With a rapidly growing medical community and a flurry of activity in Peoria’s Warehouse District, Peoria Heights and around the region, Greater Peoria is experiencing a significant transformation. From the new downtown headquarters of OSF HealthCare to the indoor market at Keller Station, a host of exciting projects are in the works, promising to bring new opportunities and fresh experiences to central Illinois.
Whether building from the ground up or reimagining an older structure, these projects are never easy. The Peoria area is home to a multitude of prominent firms with expertise in design, development, construction and management of the built environment. Peoria Magazine hosted a roundtable of industry leaders to discuss some of their current projects, future trends, and the challenges they face along the way.
Please provide a brief description of your firm and its services.
Karen Jensen: Farnsworth Group is an employee-owned, full-service engineering, architecture and survey firm whose history began here in central Illinois in the late 1800s. Today, the company has more than 500 employees in 23 offices nationwide, with our corporate office located in Bloomington and one of our largest offices here in Peoria. We serve a variety of clients, ranging from small rural communities to some of the largest brands in the world. Our primary goal is to provide professional design solutions that make our clients successful and offer positive impacts through our engineering, architecture and survey practices.
Farnsworth Group provides solutions for a broad array of markets. We design sophisticated healthcare systems for wellbeing, new recreation areas for play, infrastructure for safe travel, water distribution systems for reliability, educational facilities for learning, business and commercial development for economic progress—and just about everything in between. Our Peoria office houses most every discipline the company provides nationwide.
While Farnsworth Group is a national firm, we are committed and connected to our local communities. We look to develop long-term relationships and are especially proud of the bonds and friendships we have developed with our central Illinois clients.
Katie Kim: The Kim Group Ltd. is a strategic growth and development partner that provides a comprehensive suite of services for growing companies and investors through real estate, development, property and asset management, and consultant offerings. We currently service central Illinois, Chicago and the Florida area. We are launching our Dallas location later this year, with more locations on the horizon.
Quintin Smith: POINTCORE is a one-stop shop for everything related to facilities management, design and construction services. Our dedicated professional team brings the unique experience and knowledge gained by taking part in every part of the lifecycle of a medical facility. Our staff has experienced every perspective that comes with the design, construction, maintenance and operations of large-scale medical facilities as owner’s representatives, as project architects/designers, as builders and as maintenance administrators.
Our diverse skill set has uniquely equipped us to understand the needs and challenges that our clients face on a daily basis and help them overcome those challenges to ensure those needs are being met head on.
What role does your firm play in changing the face of the Greater Peoria region?
Jensen: It is an exciting time to be living and working in central Illinois. Our communities are going through significant changes in a number of ways, including transportation, education, healthcare and commercial development. Farnsworth Group’s role is to serve as a trusted advisor to our clients—offering solutions, advocating on their behalf, and leading the way to making them successful.
We understand our role of giving back to our community and assuming some responsibility in making central Illinois better. There is no greater complement to our client’s work than to become active participants in the spaces we create. We are often inspired by our clients’ work and initiatives and become involved in their organizations beyond the bricks and mortar.
Our firm encourages, engages and enables our employees to participate in every aspect of community life. Community support, volunteerism and helping others are woven into the very fabric of our company. Whether it’s participating in a reading program for a school we designed, helping raise capital for a charitable organization, or simply holding an open house to inform stakeholders about how a project may impact them, we understand the value of giving back.
Kim: Our role is to show business owners and investors what is possible and guide them through the process—to take their ideas and make them a reality. We can plug and play our entire suite of services for a client, or just provide a one-off service for a particular project, enabling them to leverage our depth of knowledge of the entire process. We help ensure that business owners know the tools available to help them grow their business, as well as how to leverage them. We show businesses that they can be based locally, yet have a national reach.
The Trefzger’s Bakery Development leveraged our entire suite of services, from real estate, design and development, to financial structuring and economic incentives, to property and asset management. We took a rundown building that had experienced five fires (at least!), and redeveloped it into an economic development destination while giving confidence to other investors to look toward Peoria Heights. We worked with the Village to establish a TIF District, Business Development District and Special Service Area to make the development financially viable. We also worked with Peoria County to obtain an economic development loan and historic tax credits. We worked tenaciously for a year to put all the financial sources together—eight in total—and each one was needed to make the project happen.
We like to execute projects that have an economic ripple effect, enhancing communities that others may not have considered and turning them into destination locations. When The Kim Group started working on Cooperage 214 in Peoria’s Warehouse District, we were told it was “too far” from downtown and that no one would want to live there. Those residential units were 100% leased within 45 days of construction completion. 4500 Prospect in Peoria Heights was home to an old gas station that was for sale for years. We worked to obtain the property and an agreement to redevelop it into the beautiful, multi-tenant building it is today.
The Samuel Avenue townhome and condo project was the result of a conversation about lower homeownership in Peoria Heights than other areas of Peoria. In searching for a home for my own family, we were not able to find anything in Peoria Heights that fit our family size and budget, and between these two needs, the project was born. The Kim Group worked with the Village to obtain an agreement that would cover the infrastructure cost of the road to enhance it, along with the new development on the street. The Samuel Avenue condo building should be available later in 2020.
Smith: We are the program manager and construction manager for all of OSF HealthCare’s construction needs. We cover their entire network, which includes over 130 facilities and is growing every day.
What differentiates your company from its competitors?
Jensen: As a full-service engineering, architecture and survey firm, Farnsworth Group serves as a one-stop resource for our clients’ varied needs. Aside from delivering successful design solutions, our company is driven by our people, passion and performance. Farnsworth Group has highly skilled staff full of trusted experts who create enduring relationships with our clients. Our passion is getting things done for our clients and enhancing the built environment with places that last. We perform—and get results—always looking to uncover the details that can take a project from good to great. We never ask clients to adapt to our methodology. Instead, we get to know the way they work and adjust and tailor our processes to meet their needs.
Kim: Our differentiators are passion, work ethic and our comprehensive suite of services. We truly work to understand our clients and their business at a high level. We understand their mission, processes, workflow, financial pains… everything! This enables us to put together a comprehensive project and empowers us to fight to get it done—because we know how much it matters to them. Our clients become family, so when they win, we win.
Many people do not know what we do, in part because it is different for each client—no two projects are ever the same. Our comprehensive suite of services includes business consulting, development, investment and financial structuring, real estate, construction management, property management and asset management, and that is the real differentiator. We are one of the few in this area who offer developer-for-fee services. We realize a lot of individuals and businesses would like to do a development, but do not understand the entire process. We hold their hand through the process and teach them along the way.
When Casey Baldovin hired us to be his developer for The Block Development in Peoria’s Warehouse District, we not only put together the design, financial services, economic incentives, real estate services, property and asset management, etc.; we also taught Casey throughout the process. Now he is working on multiple developments of his own. It is a great satisfaction to teach someone and see them grow from it.
Even if a business only leverages one of our services, we can provide insight into their design, construction costs, financial structuring, management, etc. For example, Cliff and Jodie Vieira, owners of Crafted DIY Studio & Bar, hired us as their real estate agent for the acquisition of 807 SW Adams and to put together their financial structure and work with the City of Peoria on economic incentives. Cliff decided to oversee his own construction fit-out, but we were able to provide some pointers. We still keep in contact with them and are beyond excited for their opening!
Smith: Our team members are all healthcare specialists within their disciplines (i.e. design, construction, facilities management), which is key, due to the ever-evolving nature of the healthcare industry and the associated demands it places on a healthcare network’s capital planning and facilities management.
Describe some of your current and recently completed projects. What makes them unique?
Jensen: We’re excited about the development and progress being made in central Illinois. It’s great to be a part of all the projects that are contributing to the area in virtually every market sector.
Certainly, there is much to be excited about in the Peoria Warehouse District. Design isn’t just about creating something new… It’s also about taking something historic and reimagining how it can thrive in the future. We were proud to be on the design team for the Washington Street improvement project that served as a catalyst for the development of a number of Warehouse District projects. Some of those projects include Cooperage 214, which involved the historic preservation of an old warehouse building into a mixed-use development; redevelopment of the historic Murray Building, a four-story mixed-use building that also serves as home to Farnsworth Group’s Peoria office; a new corporate office for Pop-A-Shot, the famous basketball arcade game, located in a 1920s warehouse; and Black Band Distillery, a new business that will serve as an authentic distillery (including dining) that reflects Peoria’s history of the production of spirits in the early 1900s.
Farnsworth Group is especially proud of the work we have done with Peoria’s medical community. The Cancer Research Center on the campus of the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria and the Illinois Medical Center in downtown Peoria are two significant additions. We also recently celebrated the grand opening of the new, four-story Ronald McDonald House in Peoria, which hosts families who need a place to stay while their child receives care at an area hospital. This project embodies all that Farnsworth Group stands for: improving our communities and making a positive impact on those who interact with our projects.
We are also excited to be working with Bradley University on a new kitchen and dining renovation at Williams Hall.
These newer projects complement our previous work that includes the renovation and expansion of the Peoria Public Library’s entire network of facilities citywide; numerous subdivisions on Peoria’s north side; and continuing work with Caterpillar, OSF HealthCare, UnityPoint Health, CEFCU, Commerce Bank and the City of Peoria.
Of course, our projects extend beyond Peoria and into the surrounding communities, including multiple facility projects for Tazewell County, an addition to Washington Community High School featuring a new music room and additional classrooms to meet increasing enrollment, a new athletic complex for Dee-Mack and Morton high schools, and various building expansions/upgrades in Peoria, Dunlap and Elmwood.
We’re also proud to be part of commercial developments that spur economic progress. The design of the retail outlets in East Peoria’s Levee District converted this former manufacturing area into a premier shopping and dining district.
And, we’re especially excited to see the enthusiasm being generated by local philanthropist Kim Blickenstaff, who is giving back to his hometown with ideas and developments that will transform our entire region. His vision of a new boutique hotel and lofts in Peoria Heights, the completion of the Betty Jane Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts, reinvigorating the Scottish Rite Theatre, bringing the Peoria Armory back to life, and new recreation attractions on both sides of the river have everyone thrilled about the impact these projects will have on our community.
Throughout the area, our civil and municipal engineering teams are also working to update community infrastructure to ensure it is safe and dependable. A new wastewater treatment plant in both East Peoria and Pekin will help solve future reliability and compliance issues. The company’s transportation team continues to work closely with our local communities and public works agencies to ensure safe travel and improve/maintain roadway conditions.
Kim: One of our current projects is Keller Station, a public-private partnership with the Peoria Park District to redevelop the former Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) headquarters along Knoxville Avenue, which has sat vacant since 1996. What makes it unique is the way we structured the deal, working with the Park District staff and board to make it a win-win-win—trifecta! In knowing the Park District’s goals and mission, we were able to put together a deal which fulfills their mission of providing places and experiences to improve the community through live, work and play.
Keller Station will be home to an indoor market (coming this summer) containing a variety of small businesses, pop-up vendor areas, food options, potentially a brewery, small micro-suites for businesses and much more. It will be home to locally owned businesses such as CxT Roasting Company, Inspired Maternity, Hello Headband, Hue (hair salon), Art at the Bodega, Bones’ Burgers, some medical offices (to be announced soon), and many more in the works! We are also working with the City of Peoria and IDOT to extend Prospect Road through Knoxville Avenue to come directly into Keller Station at the existing stoplight—huge for access and exposure.
We will have a path into Keller Station and across Knoxville Avenue for runners and walkers to safely access the Rock Island Trail. We are working with local artists to incorporate art throughout the campus and are excited to announce some projects very soon! Keller Station feels more like community development—as we are working with multiple entities to make it a place for the community, by the community.
The Samuel Avenue Development—which involves transforming the two blocks east of Prospect on Samuel Avenue into urban-style townhomes and condos—has been a journey. It has been one of the most challenging as our investment team obtained a majority of both residential blocks one house at a time. We developed this concept by listening to local companies stating that the people they are recruiting are interested in more of an urban lifestyle, which is in short supply in central Illinois.
The Samuel Avenue building will contain 16 residential condos (one, two and three-plus bedrooms) and a commercial suite. Each condo has an outdoor balcony and open floor plan, and each can be individually designed. We are excited to announce a partnership with Louisa Jane for the interior design. She is a local designer with an amazing style and a killer design eye! We are very excited about the services she will bring to buyers in helping make their condo a home.
Smith: We are doing a lot of unique and interesting projects for OSF that involve everything from historic renovations (their downtown headquarters) and adaptive re-use to achieve efficient uses of budget and existing spaces (such as the currently ongoing renovation of a former Cub Foods on Knoxville into a consolidated clinical services facility), to new, ground-up facilities to help OSF better serve their patients all across the Midwest (including URGO urgent care facilities, medical office buildings and the upcoming Proton Beam Cancer Treatment Center at St. Francis).
What are the biggest challenges you face working in the Peoria area?
Kim: Some of our biggest challenge are a lack of confidence in the Peoria area from lenders and investors, and lack of vision for building businesses that reach outside of the Peoria-area market. Another issue is adjacency, which many developers do not consider when putting together a project. When we take on a project, we look at what is around the development site and how we can enhance not only the area we are developing, but the community and experience surrounding it. It’s sort of a “rising tide lifts all boats” approach to development.
For example, prior to the Trefzger’s Bakery Development, Peoria Heights had not seen much recent commercial development. We worked with them to create a TIF zone, which has attracted more than $15 million of new development in the two years following that project’s completion, and well over $35 million within four years. We also worked to establish a Business Development District, which is now earning over $180,000 a year, making infrastructure and community improvements possible. Property values have substantially increased as well. This ripple effect comes from developments that consider adjacency—putting together solutions and tools for the next wave of developers to take advantage of.
Smith: The biggest challenge is the lack of skilled labor in the construction industry as a whole. This issue isn’t specific to Peoria, but it is endemic nationwide. Another challenge is cost uncertainty and escalation. Due to inflation from increased demand in the construction economy over the last 10 years, as well as volatility resulting from tariffs placed on items like steel and concrete, construction prices are currently rising at nearly unprecedented levels.
How do you view the local landscape of talent and workforce development within the industry?
Kim: Peoria has a great workforce with some of the hardest-working people in the world. However, sometimes we get stuck in our bubble and do not realize the amazing resources we have in our community to ask for help, such as ICC, Eureka College and Bradley University. The leaders at these institutions reach out to local businesses to determine what skills they need in order to develop a curriculum that helps retain our talent locally. We are working with some of these institutions on ways to change our workforce and empower our community—stay tuned.
Smith: Due to the costs associated with a lack of skilled labor adequate to keep up with current demand, firms like ours are prioritizing talent outreach and development like never before. We will have to continue to emphasize that and make careers in construction as attractive as possible to potential workers.
How is technology affecting your business?
Jensen: Technology is having a dramatic effect on the engineering and architecture field, providing immediate benefits to our clients. Design software is evolving at a lightning pace, improving accuracy and streamlining project outputs. Today, software produces designs in a 3D format allowing for remarkable precision while identifying potential issues early in the design process.
Virtual reality is also rapidly advancing our industry. The ability to create a virtual space within a computer, allowing the client to “see, walk through and interact” with the building environment is having a dramatic impact on the design process for both the design team and client.
Farnsworth Group also employs drones to more readily access, survey, map and log the environment. Drones can gather precise data, map more quickly, and navigate areas that previously may have been too difficult, dangerous or inaccessible. We are also using drones to evaluate existing buildings to investigate their structural integrity, allowing engineers to obtain a bird’s-eye view of a building exterior (or interior, for that matter) to identity any problems or weaknesses present.
Kim: The construction, real estate, investor and asset management industries are constantly evolving with new software for electronic record keeping, collaboration on jobsites, etc. I have a master’s degree in computer science, so I am always “nerding out” on the latest software and testing its limits as to what it can provide. We are always looking for ways to leverage technology to enable our project teams, our team and our clients.
Smith: Our team is constantly striving to find new and better ways to meet our client’s needs by reducing costs, raising levels of quality and safety, meeting schedules, and creating a vibrant, client-first experience on all of our projects. Our firm is a leader in virtual design and construction services, and we will continue to lead the way in utilizing value-driven new technology on our projects.
What trends do you see impacting your industry over the next few years?
Kim: I see the way people live and how they experience their community changing. We are in the “experience economy,” and every business needs to provide an experience—not only to their customers, but to their team as well. Businesses need to collaborate with each other to provide one-of-a-kind experiences for their customers. Culture eats strategy for breakfast (as the phrase goes), and we see this at Keller Station every day. When a new tenant signs a lease, they usually want to talk with other tenants about how to collaborate.
I see people wanting to be more active, out in the community engaging with others. We need to make sure we have places in our community that provide unique experiences for them. I see the younger generation stepping up and making things happen, which makes me very happy.
I also see the financial stress of our state, which is why we need to make sure our local businesses know how to grow their reach outside of Illinois. One of our local entrepreneurs, Samm of Bear Bites, started a dog treat business because her dog Bear had a medical condition and she wanted to make sure he had wholesome food. She was unable to find what she wanted, so she educated herself on pet nutrition and started her own company. Bear Bites is a vendor at the Peoria Riverfront Museum and a lot of pop-up markets. They are in multiple supermarkets and Aura Salon in Peoria Heights, and recently earned the opportunity to have Bear Bites in Gander Mountain and Camping World stores across the country. This is huge! Samm is keeping her business local and learning how to grow it locally, but with a national footprint.
Smith: An already historically strong construction market will receive a $45 billion injection from Illinois’ recently-passed infrastructure bill, and it remains to be seen what effect that will have on labor conditions and materials prices. Firms will continue to compete over issues beyond price through client-focused professional services and technological innovation. Another trend to consider regarding the aforementioned, historically strong construction market is escalating prices—and whether or not a market correction will occur in the form of a recession in the construction market.
Anything else you wish to add?
Jensen: As we head into 2020 at the start of a new decade, there is a palpable sense of excitement and momentum building in central Illinois. We are eager to see what the future holds and look forward to partnering with the community leaders, businesses and developers who are contributing and advancing the success and prosperity of central Illinois.
Kim: Thank you for this opportunity to brag on some of our amazing clients and the impact they are having within our community. I wish I had enough time to tell you about each and every one. They are all amazing and unique!
Smith: Our entire team appreciates your interest in our company and what we are doing in the Greater Peoria area. PM