Peoria area economy moving forward

By Steve Tarter
of the Journal Star

Jan 05, 2013

PEORIA — Slow growth may be the experts’ expectation for the national economy this year, but central Illinois is looking for more than that in 2013. After all, everywhere you look in the greater Peoria area, there’s economic activity.

Downtown Peoria starts off the year with its $136 million museum block ready to greet visitors and residents alike. The Peoria Riverfront Museum includes two large galleries, a section devoted to the Illinois River, a sports center, planetarium and large-screen theater, which started the year offering the box office smash, “The Hobbit.”

The Caterpillar Visitors Center, next door, also sports a theater, but this one is contained in a giant mining truck.
Caterpillar Inc. looks to make more news in Downtown Peoria in 2013 with the announcement of plans to upgrade the company’s corporate headquarters building, constructed in 1967.

Caterpillar expects to complete a detailed study on what’s required for its 21st century headquarters sometime this year, said spokesman Rusty Dunn.
Last month, Caterpillar purchased the Chase Bank Building on Adams Street, a block from its present HQ building, giving rise to speculation that the earthmoving multinational might stretch its footprint in the city’s central business district.

The renovation of the Hotel Pere Marquette, whether or not it’s in time for March Madness, is also expected to create excitement in 2013. Adjacent to the stately Pere, construction is expected to begin this spring on the 10-story, 116-room Courtyard by Marriott.

This may also be the year when Peoria’s Warehouse District moves from the drawing board to becoming a drawing card.

Long-awaited roadwork on Washington Street in 2013 is expected to start the process of making the roadway friendlier to pedestrians and Downtown development than for the fast-moving traffic that has frequented the road in the past.

Ideas abound for the district including a boutique distillery, just one of a number of suggestions presented at a special City Council meeting held in November.

But another downtown in the area will also undergo change in 2013. In East Peoria, development is expected to be completed in two stages on the five-block, $100 million retail district now rising on ground that once housed Caterpillar factories and then stood empty for 15 years.

A Costco warehouse store opened on the site in November and a Target store is planning to open in March. Last year, the East Peoria council increased sales tax rates to 9 percent on the Target district and 8.5 percent in the Costco area to increase city revenues.

Other attractions on the East Peoria site include a new Holiday Inn, bank and library along with other retail outlets.

Economic development for central Illinois drew a lot of attention in 2012 with the formation of a new effort to bring more business to the area.
Created was Focus Forward CI, a group made up of representatives of business, government and educational institutions from Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and Mason counties.

That group looks to make more noise in 2013 to follow up on ambitious five-year goals that were laid out last year designed to boost area population, the number of jobs, increase pay and improve education.

“The economic development efforts under way in our region have clearly defined the 2017 goals and add $1.75 billion to the annual payrolls of our region,” said Mike Hinrichsen, chairman of the goal-setting team.

Steve Tarter is Journal Star business editor. Tarter’s phone number is 686-3260, and his email address is starter@pjstar.com. Follow his blog, Minding Business, on pjstar.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveTarter.

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