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Pekin creates path for Tazewell County to build Justice Center annex

Here's the 300 block of Elizabeth Street that the city of Pekin vacated, opening the door for Tazewell County to build an annex for its Justice Center.
Steve Stein
Here's the 300 block of Elizabeth Street that the city of Pekin vacated, opening the door for Tazewell County to build an annex for its Justice Center.

Tazewell County's plans to build an annex for its Justice Center cleared a major hurdle Monday.

The Pekin City Council approved the city's vacation of the 300 block of Elizabeth Street between Capitol and Third streets, opening that area for the county's planned expansion of the Justice Center north of the current facility at 101 S. Capitol, which includes the county jail.

Plans for the annex call for it to be built on the site of the former Arcade and Tobin buildings, which are being demolished.

The vote for the Elizabeth Street vacation was 5-2, with council members Lloyd Orrick and Rick Hilst casting the no votes.

Proponents of the annex pointed to its importance to the county and the city, and noted several other positives of the project.

"The annex will primarily provide a safe, modern location for criminal court proceedings," said Pekin City Manager John Dossey.

Tazewell County plans to build an annex for its Justice Center to the north (right) of the current facility.
Steve Stein
Tazewell County plans to build an annex for its Justice Center to the north (right) of the current facility.

He said Tazewell County Courthouse facilities don't allow court officials and the public to be separate from prisoners coming there from the Justice Center and the transportation of prisoners from the Justice Center to the courthouse is "logistically taxing."

Dossey said Pekin police and fire department personnel concurred that there are no safety concerns with closing the 300 block of Elizabeth Street, which is not in good condition and needs a mill and overlay overhaul.

Also, he said, this section of Elizabeth is the least used street in the downtown area aside from the boat launch area.

"The 300 block of Elizabeth sees an average of the 275 vehicle trips per day, most of which are likely city and county personnel," Dossey said. "That compares to 650-8,300 trips per day on other nearby streets."

Josh Wray, Pekin's economic development director, called the Tazewell County Courthouse "the lifeblood of downtown. If we lost it, that would threaten the vitality of downtown."

Pekin Mayor Mary Burress said the annex will enhance the city's downtown and hopefully bring more businesses there.

She also said it's important for the city and county to have a positive relationship

Before the vote on the Elizabeth Street vacation, the council approved a change in policy from needing a 3/4 majority vote on vacation approvals to a simple majority.

Hilst questioned the timing of the change.

"This is a shady tactic by the city to manipulate a vote because Lloyd (Orrick) and I are against the annex project. It's a disgrace," he said.

Burress said that wasn't true after telling Hilst that she put the voting change on the agenda to bring it in line with votes on most other agenda items.

"These shenanigans have got to stop," she said.

Dossey said the approval of the Elizabeth Street vacation doesn't give the county the go-ahead to start site work or construction on the annex, only that it has an "official signal" from the city that it can begin planning for the facility.

St. Joseph Catholic Church parish center project approved

At long last, St. Joseph Catholic Church can move forward with a project to build a new parish center and parking lot on its campus at 303 S. Seventh St.

Two rezoning requests, two variance requests and a site plan for the project submitted by the church were approved Monday by the council.

The votes ended a five-year journey that included the church making several changes in its plans to address concerns expressed by neighbors and the city, the city vacating a portion of South Seventh, and the church raising more than $3 million for the project.

Construction is expected to begin this spring. The new parish center will be built in front of the church in the South Seventh cul-de-sac.

The church's current parish center is more than 60 years old.

It was originally built as a convent for the nuns who served the parish and taught at St. Joseph School. It was converted into the parish offices and a gathering place about 45 years ago.

"Unfortunately, it's no longer functional for our needs, it's not energy efficient, and it cannot be cost-effectively maintained, remodeled or updated," reads a letter from parish officials to church members on the church website.

Sidewalk and Margaret Street projects get the go-ahead, but not the downtown improvements project

Low bids of $169,598 and $355,275 for the city's 2024 sidewalk improvement project and the 220 Margaret St. parking lot and alley project were approved Monday by the council, but the lone bid of $6,189,729 for the 2024 downtown improvements project was rejected.

Cut Rock submitted the lowest of four bids for the sidewalk improvement project, which includes removing and replacing sidewalks, approaches and associated curbs throughout the city.

The bid was 20% below the estimated $211,340 cost of the project. A contingency of $25,000 was approved by the council so additional work can be done to take advantage of lower-than-average unit prices,

Miller & Son Construction of Mackinaw submitted the lowest of three bids for the Margaret Street project, which includes removing and replacing the alley between Margaret and Court streets and constructing a new eight- to 10-space parking lot behind the Union Mission and Ariel Athletics.

The bid was 30% below the estimated $510,000 cost of the project. A contingency of $40,000 was approved by the council "to handle any unknowns that are encountered during construction," said City Engineer Josie Esker.

The downtown improvements project includes the removal and replacement of all the ADA ramps in the downtown area, sidewalk and curb replacement and mill and overlay of streets.

The lone bid, from RA Cullinan & Sons of Tremont, was 76% above the estimated cost of $3,518,286 for the project.

City staff recommended that Cullinan's bid be rejected so it can split the project into smaller segments and interest more bidders, although that will likely lengthen the time frame for the project, Esker said.

Digital billboards to be installed at car wash site and Sonic Drive-In

Special use requests by Civic Digital Displays of East Peoria to install a digital billboard at two business were approved Monday by the council.

One billboard will be placed at 1610 Broadway St. in the parking lot of a car wash that's been closed for about four years. The billboard will be 27 feet tall with two 9-foot-by-18-foot faces.

Civic Digital Displays owns the car wash property.

The other billboard will be in the parking lot of the Sonic Drive-In at 3601 Court St. The billboard will have two 10-foot-by-30-foot faces. The bottom part of the billboard will be about 17 feet off the ground, so parking will not be impacted.

City buys homes to create space for wider sidewalks

The city's purchases of homes at 1 and 7 Kenmore Court for $80,400 and $62,000, respectively, were approved Monday by the council.

Esker said the city wants to widen sidewalks in the area and the homes are very close to the existing sidewalks. Each home will most likely be demolished, she said.

The owner of the home at 1 Kenmore Court made a counter-offer of $80,400 to the city's offer of $78,000 because the home wasn't re-rented for a few months, saving the city money to relocate the tenant.

Steve Stein is an award-winning news and sports writer and editor. Most recently, he covered Tazewell County communities for the Peoria Journal Star for 18 years.