Jan. 14--PEORIA -- When OSF HealthCare officials announced last week their plan to relocate their headquarters to the former Chase Bank block Downtown, most of the attention focused on the 750 jobs moving there from throughout the city and the up to $100 million of renovations coming for the century-old building.
But another three-quarters of a city block will also be getting a new look -- and one that's yet to be fully determined, though people have not been shy about floating possibilities, among them a health clinic, a restaurant or green space.
The area in question includes the vacant Peoria Professional Building, the parking deck along Washington Street, and the surface parking lot that is now used for visitor parking at the Caterpillar administration building.
OSF HealthCare CEO Bob Sehring has said that both the Peoria Professional Building and the parking deck are likely to be demolished as neither, unlike the Chase building, holds any historical value.
"That gives us an opportunity to look at the entire block and the amenities that we could bring to that, and how do we continue to help serve the needs of not only our mission partners and employees, but especially Caterpillar as a neighbor," he said in an interview ahead of the formal headquarters announcement.
Sehring said OSF plans to be "very engaged with the city" in considering what ends up there, and is also open to working with private businesses.
Much, he said, will depend on what the proposals are, "but it's very early on to say what the rest of that block will look like."
For its part, Caterpillar has signaled an interest in ensuring that any follow-up development nearby meets the needs of those working in close proximity.
"We look forward to working with OSF to bring amenities downtown that will benefit Caterpillar and OSF employees, not to mention the entire community. We're excited to have OSF as our neighbor and continuing this partnership," Henry Vicary, Caterpillar's guest and community relations director, said in a statement.
First District Councilwoman Denise Moore, in whose district the property sits, suggested an openness to any number of options, but expressed a desire that anything proposed for the property not overlap with needs already being filled.
In other words, she'd like to see it be "something completely different."
One Downtown business and property owner had a similarly open-ended suggestion, but not in comparison to what is already available. Tommy Dunne, who operates Cookies By Design in the 300 block of Main Street and owns three storefronts and three loft apartments in the same block, wants anything that brings foot traffic.
"I'd want whatever will draw people -- anything that employs people and brings customers," Dunne said.
Nearby entrepreneurs also expressed interest in anything that could attract more people Downtown, but with a bit more specificity.
Riley Greenwood, owner of Riley's Cupcake and Coffee Lounge in the 300 block of Main Street, has seen a need for all-day breakfast service. A restaurant with that specialty would thrive Downtown, she said.
"We need something or someone dedicated to doing nothing but breakfast from nine to five," Greenwood said. "If we had just a small little shop that would do nothing but breakfast, they would make a killing."
Directly across Adams Street from the new development, the owner of Adams Street Cafe & Catering, Joe Slyman, sees in the new space a possibility to return something that has been mostly missing from Downtown for decades and could also be an amenity to new Downtown residents: a retail establishment.
In the 35 years since Adams Street Cafe opened, Slyman has seen just about every type of retail business flee the Downtown area. Some of those stores stocked apparel or accessories, but that's not exactly what Slyman thinks would work Downtown today.
Instead, he envisioned a store that carries a limited supply of groceries in addition to whatever else may attract customers.
"If we're going to truly develop Downtown, there's got to be something down here for folks to grab something quick that they need," Slyman said. "I'd definitely like to see something like that."
That's an idea welcomed by Jon Jenkins, a member of the Downtown Advisory Commission and a Downtown resident. "You don't need to have a supermarket Downtown, but you could use an outlet where you could buy basic necessities like bread and milk," he said.
Mark Misselhorn, the commission chairman, said the Washington Street side of the OSF block, the side facing the Caterpillar Visitors Center and Peoria Riverfront Museum, has long been neglected. "That could be retail or tenant space. It's also an opportunity to display public art," he said.
Ray Lees, another commission member, said green space on the block might have "short-term value" when everything is taken down except for the Chase Building. "You'd make a minimal investment while determining your long-term needs," he said.
Opening that space up could provide a good view of the riverfront area from the Peoria County Courthouse, taking advantage of the downhill grade from Adams to Washington, said Lees. The OSF block might also provide a good spot for the Downtown ice rink now located by the Peoria Civic Center, he said.
Developer Kert Huber suggested getting ideas for the block by looking at the past. "We have paid over the years for two rather expensive studies of the Downtown," he said, referring to reports by urban planners Angelos Demetrious (1975) and Andres Duany (2002).
"We should revisit these two studies to see what other catalysts were recommended by these visionaries," said Huber.
Chris Kaergard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255. Matt Buedel can be reached at email@example.com or 686-3154. Steve Tarter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3260.
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