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Peoria City Council approves $1.7M land purchase for future Warehouse District parking deck

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The Peoria City Council has made the move to purchase land and start the development process for a parking deck in the Warehouse District as well as expanding economic opportunities to businesses and nonprofits.

“We’ve been discussing parking in the warehouse district for a long period of time. This is a redevelopment agreement that would allow us to acquire the land behind the 800 to 1000 block of Washington Street,” City Manager Patrick Urich told council members Tuesday night. “As we talk about rail tonight this is old railroad land that is currently owned by (J.P) Riverfront LLC. The purchase of this land will allow us to put in a surface parking lot to service all the Warehouse District buildings in that stretch.”

Urich said the purchase agreement marks the price at $10 per square foot - totaling $1.7 million. The redevelopment agreement will include a 24-month project plan. Last year, the council set aside funds in the Warehouse District TIF to cover the project costs.

At-Large council members Sid Ruckriegel and Zach Oyler said the project will bring positive development to the Warehouse District.

“They’ll be singing in the Warehouse District tonight,” Mayor Rita Ali said after the council approved the item unanimously.

American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds move into existing programs, bolstering economic opportunities for local entities

Senior Economic Engagement Specialist Kevin Evans proposed altering the existing City Façade Improvement Program and the Commercial Rehabilitation Program to include higher reimbursement limits as well as other changes.

“This is an opportunity to expand those programs throughout the city along our business corridors. That is one of the key distinctions we’re looking to make is that we’re seeking to incentivize and support businesses that are looking to do façade improvements as well as commercial rehab,” Evans told council members. He views the two programs as companion pieces because one program targets exterior renovations while the other funding source updates the interior. The property owners decide who to hire.

The façade improvement program currently has a reimbursement limit of $5,000, but after the council approved the agreement, the limit was raised to $50,000. Evans says the program previously focused on TIF areas, but will now be extended to businesses throughout the entire city. He added the program will focus on distressed areas moving the reimbursement amount from 50% up to 75%.

The final change moves the administration authority to Urich to avoid potential delays in processing applications, which were estimated to be up to five weeks with previously required city council votes.

Council member Ruckriegel asked if multiple vendors on a single property would hold up payment of program funds. Evans said his staff is looking to assist businesses in a phased approach to cash flow to help Peoria businesses “maximize and take advantage of the reimbursements.”

At-Large Councilmember Beth Jensen asked if the ARPA funds were going to continue on an annual basis - Evans says the recovery funds will contribute for four years consisting of $400,000 amounts to this particular improvement program.

“We have $400,000 allocated for this particular program. We are theorizing to think that this is going to be a great program. We tried to build these programs in such a way that if we are dead wrong we would like to be able to allocate those (funds) to where actual incentive demand might be,” Evans said to Councilmember Jensen.

City Manager Urich noted the city budget included $100,000 for marketing on all ARPA programs for both neighbors and businesses.

Evans says there will be more initiatives on the agenda in the coming weeks.

Overview of ARPA funded programs in the recent city budget

Grants Manager Kathryn Murphy gave a summarization of five city programs using ARPA funds.

“The first one is our housing rehabilitation program. This program is modeled on the East Bluff Village Rehab program but is expanded to all of the qualified census tracts. It also raises the area-medium income to 120% per household. In order to expand who will be eligible for this program,” Murphy said to council members. “It follows similar to the East Village program where there is a 50% match and those contractors are selected by the homeowners themselves.”

Council member Jensen noted inquiries about rental property owners’ eligibility for housing rehabilitation funds.

Urich said the intention of the program is to focus on single-family households. Council member Jensen requested recommendations on what the city could do to process rental properties in the program.

“I do think the majority of this money should be used for owner-occupied properties,” Jensen said during her remarks.

Third District council member Timothy Riggenbach mentioned past discussions at the East Village Growth Cell TIF, where ideas include a limit to single-family homeowners for the first year and a cap of 30% on funds for rental property use.

Riggenbach stated there is an incredible percentage of rental properties that do need assistance.

“The second program is a down-payment assistance program. This will provide up to $5,000 or a maximum of 10% of the purchase price to future homeowners in occupied properties, must be their primary residence, and be within the qualified census tracts,” Murphy said to council members prior to council member remarks. She added the maximum purchase price is $125,000.

The third program noted in the meeting will provide building renovations to nonprofits. The program will join the Community Development Block Grant process to open additional grant funding and follow CDBG requirements when applying.

Additional programs will include $5,000 grants to neighborhood associations looking to renovate and more capital into the general land bank fund.

Budget funds move from Public Works to the Police Department

The recently passed budget received an amendment moving $205,248.54 of funds.

“The public works director and the police chief discussed the idea of moving parking enforcement back under the police department. We felt this was an appropriate move for the enforcement aspect of parking enforcement…” Urich said to council members. “We feel (this) will provide close coordination between the parking enforcement division and the traffic division of the police department.”

Urich stated with 24/7 parking enforcement in the growing Warehouse District it would be more efficient to have the police, being 24/7 themselves, in charge of enforcement.

2nd District council member Chuck Grayeb commented it solves the problem of who to call when dealing with parking enforcement.

Riggenbach hopes Community Development works with Peoria Police on removing abandoned vehicles, noting the difference between a car resting on the street and one on private property.

Unfinished Business on Demolition Project using ARPA funds

Council member Jensen noted a discussion she had with Director of Community Development Joe Dulin about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She says a resident brought concerns that the demolition company, JIMAX, didn’t provide the necessary extent of specific goals and documentation.

She mentioned demolition contacts didn’t require the same level of documentation as construction or public work contracts. Later, the council member would note previous demolition contracts usually costing in the lower hundreds of thousands and not one million dollars.

Urich said the company provided documentation of the last four years showing a peak, in minority employees, over fifty percent — but now slightly below. He says in regards to a workforce standpoint they exceed the city’s requirements.

Riggenbach suggests the Chief Diversity Officer could research similar city contracts to see if there is a consistent threshold.

First District council member Denise Jackson concurred. Later, the council member would read a letter from Peoria Park District Board of Trustees President Robert Johnson Sr. thanking the council for the $600,000 allocated ARPA funds to renovate Trewyn Park.

The city manager noted in future contacts the city could amend the process by adding EEOC requirements. He added JIMAX, being the low-bidder, would not be affected by the potential requirement amendment in this particular contract.

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Brady Johnson is a correspondent at WCBU. He can be reached at bradyjohnson383@gmail.com.