Q&A: East Peoria Mayor Kahl eager to see the Town Centre shopping mall redeveloped
The original Town Centre shopping mall in East Peoria near the Kroger supermarket at the intersection of Main and Washington streets has been vacant for quite some time.
Now Mayor John Kahl is hopeful something will be done with the property in the near future.
“Actually, there are plans,” said Kahl in an interview with WCBU. “A gentleman, he used to be a local guy who lives down in Texas now, is a developer (and) he recently purchased that parcel. He's been in to see the city a couple of times with a couple of different ideas.”
Kahl said the developer’s initial concepts didn’t quite fit into what the city would want done.
“But this gentleman seems to have some good ideas. I know he's had crews down there trying to fix the property up,” Kahl said. “He said he's going to be back in touch here in the not too distant future, and we'll see what he has planned for it."
Kahl said that since the only access to Town Centre is through the Kroger parking lot, a long-standing agreement gives the store some say on potential tenants.
“A couple years back, they were interested in purchasing that and putting a fuel station there," Kahl said. "That didn't really fit the city's long-term plans for that space, so we kind of put a kibosh on that."
After East Peoria moved its city hall out of the historic Four Corners area near the intersection, upkeep of the bell tower near Town Centre was neglected. Kahl said the bell tower structures were recently cleared away.
“It was just an eyesore (and) it was hard to maintain that space,” Kahl said. “But part of that is driving him to do some improvements on that building now that it's fully exposed.”
Kahl said East Peoria has shown a willingness to encourage and assist retail development. But he points to the Town Centre II mall on the opposite corner as an example of waiting for the right opportunities.
“What we've seen through the years, over where Planet Fitness and Ashley Furniture is, that space – after Shopko vacated it – sat vacant for a long time. What I've learned is I've got to be patient,” he said.
“That Four Corners is a very busy intersection. With the volume of traffic today versus where it was even 10-15 years ago, you’ve got to really pick and choose what goes in there because you are going to be restricted due to the volume of traffic.”
Construction on 501 Blutowne
Kahl said construction will begin soon on a long awaited $50 million mixed-use development near city hall.
The 501 Blutowne project is expected to have around 230 residential apartments and approximately 10,000 square feet of retail space.
“We close on that property, next Tuesday is the date I've been given, which is a good thing and then you'll see equipment come in,” said Kahl, noting the developers are targeting Oct. 5 for a groundbreaking ceremony.
He said crews from Flaherty and Collins Properties have been on location this week preparing the site.
“So that's getting ready to take off here within the next 30 days, and you’re going to see dirt moving, which that's what we've wanted for about the last four years,” he said.
Kahl said plans for a Riverview Lofts apartment complex are stalled, but he declined to elaborate.
Kahl vowed to remain remains steadfast in his opposition to short-term rentals such as AirBNB and Vrbo.
“I'll be honest with you, I'm not a fan,” Kahl said. “I've been kind of the lone voice, if you will; the last couple that have come before the council, I did not support. I told the people in advance I wouldn't be supporting them, and no sleight against them; it's their property."
“But here's what we're seeing: we're seeing an uptick of LLCs and outside people coming in and buying these houses as investment properties. In my humble opinion, East Peoria, our housing market tends to be very old. We don't see a lot of new housing development. Nice Peoria. So my concern is long term, how that affects the housing market.”
Kahl said an abundance of short-term rentals could also have a negative impact on the city’s hotel business.
"East Peoria, people may be surprised by this, is a town of 23,000 people (and) we have 10 hotels,” he said. “There's not another community in Illinois that per capita has as many hotels as we have. So I feel strongly, too, we're doing a disservice to the hotels.”
Kahl said he believes the city's zoning board should take community input into more consideration when recommending approval of short-term rental properties.
“Just about everyone goes before the ZBA for special use, and just about every single one is seeing strong opposition by the neighbors,” he said. “So I think you need to take a step back and take a look at what's in the best interest of the community, and I feel it's in our best interest to limit them.”
Washington Street repaving
Kahl said a permanent lane reduction on a stretch of East Washington likely won’t happen because the proposal lacks sufficient community support.
The road is currently being repaved between Main and Interstate 74. Last month, the city held a second public meeting to discuss the possibility of restriping Washington for a “road diet” that would turn the existing four lanes to one through lane in each direction with a center turn lane.
“You saw what that lane reduction would look like and it's not pretty, and I raised those concerns,” Kahl said. “When we began talking, having those discussions, some of the businesses along that corridor were very supportive and I understand why. They would like on-street parking to drive more foot traffic into their storefronts.
“However, it goes back into the volume of traffic is so extremely high there (that) all you're going to do, in my humble opinion, is offset the problems that we have along that corridor by shifting it to another corridor. So I'm not supportive of the lane reconfigurations.”
Kahl said feedback from the public meeting left the council with “no appetite” for the proposed restriping.
“I think overall, we heard loud and clear from folks that travel that corridor that they would not be supportive of that change,” he said.