I’ve gone through my fair share of phases, some better than others.
My Rat Pack phase in college was a real classy time. I wore vintage clothes and listened almost exclusively to Frank Sinatra. In junior high, I went through a phase of writing “Paris” on everything I owned. Don’t ask me why. I fully expect to go through several more phases of life before I’m done.
I like to think of Downtown Peoria as a living, breathing person. If Downtown is anything like me, it’s had its fair share of phases, too. When I hear my parents talk about Downtown, they talk about a phase that is totally different than what exists today.
I consider Downtown Peoria to be in its “awkward preteen” phase currently. There’s still enough fun stuff that makes me enjoy its company, but it’s still figuring some things out. I firmly believe that it won’t be long before the whole place is booming even more than it once was. We have all the ingredients to make an out-of-this-world recipe that attracts Peorians and outsiders alike.
I’ve lived in a few different cities similar in size to Peoria. I know there are many factors when creating a thriving downtown. But if I could build my dream Downtown Peoria, it’s mostly a combination of all the things I loved most about those other downtowns.
Food, history, and culture
My friends and I resoundingly agree that the places to eat are the main draw that get us Downtown, socially speaking, although that may say more about us than it does about the city.
I pass many lunch hours at Ardor with my coworkers. Obed and Isaac’s is a dinnertime favorite. El Mexicano has the best steak tacos, and Kelleher’s is always a fun spot.
My wish list would be that there’s more to do after the eating is over! If there was more to do, I’d stick around longer.
Some of the activities and events currently offered are more of a “one and done” experience. When I lived in Naperville, I spent many a weekend downtown. There was always something new to do and see over and over again: bookstores, ice cream parlors, boutique stores, restaurants, event venues, covered bridges, coffee shops, etc. There’s an opportunity to bring in more “over and over again” attractions to Peoria.
The natural beauty
We are spoiled with natural beauty here. The river, the mature trees, and an industrial history all complement the beautiful architecture. People like to go where things are pretty. I love the traditional lampposts, the restored historical buildings (like OSF Ministry Headquarters), the twinkling string lights, and a lighted Murray Baker Bridge. I often take a lunch break to walk along the river. It’s so good for the soul.
My wish list: I realize I sound crazy when I say it, but my dream is to see an Illinois River beachfront Downtown. When I lived in Florida, I utilized the beachfront in downtown St. Pete almost daily. It offered many (free!) waterfront attractions, an outdoor gym, sand volleyball courts, a playground, very nice public restrooms, ample green space, pickleball and tennis courts, bike rental racks, and miles of walking paths along the water. It was friendly for all ages, safe and walkable. There’s no reason to believe that something similar couldn’t be done in Peoria.
South Bend and Naperville also offer picturesque riverwalks I never got tired of. So maybe a Peoria riverwalk is readily achievable? A girl can dream.
More ‘chill’ than most downtowns
The thought of driving through downtown Chicago often kept me away. Peoria does not have that problem. Downtown Peoria traffic is extremely navigable, and I’ve always found parking to be manageable and easy to find. It’s the little things that can make the biggest difference.
My wish list: I’ve had my run of apartment living and I was all too happy to buy a house up the hill, so I can’t personally speak to this. But I know many 20-somethings are enchanted by the idea of living in the bustle of downtown above hip coffee shops and late-night eateries. It is what we grew up watching on TV, after all.
But walkability, reasonably priced and updated housing, and daily necessities close at hand, like a gas station and grocery store, are integral to being able to actually make a life anywhere.
I consider Downtown Peoria to be in its ‘awkward preteen’ phase
Knowing how many phases I’ve gone through since my own awkward phase reassures me that Downtown Peoria isn’t dead yet. And like all of us who got better after high school, I know Downtown still has its best years ahead.
I’m pretty excited that I get to be a part of what Downtown is now, and I hope that I get to be a part of what it becomes.