the eyesore of Peoria

A residential/commercial development called Grand Commons plans to build on the vacant land formerly occupied by the long-closed Smitty’s, for years called “the eyesore of Peoria.”

Many around Peoria simply were happy to see the leveling of Smitty’s—long vacant and a “Grand eyesore.”

Scott Whyte says the empty space that used to be Smitty’s will grow a residential project that will be contagious in a good way, inspiring similar projects up and down Grand Avenue, which is on the outskirts of the developing Old Town Peoria.

“Redevelopment of the property that formerly housed the Smitty’s building has been a priority for the city for a long time,” said Whyte, Peoria’s real estate development officer.

A new project called Grand Commons is moving ahead at a fast clip.

The dust had hardly settled on the Smitty’s demolition when the Peoria Planning Commission approved a rezoning and general plan amendment request by the Grand Commons developer.

The site is at 8455 Grand Avenue, just off the intersection of 85th Avenue and Grand Avenue/Highway 60.

A new Old Town Commercial mixed-use designation allows commercial, retail and multifamily uses. The October rezoning allows 144 multifamily units on 7 acres, with proposed three-story buildings.

The Peoria Planning Commission also approved a Prescott at Park West, a 5-acre project at 8218 N. 99th Avenue, close to Park West mall.

While the Prescott at Park West zoning moved on to Peoria City Council, which gave its stamp of approval to clear the way for construction of around 100 units, Grand Commons developer SJ Acquisitions has to wait a bit.

Whyte said the Grand Commons requests are scheduled to be presented to Peoria City Council when it returns to session in January.

“They’re proposing a horizontal mixed use, multifamily housing as well as retail space,” Whyte said.

The developer began discussions “in earnest back in March,” Whyte said.

If council approves the project, he estimated construction of Grand Commons could begin in early spring, with completion around a year later.

“It’s a really good news story,” Whyte said. “It’s great to able to demolish the (Smitty’s) building, then turn around and get a developer ready to build.”

Though it’s technically in Old Town Peoria, Whyte said the architecture of Grand Commons “is going to pull a lot of influence from the Peoria Center for Performing Arts. … Design objectives make it bold and interesting—not necessarily a reflection back to a point in time in history.

“Even though it’s part of the Old Town area, it has more of a relationship with the Grand Avenue core.”

And that core is what Whyte expects Grand Commons will help change for the better.

Compared to most of Old Town, Whyte said, “Grand Avenue has a whole different paradigm, a lot of boarded-up buildings and vacant buildings.

“The Grand Avenue redevelopment … that’s a long-term, difficult process,” he said.

He said the city is eager for projects that will “eliminate blighted buildings”—like the Smitty’s/Grand Commons turnaround, a kickstarter of sorts, as Whyte sees it.

“I’m not viewing this as a ‘one and done’—I’m looking at it as a beginning, a beachhead,” Whyte said.

As Councilwoman Vicki Hunt said at a community meeting regarding Grand Commons, “If I had a nickel for every time I was asked, ‘What are you going to do with that Smitty’s building?’ I would be rich,” she said.

“Now, people are asking, ‘What are you doing with that vacant land?’”

The answer: Grand Commons.