There's a plan to transform Peoria's riverfront taking shape
Peoria's Riverfront Master Plan is getting some big updates.
It's the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the long-term vision for Peoria's "front porch" has underwent a refresh.
The city hired consulting firm Terra Engineering to draw up a master plan for the area in 2017. Public meetings garnered feedback prior to the pandemic, but the plan was shelved until recently.
Mark Misselhorn is chairman of Peoria's Downtown Advisory Commission. He said what happens in Peoria's downtown isn't just important for the city proper.
"Downtown Peoria is really important for East Peoria, for Pekin, and for Washington, for Metamora, etc., because people work here, people come here for entertainment, lots of other reasons," he said. "And enhancing the quality of life and the space that's downtown, on the riverfront, the Warehouse District, is going to help improve our quality of life and the overall economic viability for the Peoria area."
Around $15 million of state money is allocated specifically for Peoria riverfront planning and development. But that money isn't expected to come through for a year or two yet, allowing planners and engineers a bit more time to ponder which projects to prioritize.
Some aspects of the master plan are purely pragmatic in nature. The city is currently applying for flood protection grants to eliminate the need for sandbags around vulnerable areas like the River Station when waters rise.
"The city has had to do very expensive and extensive sandbagging efforts. When the floods are predicted to happen, they're there for weeks on end. And when they're taken down there, it's actually considered by the EPA as toxic material because of river sediment and other things," Misselhorn said. "It's very expensive, very labor intensive, and then it's gone."
Misselhorn said designers are working on a "low-visual impact system" that will preserve the view of the river. There's a growing realization that the river itself is an underutilized aspect of the city's waterfront, Misselhorn said.
"That is really important. And so keeping things relatively low, and having good flexible green space, and visual access and physical access to the river so there's that connection is really an important part of the considerations," he said.
Other aspects of the plan include a "barge park" extending out into the river, a dog park, more public seating and green space along the riverfront, and adding public restrooms and outdoor fitness areas.
Art is also a big component, particularly three-dimensional sculptures.
"More delicate art or stuff that's not designed to be underwater would be out of the floodplain," Misselhorn said. "Whereas some things look really interesting...there's some sculptures that look better when it's half underwater, that can be really dynamic and be made for that. So a lot of neat possibilities with public art."
Design work on the riverfront master plan will likely continue well into next year. Misselhorn said more public input opportunities will happen as that process continues. Part of the planning process includes putting the proposals into phases, and figuring out which steps come first as funding allows.