As we move into spring, we can celebrate much progress in the efforts to revitalize Peoria’s downtown. There have been many announcements in recent weeks and months about new, mixed-use housing projects and business openings and relocations to the downtown.
Among others, Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery, Zion Coffee Bar, Freedom Ink, and Thyme Kitchen & Craft Beer announced plans to open business in the downtown. In addition, Farnsworth Group and Northwestern Mutual have announced their plans to relocate to the downtown, bringing more than 100 employees with them. There were also announcements from five developers who are joining the Kickapoo Building in adding over 140 new residential units before the end of this calendar year.
The street and streetscape improvements have been completed on Washington, Adams and Jefferson streets, including restriping for two-way traffic between State and Persimmon. This is improving the climate for businesses and pedestrians alike. The City is exploring opportunities to add additional parking in the Warehouse District, and Sculpture Walk Peoria announced that new sculptures will be installed this summer.
In past months, I have shared news about recent studies showing that American companies are moving back to the downtown and the new models for “Innovation Districts” are in the downtown, waterfront or warehouse districts. The announcements by Farnsworth Group and Northwestern Mutual demonstrate that these trends apply to Peoria as well. While it is helpful to know what trends are happening around the country, a couple of local case studies illustrate how they translate to the Peoria region.
Attracting a Quality Workforce
Northwestern Mutual was founded 160 years ago to provide financial planning, investment and insurance advice to its customers. The company has been in Peoria since 1905. Originally located downtown, it remained there until 1992, when it moved to its current location at 4711 N. University. Over the past 11 years, under the leadership of Josh Waite, managing director, the company has grown its Peoria workforce by over 150 percent, necessitating the search for a new location to accommodate this growth.
When Mr. Waite began his search, he focused on Peoria’s downtown. “Our firm’s vision is to become the most attractive place to work in the Greater Peoria area,” he explains. “We feel strongly that being downtown best positions us to make that vision a reality.”
In order to continue to attract a quality workforce, Mr. Waite, a young professional himself, believes that “young professionals prefer a more urban environment, and being in the downtown business district makes the most sense.” Northwestern Mutual opened its new office at 410 W. Fayette Street last month.
Locating in the Warehouse District
An award-winning company founded over a century ago, Farnsworth Group, Inc. provides full-service engineering, architecture and survey services out of a nationwide network of offices, employing more than 450 professionals. In this case, the planned expansion of another major company into their current space at 7707 N. Knoxville Avenue provided an opportunity to relocate into the Murray Building at 100 Walnut Street. The move will happen sometime this summer. Their entire Peoria staff, including more than 80 professionals, will occupy 20,000 square feet on a single floor, increasing their ability to collaborate with colleagues.
The company will be one of the first corporate entities to locate in Peoria’s emerging Warehouse District. “We couldn’t be more excited,” says Karen Jensen, Farnsworth Group President/CEO. “We hope to be one of the first of many new businesses that want to call the Warehouse District their home. We envision a bright future for this area of Peoria—one that will generate economic opportunities, and vibrant places for people to live, work and recreate.”
A Nationwide Trend
Although they may not have realized it, these two companies have made their relocation decision in line with a growing national trend. The recent study by Smart Growth America, Core Values: Why American Companies are Moving Downtown, examines the reasons why so many U.S. companies are choosing to relocate, expand and locate their businesses in the urban core of our cities. It is where their employees want to live, work and recreate. It is where their business partners are increasingly locating. And it is where they can compete for a quality workforce.
The continued redevelopment of our City’s downtown is essential to the growth of our entire region. This is the mission of the Downtown Development Corporation of Peoria, and together with our many partners, we are making this vision a reality. iBi