New Beginnings at Year’s End

by Mayor Jim Ardis, City of Peoria

As another year in our fair city’s history comes to a close, we have many successes to celebrate. In the second half of 2013, and particularly the fourth quarter, Peoria embarked on a new era of economic development and civic pride, every passing month lending exciting credibility to its status as an “All-America City!”

November alone witnessed announcements of the development of the “Peoria Sports Center,” a new home for Running Central, the opening of Sugar Wood-Fired Bistro, progress on the Marriott Courtyard, completion of road improvements, and the emerging attractiveness of Peoria’s Warehouse District and its pedestrian-friendly environment. All of these projects reflect a city government friendly to business as a willing partner in the competitive world of economic development and job creation.

The announcement of the Peoria Sports Center on 50 acres of land north of the Shoppes at Grand Prairie is a most welcome addition to our fastest-growing region. 24 Corp LLC, affiliated with the Petersen Companies, will build a state-of-the-art sports complex featuring 10 outdoor baseball/softball diamonds; a 125,000-square-foot dome, the largest of its kind, to house at least three athletic fields; and the use of synthetic turf on all exterior and interior surfaces to facilitate year-round competition.

The sports complex will help keep employment in the local construction industry robust. Upwards of 125 jobs are estimated during construction, slated to begin early next year. Once opened, the facility will employ experienced professionals to run day-to-day operations, and nearby hotels and service providers will also witness employment gains, with some estimates placing the ongoing employment impact at upwards of 370 jobs. The impetus for this project is an influx of more than 325,000 visitors a year to experience the excitement of over 11,000 competitive baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse games. Some of the added employment will be at a new, 120-room Holliday Inn and Suites, which will complement the hospitality conveniences of four other area hotels owned by the developer.

What is the City’s role in all this? The project will be financed through a combination of equity and debt financing. In addition to traditional financing, the developer will secure funding through a Special Service Area (SSA), a development tool authorized by state law and created by the City that allows the provision of certain financial and public services paid for by the properties and businesses within the SSA. In this unique case, the SSA would be drawn to only include the five hotel properties and the Peoria Sports Center, owned by the same developer. The project will borrow money using the City as a conduit and repay the loan through a combination of additional property, hotel and sales taxes.

Let me be clear: the developer is agreeing to increase taxes on its business operations to make the project happen—generating employment, visitors and youth athletes, excitement, and overall positive impact. The Peoria Sports Complex, once it gets its legs, will be of the caliber of other premier national baseball venues such as those in Cooperstown, New York, and the Ripken Academy facilities in Maryland and South Carolina. It will be a huge draw for more than a million aspiring youth baseball athletes and another million softball athletes within a 200-mile drive of Peoria.

November also brought the announcement that Running Central will move its home back to Peoria at a location on the riverfront. The business has grown leaps and bounds over the past five years, having already outgrown its current home at Heritage Square in Peoria Heights. Owners Adam and Marie White are enthused that the new location will not only be in the heart of downtown, but feature a nearly 10,000-square-foot showroom, plus office space for RC Race Management, its sister company. The City’s role was to work with Running Central to help offset renovation costs to the former Illinois Antique Center building on Water Street with a rebate of future property taxes.

Just a few blocks away, in the emerging Warehouse District is the new Sugar restaurant at 826 SW Adams. Restaurateur Travis Mohlenbrink opened Sugar in October, and it complements his existing, successful restaurants, Cracked Pepper and Salt. The building is owned by Dennis Slape, who worked with the City on a redevelopment agreement similar to that of Running Central that provides a rebate of future increases in property taxes. Adding to the ambience of Sugar is the City’s work in revamping the infrastructure in the Warehouse District, where the streets, sidewalks and other right of ways are being transformed into a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly environment. Kudos to Councilman Ryan Spain, who worked very hard behind the scenes to help bring Running Central and Sugar downtown.

While we’re talking about the greater downtown area, work continues—fast-paced by Core Construction—on completion of the Marriott Courtyard. Connected to the Marriott Pere Marquette and the Peoria Civic Center, the Courtyard is aiming for a spring 2014 opening. iBi readers will recall this as part of the nearly $100-million overall development project by EM Properties, in partnership with the City.

And finally, with the opening of University from War Memorial to Glen—a major road improvement with new sidewalks and attractive landscaping—the City has added value to its infrastructure assets and increased convenience and safety for the public.

As we close 2013, I want to thank the City Council and administration for their vision and hard work in accomplishing these exciting projects. I also wish to thank the general public for their patience and endurance of traffic delays and other unavoidable inconveniences of construction, renovation and eventual improvements. And I close by simply saying I am grateful for the privilege to serve as your mayor! iBi