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West Peoria Has High Hopes For Cannabis Lounge At Restaurant Site

210715 Sky Harbor.jpg
Sky Harbor Steak House
Investors plan to convert the former Sky Harbor Steak House in West Peoria into a cannabis consumption lounge.

A landmark West Peoria restaurant that closed during the COVID-19 pandemic may soon find new life as a cannabis consumption lounge.

The prospective owners of the former Sky Harbor Steak House plan to convert the property into the High Harbor Cannabis Events Center.

“They approached the city a number of months ago about having a yearly event,” Mayor Jim Dillon said of the investors, who have not been publicly identified. “We gave them a couple of places that possibly would work well, then we told them about the possibility of maybe even purchasing Sky Harbor. Then they kind of came up with the event center where they could possibly have a consumption area.”

Earlier this week, the city council approved the necessary zoning and a special use permit to allow for the cannabis lounge. The business cannot sell cannabis, but patrons over age 21 will be able to bring in their own legally purchased products. Dillon said the proposal is the best option for the property.

“A majority of the people that we've talked to said, ‘Well, we'd rather have this than another liquor store or another bar,’” said Dillon. “Some people have misunderstood, thinking that it was just going to be a big pot house where they're going to go and smoke all the time. But it's underneath a controlled environment, and there will be heavy security there.”

The mayor said the lounge will offer more than just a place for people to light up and mellow out.

“There could be live music; they could have comedy stuff going on, or educational events,” said Dillon. “They could set up local art exhibits, teach classes on cannabis fitness, and have some different cooking classes where they would use a different product instead of the cannabis. But they would show people how to make brownies and different things.

“There'll be food trucks outside the business (where) actually you can buy your food there, or it could even be set up for a private party. A lot of things are still in the works.”

While Illinois law gives the power of regulating adult-use cannabis dispensaries to the state, approval of consumption sites falls to local jurisdictions. The first marijuana lounge in Illinois opened last week in Sesser, while plans for a consumption location in Springfield are awaiting zoning approval.

Only a licensed dispensary or a “retail tobacco store” — a business that gets at least 80% of its revenue from the sale of tobacco or smoking products — can have consumption areas. Dillon said High Harbor investors intend to apply for the state tobacco license and sell cigars and additional smoking items.

He indicated the prospective owners are associated with an existing central Illinois dispensary. Currently operating vendors in the region are Trinity Compassionate Care in Peoria; nuEra Cannabis in East Peoria; RISE Dispensaries in Canton; Nature’s Treatment in Galesburg; and Beyond/Hello in Bloomington and Normal.

Dillon said customers would likely be required to pay an entry or membership fee to consume marijuana at High Harbor, and the lounge would not be open later than 10 p.m. He said investors hope to host an initial event before the end of the year and long-range plans could include expansion.

“I think their expectations are high,” he said. “Down the road, there’s a possibility that they would apply to get a license for a dispensary if the state opens them up to more licenses. Then they would actually have to build another building, a separate building. This property is going to be big enough that they could build it on that site, and that that piece of property might be underneath a different name.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.