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Development consultant recommends Greater Peoria focus on being a 'quality' place to live

Baldovin Construction has multiple redevelopment projects underway in Peoria's Warehouse District, including mixed-use developments in the former Grawley and Federal Warehouse buildings on Adams Street.
Joe Deacon
Baldovin Construction has multiple redevelopment projects underway in Peoria's Warehouse District, including mixed-use developments in the former Grawley and Federal Warehouse buildings on Adams Street.

The development community in the Greater Peoria area is "leaning in" on everything the region has to offer.

Jay Garner is an author, development consultant and former chair of the board for the Site Selectors Guild. He said "site selection" is a critical concept in attracting development to any area. It starts when a company decides to expand or relocate.

“They go through the process of trying to find the best location based on the different needs that they have,” said Garner. “Sometimes companies will do that on their own. Or sometimes companies will hire a third party firm, like myself, to help them find the ideal location for that expansion.”

While visiting Peoria for an economic development forum Wednesday, Garner shared some of his industry insights with the gathering of community leaders and developers.

Garner said there are a lot of factors businesses take into account when selecting sites. One that's more important than ever is "Quality of Place," he said. In essence, Quality of Place describes the amenities for residents of a city. What sort of recreation is there? What is the scenery like? What’s the atmosphere of downtown?

Quality of Place used to be a “given,” he said. Now, it’s a major focus. Garner’s initial impression of Peoria is that it’s a focus developers are keeping in mind.

“I was able to drive around yesterday and see a number of redevelopment initiatives that have either occurred, or are in the process of occurring,” he said. “And I think the leadership in this community is working diligently to make that happen.”

Population loss is a concern Garner points out in Peoria. It’s an issue he called for local policymakers to solve by "not taking their foot off the gas."

“Make sure that they are always working to reinvent themselves as a destination, as a community,” Garner said. “To not keep Peoria as a best-kept secret, but to tell the world about Peoria. To help build that talent pipeline.”

For its own part, the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council started an initiative back in 2021 called "Greater Peoria 2030" with an intentional focus on population growth.

Council CEO Chris Setti said an important part of any development in the region is not letting the focus get stuck on just the City of Peoria.

“Having Quality of Place, having a good downtown. Not only just in Peoria, but in Morton and in Pekin and in Germantown Hills, in all of those places,” he said. “Having a robust talent pipeline that meets companies where they are and where they’re going to be, in terms of workforce. These are all important things.”

But Setti is quick to highlight the area's other strengths, like the options for manufacturers.

“If you want to get your goods to market, we have road, rail and river. Which is something that a lot of communities can’t boast,” he said. “They might have railroads and roads. But not everybody’s got the Illinois River running through the middle of it.”

This whole conversation is happening in front of a backdrop of ongoing development efforts. This week, the Peoria City Council took the first steps to approve two new Tax Increment Funding Districts. This includes a development aimed specifically at industrial parks on Galena Road.

Setti said having the parks means having a "product" to offer developers.

“We are increasingly seeing that our competition, across the United States, has pad-ready, shovel-ready industrial parks,” he said.

It's Setti's hope the region's strengths can stand out and overcome what he calls an "occasionally off-putting" state business environment.

“What we need to do is provide, we need to work harder, if that’s the case,” he said. “Whether it’s to overcome the realities, which some of them are [realities], but the perception is real.”

The next few years will determine how effective tax incentives and revamped downtowns are at attracting business and people.

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