Restoring economic vitality, building public spaces and improving the image of Peoria’s historic Old Town neighborhood were among the topics discussed at the recent Old Town community meeting.
Residents, local organizations and city leaders gathered at the Peoria Community Center in late May to learn about proposed new concepts to reimagine Old Town Peoria.
Efforts to revitalize the Old Town area have been in the works for years, though, said Chris Jacques, Peoria’s planning and community development director.
“We’ve been talking about revitalization for some time. In 2009, we adopted what’s called the Old Town Revitalization Plan, (which) sets the framework for what a revitalized Old Town or downtown looks like,” Jacques said.
The plan focuses on “guiding principles,” or things that are especially important to the community, including creating economic opportunities, increasing employment opportunities for residents and developing standards for a mix of land uses.
“Create a critical mass; basically having that use or that employer or something there that attracts attention; attracts desire for people to come to Old Town. It could be a restaurant. It could be a big employer,” Jacques said.
Based on its assets, Peoria Real Estate Development Officer Scott Whyte believes the Old Town area is a viable location for those types of developments.
“The Washington Street block certainly has assets. When you look at some of these corners that we own, food and beverage become a highlighted use (there). We’re not talking about chain restaurants. We’re talking more chef driven,” Whyte said. “There’s a whole bunch of stuff that you can do with this space that makes it interesting and fun to be in.”
Johnny E. Osuna Park, at 10510 N. 83rd Avenue, is another point that has room for growth, Whyte added.
“When we looked at Osuna Park, we felt more could be done to it — more in terms of adding place; more in terms of adding image; more in terms of adding interests and experience.”
To foster a sense of place, Whyte talked about installing large 3D letters that spell out “Old Town Peoria” at Osuna Park. “People really seem to like to take selfies in front of these types of images. They illuminate at night. You’re going to see a lot of attention to structural elements of signage so that it becomes more interesting, more inviting and more visually drawing,” Whyte said.
Whyte also unveiled streetscape projects he believes will create the type of atmosphere people want to be a part of.
“One of the things we want to do is add experience. We felt that incorporating a pedestrian corridor that connects the community center to Osuna Park makes a lot of sense,” he said.
The corridor will feature a plaza-like environment with space for vendors, interactive water amenities and live music as well as enlarged sidewalks for tables and chairs to spill onto.
“We want seating out here, we want people to hear stuff and we want music,” Whyte said. “The point is where can we hang lights? Where can we hang banners? How can we make the street seem more interesting and inviting?”
Jacques mentioned projects that are underway, including a transit center that is slated to open in August and renovations at the Edwards Hotel at 8325 W. Washington Street.
“The Edwards Hotel; this building is 101 years old. The Matrix Group purchased the building about a year and a half ago, and they have a concept for a themed haunted hotel there,” Jacques said.
And on the activities and programming side, Chris Hallett, Peoria’s human services department director, announced an expansion that will break ground in the Peoria Community Center on June 27.
“We’re adding a very diverse population of social services that are going to operate out of the northeast part of this building. They’re going to help with senior services, youth services, job related, nutrition, financial assistance with Medicaid,” Hallett said.
While change is underway, Whyte said Old Town won’t revitalize ove night.
“This certainly isn’t going to be built at one time. It would be phased overtime,” he said.
“We have to tell our story through image and design and repeat it constantly so that it becomes our brand.”