© 2024 Peoria Public Radio
A joint service of Bradley University and Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Once considered eyesores, the Harrison and McKinley School sites are now attracting significant redevelopment interest

Demolition of the former Harrison School on W. Krause Ave. is currently underway. The former McKinley School demolition is completed.
Joe Deacon
Demolition of the former Harrison School on W. Krause Ave. is currently underway. The former McKinley School demolition is completed.

The old McKinley School is now a thing of the past, and the former Harrison School isn't far behind.

It's a culmination of the years-long battle by the city of Peoria to demolish the derelict buildings, which evaded removal for years through private ownership changes that continually reset demolition court proceedings to force the owners to deal with the problem. $2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act gave the city the funds to take down the structures itself.

But when the wrecking ball is gone, the land will remain. The possibilities are generating a lot of conversation, or more specifically, roundtable discussions.

The Peoria Area Association of Realtors coordinated a study on potential public-private development opportunities for the sites through the Counselors of Real Estate Consulting Corps (CRE). That report was publicly released in March.

It includes a variety of recommendations ranging from wayfinding and branding, to establishing a community development corporation to coordinate efforts.

PAAR hosted its third roundtable discussion on the sites with politicians and government officials at its north Peoria headquarters on Wednesday.

"It's a very large puzzle. It's going to take the coordination and the collaboration of many, many stakeholders, and at different stages," said PAAR CEO Jennifer Hamm in an April interview.

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali said while there are no final decisions made, but the recommendations in the report are under consideration.

The CRE report recommended the construction of 50 to 80 new affordable senior housing units on the site, and six scattered site single-family homes in the vicinity available through lease or equity to own programs.

The mayor said Habitat for Humanity is eyeing construction five to six new single-family homes on the site of the old McKinley School on W. Adrian G. Hinton Ave. Available federal funding may allow for the construction of five to six additional new single-family homes in the neighborhood every year, Ali said.

"There's a serious look at single family homes, because there's some other projects that we have that are multifamily. Hopefully they get funded through with support from IHDA (Illinois Housing Development Authority)," Ali said.

Some of the land is already owned by the city, while other parcels are privately-held. Habitat for Humanity's policy prefers construction of contiguous homes.

Ali said utilizing Habitat for Humanity has some advantages, such as a lower upfront cost for home construction because the labor is provided by volunteers and the future homeowners themselves.

First District councilmember Denise Jackson said the homeownership piece is important.

"We've got lots of folks who are looking to become first time homebuyers, and people can't always afford to move north of War Memorial Drive," Jackson said. "And as we look to help them assist them and becoming first time home owners, we want to make sure that there is a inventory of affordable decent housing."

The city of Peoria and Peoria Housing Authority are also jointly applying for a half-million dollar Choice Neighborhoods planning grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the South Side neighborhood bordered by Antoinette, Western, Laramie, and SW Adams.

"We can look at this (planning grant) as a way to build upon that, hone it a little down a little bit more, and then eventually apply for the implementation side of that grant, which is about $50 million if we were successful," said Peoria City Manager Urich. "So that's really the big fish that will help us to transform that part of the city."

Urich said that effort would be enhanced if Illinois Central College can land a $30 million Promise Neighborhoods grant for the 61605 ZIP code this year.

PHA executive director Armeca Crawford said about 30 acres are available for development between the site of the former Harrison school and adjacent property owned by the PHA.

"What we're looking to do is spark neighborhood revitalization. We want to bring to the neighborhood more than just rehabbed rooftops or a demolition and new rooftops. What we're looking to do is expand the neighborhood," she said. "We want to take care of the people, take care of existing residents, creating opportunity, creating economic growth."

The CJE plan calls for "considerably more housing units" to complement the existing Harrison Homes, along with a new multipurpose neighborhood center that would include a workforce development center, police and EMS substation, and some type of food hub.

"Those are the keys to sustaining a quality of life in there. Along with that is medical," said Hamm. "So they were looking at all the deserts that 61605 currently has, quality health care, food, grocery. And then the police presence, of course, or just public safety in general, was another key to keep it safe and desirable."

Jackson said housing is paramount for redevelopment and revitalization efforts in a neighborhood where the population has sharply declined for decades.

"You've got to have the population to sustain new grocery stores that we will, at some point, put ourselves in a position where we will have private investment, particularly grocers, and other retailers looking to bring businesses in and around the area," she said.

In addition to the old school sites, Jackson said there's also new senior and scattered site housing in the works.

Crawford said she doesn't want this to be another aspirational plan that ultimately ends up on the shelf.

"What we want to happen is this plan to materialize. We don't want this to be another topic that we're discussing for the next 10 years. What we hope to see is timelines developed, and actions taken, some accountability in place," said Crawford.

Ali said ultimately, the hope is that these first steps will eventually spur private developers to take more interest in the South Side.

"I think it's a great start. And that within that area, if we build, say, five to six homes, near the McKinley area, it begins to generate, I think, new life within that neighborhood," she said.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.