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Tenant recounts troubles at Riverview Plaza, while city waits for owner to address problems

Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich says the city has gotten no indication of when repairs needed to reopen the Riverview Plaza building downtown might move forward.
Joe Deacon
Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich says the city has gotten no indication of when repairs needed to reopen the Riverview Plaza building downtown might move forward.

Peoria attorney Shaun Cusack says he and his colleagues at the Cusack and Gilfillan law firm loved being located at Riverview Plaza, the downtown high-rise commonly called the Chase Bank building.

“Our office has been there since well before I was even an attorney, since I was in high school. My dad had an office on the first three floors, and then we moved up to 15 a couple years ago,” Cusack said. “Then a couple of years ago, just after we moved up to the 15th floor, the building changed ownership.”

Cusack says shortly thereafter, issues with the building started to mount.

“We just kind of noticed little things cropping up, like things weren't getting done – simple things. Heat, our offices would be hot; we’d call and couldn't get it turned off. Air conditioning, stuff like that,” Cusack said.

“Sometimes the power would go out or the internet would go down. Occasional elevator problems: there were five elevators in there and at certain times, there'd be one working or two working.

“Things just weren't getting maintained, and then all of a sudden in the first two weeks of January of this year, we're without heat. The coldest part of the year. I remember I literally had thermometer in my office, and it was 41 degrees.”

Peoria County property tax records show the building’s owner as MJ Illinois, a limited liability corporation whose sole manager is Junghoon Kim of Roswell, Ga. He also goes by Dr. Paul J. Kim and is an evangelist who leads International Mission Jesus, an Alabama company also registered to him.

Cusack says reaching out to Kim and the building managers became a futile effort.

“They were very hard to get a hold of, and when you'd get a response it was often kind of bland and it would take a long, long time for it to get resolved. But most of the time, we really didn't get a response,” he said.

“It just seemed, as soon as they took over the place, that the level of management or the amount of effort put into maintaining the place just wasn't there anymore.”

Then on the evening of Feb. 8, Cusack got a call he never expected. A water main leak damaged the 20-story building’s sprinkler system, and the Peoria Fire Department had to shut the building down.

“I got the phone call from another attorney on our floor at, I think it was probably 7:30 at night on a Thursday night, when I was due in court at 9 o'clock the next morning across the street from the office,” Cusack said. “So, my suits were down there, everything I needed was down there.

“At that point, we freaked out because we didn't know what condemned meant; it mean, is it crumbling? Is it structurally unsafe or whatever?”

Where things stand

Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich said assessments of the building found several issues that needed attention.

“There were fire suppression improvements that needed to be made; the fire alarm needed to be fixed,” Urich said. “The elevators, the State Fire Marshal had raised some issues about making sure the elevators were fixed. Then we looked at some concerns in the parking deck.

“Those all still remain. The owner of the building has not pulled any permits, so at this point in time, I really have no indication of when that work will be completed.”

MJ Illinois purchased Riverview Plaza for $3.8 million in 2021. Peoria County property tax records show the corporation is delinquent on its 2021 taxes, with those unpaid debts having been sold in 2022 to Shannon Logsdon.

Peoria-based Thermal Mechanical Services filed a mechanic’s lien on the building, alleging MJ Illinois has not paid for HVAC work. Additionally, Kim and International Mission Jesus are named in breach of contract cases in New York.

WCBU made multiple attempts to contact Kim or his representatives, but were unsuccessful.

Posts on the International Mission Jesus Facebook page tout Riverview Plaza as the organization's “Illinois Mission Center.” The International Mission Jesus Peoria (www.imjpeoria.com) website now indicates the domain is for sale.

It's been more than two months since the Peoria Fire Department closed the Riverview Plaza high-rise downtown. Many tenants have since moved out of the building, and city officials still aren't sure when repairs might get done.
Joe Deacon
It's been more than two months since the Peoria Fire Department closed the Riverview Plaza high-rise downtown. Many tenants have since moved out of the building, and city officials still aren't sure when repairs might get done.

Urich said the city made some accommodations to allow Chase Bank to return to the building, but beyond that Riverview Plaza occupancy is restricted. He said he’s aware that many former tenants have chosen to relocate.

“There have been a steady stream of moving trucks parked outside of the building, and we anticipate that tenants are leaving the building,” Urich said. “But we have not had any indication from the property owner about when he anticipates that the work will be completed.”

Cusack said after Riverview Plaza was shut down, they could only get inside with a fire department escort. He said at first his 20-person staff operated out of the firm’s smaller north office, and now they’ve moved into a temporary location in the former Associated Bank building at 240 SW Jefferson.

“As far as I know, I don't think anybody's left in the building and I think we were one of the last ones to actually get moved out. That happened just a little over a week and a half ago,” Cusack said. “If there is a silver lining, we’ve now got management that’s willing to go the extra mile. But aside from that, it's been a gigantic nightmare and a huge financial drain that just wasn't planned on.”

Urich said since ownership of the property is a private sector issue, the city has no real recourse to force the owners to make the repairs.

“These things have a way of working themselves out,” he said. “I think that the owner either has to come up with the funds to be able to do the work, or find a new owner for the building, or it’ll work its way through the process that all properties go through – it may go through foreclosure and the bank may take it back over. But those are all options that are out there that we'll have to wait and see what happens.”

Downtown office vacancies

Urich says with downtown revitalization one of the core focus areas of Peoria’s five-year strategic plan, one goal is to reduce the amount of vacant properties and office spaces.

“One of the things that the city is trying to do to address that is to get a very strong handle on what the vacancy rate is downtown,” he said. “So I've got our staff working on that right now, just so that we can talk about that with more than just simply the anecdotal evidence of, ‘Yeah, we know that there's vacant buildings or vacant portions of buildings.’ Not every building is vacant downtown.

“There's still over 6,000 people coming to work every day in downtown; it’s a major part of the region. We've seen the investments that OSF [HealthCare] has made in downtown, and we're going to continue to work with property owners to look at what we can do to fill up their spaces.”

Urich said one possibility that has been mentioned often is converting vacant office space into residential developments.

“That's something that we'll look at. But that's an effort that's not going to happen overnight,” he said. “There's going to be issues that we're going to have to work with. But we also have to have property owners that have the ability to put money into their buildings and be able to sustain the buildings that are there.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.