Bob & Tom’s Excellent Adventures: Past, present, future of historic downtown Peoria building

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Bob & Tom: Historic downtown building

PEORIA, Ill. — Some very big changes are coming to downtown Peoria.

A former department store building is being turned into space for hundreds of office workers. The building is the former Chase bank office, and it’s soon going to become part of a complex that will house roughly 1,000 OSF HealthCare employees.  

That will change the face, and the population, of downtown Peoria. And this is not the first time that’s happened because of this building at 124 SW Adams. 

In 1904, the new Schipper and Block store was announced, set to be seven stories tall. It was the “Greater Big White Store.” It was, the company said, the largest retail building in the world for a city of Peoria’s size, and its prosperity brought Sears and Bergner’s within walking distance. 

It became Block & Kuhl  in 1914 with a change of store management. In the 1930’s, the largest American flag in Illinois was draped across the storefront.

It then became a Carson’s until 1975, when the store closed. Retail was moving to the outskirts of town. Caterpillar bought the building in 2014, and sold it to OSH HealthCare in 2018 for $1.  

But, the old interior had to gutted. Creating a modern office building is costly. To get Historic Building Tax Credits, the exterior and parts of the interior have to look like they did in the 1940’s. The condition of the exterior was a surprise.

“The exterior of the building and actually taking a look at the exterior and try to bring it back,” Jim Mormann, OSF Chief Executive Officer, Integrated Solutions, said. “It’s really difficult.”

Mormann said new windows need to be installed so interior work can continue through the winter. There’s a lot to do and a schedule to keep.  

The original department store brought shoppers to downtown Peoria. Now, OSF HealthCare will bring new life to the area. Officials said change was the intention from the start.

“We could have easily built green fields somewhere else, and probably made it more cost effective,” Mormann said. “What kind of brought us down here? I think it’s a compelling reason the Sisters continue to look at Peoria as their lifeblood and who they were and their heritage and they look closely at that and they want to help the city of Peoria to grow.”

With a copious amount of new employees coming to downtown Peoria, the need for additional services is obvious.   And, some of the employees might decide living downtown is easier than commuting.  But, will there be restaurants, shopping, gas stations, and convenience stores nearby?  

Mormann said now is the time for thinking and planning.

“Our hope is that this project brings some of that life back to the community,” he said. “That’s what we’re really trying to get to.”

Photographs are courtesy of the Local History Collection of the Peoria Public Library.

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