Redevelopment, restoration and beautification have been on the minds of South Peoria residents for decades, ever since the late 1970s when hundreds were displaced from their homes to make room for the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria.
At that time, the city administration promised that urban renewal was imminent. We are still waiting. Decades of disinvestment have resulted in economic deterioration on the South Side. The development of Spring Grove subdivision 30 years ago has not been enough to contain the exodus of residents from South Peoria neighborhoods.
Nonetheless, I am excited and humbled to serve in city government during this time. With help from Peoria Mayor Rita Ali, I am committed to bringing new housing — both rental and single-family units — back to the community.
Peoria’s South Side has the largest number of old, abandoned and dilapidated homes of any neighborhood in the city. The Peoria Landbank Authority was created in 2021 with the goal of implementing strategies to return blighted and abandoned properties to use. From September 2021 through September 2022, there were 98 demolitions citywide, 70 of those in District 1. Out of the 129 land acquisitions, 113 were in District 1. The total spent on demolition in 2022 topped $1.2 million, most of that from the federal American Rescue Plan.
Meanwhile, the infrastructure needs on the South Side are dire. The Western Avenue Redevelopment project is now in phase two. Illinois Department of Transportation officials have now listed Howett and Lincoln avenues as top priorities and will be committing $52 million to redevelop both of those major thoroughfares. I have asked state Sen. Dave Koehler and state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth to help us accomplish those tasks sooner rather than later.
Thanks to outgoing Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, we also were successful in getting $2 million in federal funds for sidewalks, plus $1 million for the demolition of Harrison School. The old McKinley and Harrison schools both will come down this spring.
In addition, we are working on three South Side action plans:
In 2014, Southside Community United for Change (SCUC) identified street lighting as one of five major areas for improvement given that our neighborhoods are very dark, creating safety problems for residents throughout the city. Last November, Peoria Public Works crews began trimming trees in alleys and public rights of way for lighting upgrades and installation. More funding is needed, but we hope that by collaborating with Ameren, we can move forward on this plan.
Since 2018, city residents have paid stormwater utility fees to fight runoff. One solution is rain gardens. There are numerous vacant properties in District 1 that could serve as rain gardens or buffer zones to counter stormwater runoff. The City Council has approved the expenditure of more than $500,000 to fix a 10-year-old problem on Kickapoo Terrace. Areas around Martin Luther King Boulevard have been slated for buffer zones.
SCUC has hosted several neighborhood cleanups. Volunteers have collected more than 1,000 tires that had been dumped throughout neighborhoods. We would like to post warning signs and cameras in hotspots to try and catch the perpetrators and deter future illegal dumping. Local students also have participated in a South Side litter patrol program, and I would love to expand it to other parts of the city. Peoria needs to implement a full-scale anti-litter campaign. I have seen too many people throwing litter out of their cars all around this beautiful city, and that needs to stop.
Meanwhile, there has been a lot of talk about the South Side’s so-called “food desert.” I support bringing a full-service grocery store back to the community, but before we can successfully do that and meet the revenue-and-profit demands of a new business, we must increase the population of residents living on the South Side. Economic viability comes as a result of population growth and more people spending money. I want new businesses relocating within all areas of the First District.
Indeed, it was due to the South Side’s population decline that the City Council approved new district maps last May. District 1 now extends up MacArthur Highway into the Uplands and out north to Forrest Hill and Sterling avenues. I am excited to have more constituents who are engaged with city government, and look forward to working closely with them.
I certainly want to revitalize the South Side, which is one of the poorest communities in the country and in a very vulnerable position. I don’t believe that by adding additional liquor stores, smoke shops, payday loan companies or recreational marijuana dispensaries, our neighborhoods will be strengthened. If my colleagues want these kinds of businesses in their districts, I will support them.
As we embark upon 2023, I am excited that for the first time in decades, District 1 residents will start to see real, transformational change. But city government cannot do it alone. Won’t you join us in making Peoria a better city for all residents?