An update on changes to Peoria’s Downtown/Warehouse District…
A year ago, there was plenty of excitement as SW Washington Street reopened after undergoing significant streetscape changes. The City of Peoria invested more than $35 million on improvements to the Warehouse District north of Persimmon Street, designed to increase pedestrian use and transform this part of the city. These improvements included reducing the number of lanes, which helped slow traffic and allowed for the addition of on-street parking, enhanced with decorative brick inlays and brick crosswalks. Newly-installed landscape boxes, trees, benches, decorative streetlamps and bike racks were also part of the project.
These improvements inspire a vision of what this area can be. Several out-of-town developers who have recently toured the Warehouse District have commented on the importance of these street improvements in their decisions to explore investing there. They have focused their searches specifically on the area of the Warehouse District where these improvements have been made—evidence these changes are indeed transforming this part of the city.
Painting a Vision
To assist developers and the community in visualizing what this area will look like, the DDC has commissioned four streetscapes of various locations in the Warehouse District. We selected Tom Gross, an artist with ties to the community, to paint a vision of the redeveloped buildings and streets to help us share what this area may look like in the future. We will also be commissioning more traditional streetscape renderings, but given its culture, thought a more artistic interpretation might be in keeping with the vision and feel of the Warehouse District.
We anticipate that Oak Street will become a bustling neighborhood street for the 525 residents who will live on that one-block stretch between Adams and Washington streets. The buildings that line Oak Street east of Dozer Park will be redeveloped and turned into apartment buildings. We will see nearly 350 residential units housing 525 residents—a large neighborhood—on just one city block. In addition, other warehouse buildings within a two-block radius will be redeveloped into mixed-use apartments, adding another 350 residential units for another 525 residents. When totally redeveloped, more than 1,050 people will be living in the Warehouse District north of Persimmon, and their need for services and amenities will help support further development.
We envision that SW Adams Street will become an entertainment district, with additional restaurants joining Sugar Wood-Fired Bistro. Around the corner on Oak Street, just across from Dozer Park, a couple of sports bars will serve the crowds before and after ballgames. Meanwhile, SW Washington Street will become home to retail shops and services that will serve the residents and employees of the Warehouse, Riverfront and Central Business districts. Several projects that need to be undertaken to make this happen are being worked on right now.
Enhancing Quality of Life
While the DDC cannot discuss projects before they are publicly announced, we are aware of several in the works that will begin the process of redeveloping these historic buildings into mixed-use residential projects. One project was recently announced at the Murray Building. The Murray Trust and d1 Development have entered into an agreement that will lead to the redevelopment of the 100 block of Walnut Street. This development will have approximately 10,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor, 10,000 square feet of office space on the second floor, and a total of 16 residential apartments on the third and fourth floors. This is an important building because it “bridges” that gap between 401 and 601 Water Street, as it occupies the 501 block of Water Street south of the Bob Michel Bridge. Redeveloping this building and placing retail on Water Street will enhance this pedestrian corridor and shorten the distance of unoccupied frontage. This is in addition to the 144 residential units to be constructed in the River Trail Development north of the RiverPlex, which will also support further retail and commercial development.
Speaking of the Murray Building, many artists and specialty retailers have resided there for years. These tenants enhance the culture of the Warehouse District and are part of what makes it special. Several groups, including the developer, the City, ArtsPartners and the DDC, have been working to assist in relocating these tenants to other locations. We would like to keep them in the Warehouse District and are working with them to find suitable locations. We are also working on projects that will redevelop buildings specifically for artists. These artists—and the art they create—enrich all of our lives.
Speaking of art, we have recently witnessed an important step in the transformation of the Warehouse District with the addition of new sculptures on Washington Street. First, there was the installation of Portal, a permanent addition to the roundabout at Washington and Harrison streets. Then there was the installation of the Richard Pryor sculpture by Preston Jackson, a permanent addition to the intersection of Washington and State streets. Most recently, there was the installation of 15 sculptures along Washington between Liberty and Oak streets as part of Sculpture Walk Peoria. This public art will draw people to the area, creating pedestrian traffic for retail business and restaurants, and enhance our quality of life.
The Presence Downtown
Many wonderful people and organizations have given life to these changes. In addition to the infrastructure, development and quality-of-life projects listed above, I want to mention the recent competition to design a gateway to the Warehouse District. More than 20 submissions were received, and two local firms, Farnsworth Group and Dewberry, took first and second place, respectively. In addition to working on their own time, the employees of Farnsworth Group donated their prize winnings and design to the DDC, demonstrating their commitment to the Warehouse District.
Let me briefly thank Heyl Royster and CEFCU for keeping their presence downtown by relocating into new space in the Central Business District. We also want to thank CrossFit Peoria and Waxology by Meliss, just two of the businesses that have relocated into the Warehouse District. We wish them all success and prosperity.
If you haven’t come downtown recently or ventured into the Warehouse District, now’s the time! Come down, park your car near the Caterpillar Visitors Center and Riverfront Museum, and take a walk down SW Washington. Look at what your neighbors are accomplishing, and see the beauty that resides there. You might turn up Oak Street, walk a block down SW Adams, and grab a bite at Sugar to find out what everyone is talking about. Keep in mind we are just getting started… beginning, as always, where we can. iBi
Michael Freilinger is president and CEO of the Downtown Development Corporation of Peoria.