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Building a new brand for East Peoria

An arch reading Levee District stretches over a plaza leading into a grouping of shops and restaurants in East Peoria.
Collin Schopp
Community Development Director Ty Livingston references development in the bustling commercial Levee District as an example of transformation and evolution in East Peoria over the last 25 years.

What do you think of when you hear the word branding? Maybe it's a snack food, a restaurant or your favorite sports team.

But what about the place you call home? East Peoria is undertaking a new initiative to develop a recognizable brand, but how do you market a community?

East Peoria has used the same logo since the city’s centennial celebration in 1984. The image of an entwined “E” and “P” adorns city communications, buildings, vehicles, even storm drains.

When Director of Planning and Community Development Ty Livingston thinks of the city now, he thinks of evolution.

“It’s changed, particularly over the last 25 years,” he said. “We’ve had some really tremendous success by great leadership over the years redeveloping some really challenging areas. The Levee District being the most recent of those.”

With development from the Levee District, to Bass Pro Shop, to a Costco and attracting a new hotel, Livingston believes most now see East Peoria primarily as a commercial center.

“So I think we’re starting from a very good place,” Livingston said. “What have we become over the years? And certainly there’s been a huge transformation in many parts of the community.”

An 89-thousand dollar contract with North Star Place Branding aims to tell the story of that "huge transformation."

Sam Preston is the Senior Director of Project Leadership at the Jacksonville, Florida based company. North Star works with smaller communities, but Preston gives some examples of cities with really strong brands: think Las Vegas, New York or Nashville.

He says the process starts with research and raw data.

The logo for East Peoria, a blue "P" is entwined and shares lines with a red "E." The top of the logo reads "City of East Peoria." The bottom reads "Community Pride."
City of East Peoria
East Peoria has used this same logo since the city's centennial in 1984.

“We speak with as many people as we possibly can to uncover the story that already is here, or uncover the brand that already is here,” Preston said. “And then just figure out how to tell that in the most positive and compelling way, to attract other economic development or visitation and tourism or increased residents or even unifying the residents.”

Preston and his team will use a lot of methods to collect information, from open houses, to online surveys, to one-on-one interviews. And the work doesn't stop at East Peoria's borders.

“We’ll also survey people from outside of the community from Chicago down to St. Louis,” Preston said. “Trying to figure out what, from an outsider's perspective, is East Peoria known for. What should it be known for? What’s the reputation and how far out does that reputation precede?”

They'll also interview people in neighboring communities, to gauge the local perception of East Peoria as well. After three to four months of collecting data, and another three to four months of artistic design, North Star will return to East Peoria with a 25 to 30 page pamphlet of recommendations.

“That is a whole slew of ideas of how to communicate to different groups,” Preston said. “Whether its visitors, residents, economic development, site selectors, whatever. But we do try to tailor it specifically to each community based on circumstances, who’s looking at the city, what’s going on in the region.”

It remains to be seen what Preston and North Star will identify as the most important aspects of East Peoria and the region. But, at that point, the ball is back in East Peoria's court to implement the plan.

Livingston says there's no specific money set aside yet for acting on those suggestions.

“It’s likely going to be incremental,” he said. “It’s certainly going to be based upon budget and that sort of thing, but certainly the city council is committed to this process.”

Committed because Livingston and the council believe the branding of East Peoria matters, not only for how others see it, but how East Peorians themselves see it.

A picture of East Peoria's City Hall facilities, a low stone building.
Collin Schopp
East Peoria's city council and staff believe the way the community presents itself and thinks about itself is critical to rising above in the modern marketplace.

“It is incredibly important. How the community thinks of itself, how it presents itself is really a key factor in kind of rising above and standing out and being unique in the marketplace,” Livingston said.

From the standpoint of economic development, or tourism, Livingston says it's vital to show what's authentic about a city, to find the things that resonate with people both within and outside of a community.

The final recommendations from North Star could be just about anything. But, at the end of this process, the City of East Peoria is looking for its own "What Happens Here, Stays Here," its own "Music City," its own "I Heart New York."

You can contribute to the project by filling out a survey here, you can also apply to be an East Peoria Ambassador and get updates throughout the process.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.