Here's where things stand on Tazewell County's plans to demolish the Arcade and Tobin buildings
The scope and scale of Tazewell County's plans to build a new administrative facility on the site of the historic Arcade and Tobin buildings appears to hinge on a Monday night vote by the Pekin City Council.
Tazewell County already owns both the Arcade and Tobin buildings. It is offering $25,000 to purchase the city's five parcels behind the Tobin building.
The plan is to construct a new annex to the Justice Center across Elizabeth Street to create more office space, and relieve overcrowding and security concerns in the current 117-year-old courthouse. A secure walkway would connect the current Justice Center to the new building.
Tazewell County board chairman Dave Zimmerman said demolishing the current courthouse building isn't on the table at all, but what actually goes in the new structure is dependent upon how much land is available.
"It goes anywhere from a brand new courthouse with all the courtrooms in there, to moving maybe just our felony courtrooms in there. And then having space for the state's attorney, the public defender, probation. They desperately need new space," Zimmerman said.
The county received about $25.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds. Zimmerman said about $22 million of those funds are left after employee bonuses distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic and planning for a new downtown Pekin health department dental office.
Board member Nick Graff said the plans for a new criminal justice building on the site currently under consideration aren't new, but were first envisioned more than twenty years ago. He said the new building is also necessary if the county wants to preserve the current courthouse.
"The ARPA funds have really been a godsend, because I don't think we'd even be considering this update had we not received the ARPA funds," he said. "So we're looking at a plan to get a majority of the people that are in that building (the old courthouse) on a regular basis, out of that building. If we could reasonably reduce the person's load in that building by 75%, we could save that building."
County administrator Mike Deluhery outlined the plans for both the new Justice Center annex and the new satellite health department location at 4th and St. Mary. He also showed several photos of the Arcade and Tobin buildings highlighting their internal structural problems and other deficiencies.
Altogether, Zimmerman said the county is considering a $35 million investment in downtown Pekin if all goes according to plan. But there's also a competing proposal for the city parcels that the county wants.
Randy Price of Pekin is offering the city $1,000 for the same land. He wants to build a community gymnasium on the property that he believes could become a regional draw. He said events could include basketball, volleyball, concerts, adult leagues, and other community events.
Price estimates the final development would be worth around $2.5 to $3 million. He emphasizes the aesthetics of his proposed gym, which would utilize recycled stone from the former Pekin High School West Campus to allow the new building to better fit in with the historic architecture of the downtown area.
Price is requesting up to $250,000 in financial help from the city for his project. The county isn't asking for any city assistance.
The Pekin City Council is set to decide which proposal to back at its Monday meeting.
Zimmerman said the county's proposal is a "once in a lifetime transformational offer for the city of Pekin."
Many residents of the city of Pekin don't appear to agree, however. They turned out en force for a special meeting of the Tazewell County Board on Saturday morning.
Diana Lee said she opposes tearing down the Arcade and Tobin buildings.
"We got plenty of land, other places to build instead of tearing down our history. We've lost a lot of our history already. So we don't have much left here," she said.
Many of the speakers are part of the "Save Pekin's History" group on Facebook. They reminisced about now-demolished buildings the former Pekin Theatre, Pekin Daily Times building, and the Pekin Carnegie Library.
Michelle Teheux said the objections to the demolition of the Arcade and Tobin buildings isn't just rooted in aesthetics or memories of the downtown of years' past, but the need to create new vibrancy for today's downtown.
"We did so many fun things in some of these places with their really nice downtowns where they cared about their history. They draw people," she said. "No one ever says, 'Let's go to that one town where they've torn down everything and all the buildings are new and boring and really up to code.'"
She said Pekin's downtown could easily follow the successful examples of downtown Galesburg or Washington's historic square, but that also requires a broader vision geared toward preservation.
And Lonnie Howard expressed skepticism about Zimmerman's promise that demolishing the current historic courthouse isn't a possibility.
"If you make it totally empty, it probably will not be maintained. And then eventually five years down a new board will say our courthouse is looking pretty ratty, yes, let's take it down," she said. "But there should be a way to find some compromise on this without destroying some more of Pekin's history."
Zimmerman said he doesn't believe saving the facade of the Arcade and Tobin buildings is possible when constructing the new Justice Center annex, but he said the county would incorporate architectural elements consistent with the downtown character.
He said ground could be broken for the new satellite health department dental office as soon as this year. Asbestos testing is currently ongoing in the Arcade and Tobin buildings. He said going out for demolition contracts would be the next step, followed by the beginning of new annex construction in 2024.