing how everyone lends talents to the buildings and takes a sense of pride in the older buildings. When we had a bad storm a few weeks ago, everyone was down on the first floor–it almost turned into a party. It's a great work environment!

However, meeting and speaking with people from all walks of life about the buildings and their history gives me a great deal of pleasure. We receive lots of encouragement from everyone. IBI