Pekin City Council sells downtown land to developer, complicating county plans for new Justice Center annex
The City of Pekin will sell a vacant lot behind the downtown Tobin building to developer Randy Price for a thousand dollars. That may complicate the county's plans for a new Justice Center annex on the site of the Tobin and Arcade buildings.
Tazewell County offered up to $25,000 for the same parcels. Tazewell County Administrator Mike Deluhery said the county was awaiting the city council's decision on the land sale before moving forward with planning for the annex on the site of the two historic downtown Pekin buildings.
"As we own the buildings, it is still something we could pursue going forward," said Deluhery. "It could certainly make it more complicated and costly to taxpayers to do it in a more confined space."
Deluhery said the buildings are in a poor state of repair. Demolishing them and building a new structure could allow the county to transfer felony courtrooms from the current courthouse, relieving space constraints there. A secured walkway would connect the jail to the new annex.
For his part, Randy Price of Enviro-Safe Refrigerants, said he believes his community gymnasium concept will help revive downtown Pekin.
"It's like giving CPR to downtown. That's what I truly believe," he said.
He plans to use stone from the former Pekin High School West Campus to make his new building fit in aesthetically with its surroundings.
Price plans to utilize the city-owned parking lot behind Fast Dragon for his business. City Engineer Josie Esker said there are 70 to 75 spaces in that parking lot — far fewer than the 167 spaces city code requires.
Price claimed the only time the gym would need more spaces would be during the hours when most downtown traffic needs already had subsided for the day. In addition to sports activities, Price plans concerts and other events at his business.
The site also likely needs costly environmental remediation. Price said he's optimistic the project can proceed without full soil removal.
Esker said the gym will create between 10 and 14 jobs. Interim city manager Bruce Marston said Price will need up to $250,000 in city financial assistance.
Pekin residents at Monday night's council meeting spoke in favor of finding a way to keep and preserve the Arcade and Tobin buildings.
"They need work, and if you care enough about them, you'll do the work and spend the money," said Jared Olar, a local history specialist with the Pekin Public Library.
Jacob Brisbin, who is running for a seat on the Pekin City Council, said during public comment the city needs a robust historic preservation ordinance to protect significant buildings from the wrecking ball.
"The City of Pekin has lost too many historic buildings, and enough is enough," Brisbin said.
The city once had a Historic Preservation Commission, but it slid into dormancy several years ago. Council member Rick Hilst said there are discussions happening in the background about reviving it, but it's hampered by the city's current lack of a mayor. Only the mayor has the power to appoint members.
Deluhery said it's ultimately up to the county board to decide how Tazewell County will proceed with the buildings it currently owns.