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Q&A: Kim Blickenstaff Sees 'InterPlay Park' As A Green Bridge Reconnecting Downtown to North Valley

Supplied rendering
An aerial view of Kim Blickenstaff's proposed InterPlay Park over Interstate 74 in downtown Peoria. The green space would stretch from Adams to Perry.

Developer Kim Blickenstaff believes President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan offers a unique opportunity to create new green space to bridge the gap between downtown Peoria and the North Valley.

WCBU's Tim Shelley spoke with him about his "InterPlay Park" concept.

TIM SHELLEY: What is InterPlay Park? How did this whole idea come about?

KIM BLICKENSTAFF: Well, about two years ago, I was down at the Women's Club, and it abuts onto I-74. And I had seen an old picture of before I-74 was there. They had a nice big, lawn. Used to have outdoor events. And, of course, that two years ago, there would be no funding for this. And then the infrastructure bill is coming along. And I think there's consensus that, you know, roads and bridges are important to fund and in fact, one of the examples in the proposed bill is I-81 in Syracuse, New York that

Credit Local History Collection / Peoria Public Library
Local History Collection / Peoria Public Library
A photo of the proposed park area before Interstate 74 was constructed in the 1950s. The red lines pass over the neighborhood which would later be razed to make way for the highway.

did the same thing as I-74 in Peoria.

And we found three case studies, and one is actually in Dallas and other ones are in St. Louis and Seattle, where this has been done. I mean, the one in Dallas, Klyde Warren Park, is nearly an identical stretch of interstate and that was an unused area of Dallas. And it just reinvigorated that part of town. It brought in, you know, tremendous growth and housing, I think they built 1500 lofts and apartments around the park, and sales tax revenue, and that sort of thing.

And, you know, historically, you look back at Peoria. And it was in our presentation, that North Side was joined to [downtown] Peoria, and it was very walkable. And you had churches and you had all the performance venues like Shrine Auditorium, Scottish Rite, and others all around it. And this would be a way to heal the city, and create a walking course or Central Park all the way from the new OSF Cancer Center, all the way down through to the riverfront, and then down in the Warehouse District.

So it could be what really sparks the renewal and revival of Peoria. And again, this is federal funding. And this is not IDOT, state and local. This is our chance. You know, we pay our taxes. And so it's a chance to get that investment in Peoria.

TS: And let's talk a little bit, since we're radio, just to describe what this actually is. So this is green space that's actually constructed above the interstate. And I believe the concept is from Adams to Perry. Just describe what that actually looks like a little bit.

KB: So the idea is to take out at least one or two of the overpasses that are in that stretch. We would have, obviously, traffic across Perry, and traffic across to Adams.

Credit Supplied rendering
Splash pads would be among the features in the proposed InterPlay Park, which is contingent upon funding from President Joe Biden's proposed infrastructure bill.

But to create a series of what we call programs, we're talking a lot about intergenerational programs. So we want the North Side to be a place where older folks like me live, and you know, they're in amongst the kids. There's programs for us that are older, a little bit more quiet. There can be splash pads for the kids, because it's so hot and humid in the summer. There can be an outdoor performance venue, you can see things like know, the vendor restaurants that pop up, places to sit at both ends of it.

We're going to create these iconic structures that will actually be botanical. So one of them is what we're calling the "Tree Cathedral" that would be on the west end of the stretch and tall trees up on a sort of circular structure that would actually be right next to the Scottish Rite and the mansion that's still there.

And then as you enter Peoria, there would be another structure actually, it would be a lacy structure, circular cylinder, where the kids can look down safely at the traffic passing under the small area.

So it announces Peoria, whether you're coming in from the east or the west. And when you're up in the bridge, you'll be looking down on and you'll see a green Central Park like corridor through the city. It is the first thing you see.

TS: Like you refer to, I-74 is kind of a divider between downtown and the North Valley area. So why is it so important to create more walkability and connectivity between these two areas?

KB: I'll tell you a story. You know, a couple years ago before I bought a house here, I was staying at the Pere Marquette, and I was having a drink at the bar with a couple of guys that were in town for training for Komatsu or Cat. And they wanted to know a good place to go out and eat where they could sit outside and enjoy. It was a nice day that day. And I'm at the Pere Marquette and I said Obed and Isaac's. You know, you walk past the Madison Theater across the interstate. There it is. And they said, oh, we're gonna drive.

And I'm like, what? You're going to drive? They didn't want to walk across the loud interstate. So I think that's the importance of it is that people's perception is that when you're in the Pere Marquette, you're not connected to something as close as Obed and Isaac's.

In fact, when this is complete, you'll be able to walk from the Peoria Women's Club all the way up to the Scottish Rite and past all the activities. So I think it's going to heal the city.

You know, one of the things we've been talking about is the noise reduction. You know, if you go down there and stand on any given day on one of those streets that pass over I-74, you don't have to have rush hour to have to be loud. You know, a single loud truck, a single loud sports car, I mean, it just echoes. And it's thrown up into the neighborhood around it. So making that quiet, peaceful, and inviting again, I think, is a real, real impact of this proposed park.

TS: And I know there's no firm timeline for this. But where's this at in the process? The very beginning conceptual stage?

KB: Well, you know, when we heard about the infrastructure funding, we wanted to get it to the point that it fit the requirements of the draft proposals for submission. And we first went to Darin LaHood. He invited us to move forward. We only discovered later that it was in Cheri Bustos' district. We talked to Cheri. She invited us to bring it forward.

Credit Supplied Rendering
Supplied Rendering

And you know, with a caveat, this is an ever fluid system, this situation, until we get a bill. But our goal is to be first in line when the process is defined. We step in front of the line for this kind of funding, which was being specifically outlined in the draft logic, or draft language.

Obviously, it's gonna be a negotiation, it'll end up somewhere in the middle. And I think the one thing everybody agrees on, is that roads and parks and bridges are important.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.