PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The City of Peoria was awarded a $5 million grant for a fire station and community center to be built on Peoria’s Southside.

City staff proposed investing $2 million in the vacant Aldi building on Western Ave.

Staff said it is a prime location for community events and it is a building in danger of becoming “blight.”

“That property is not blighted, if you look at Harrison, it’s not only a blighted property, but it’s dangerous,” Becky Rossman CEO of Neighborhood House said.

A coalition of community leaders on the Southside are asking city officials to check their priorities.

“I declined supporting that because I don’t feel that’s what the community needs,” Rossman said.

The city’s goal is to transform the old grocery store into a vibrant center that various non-profits can use for programming. However, community leaders are urging city staff to re-focus and use the money for something Southside residents will actually benefit from.

“It’s not always the citizens’ responsibility to push and advocate for themselves that’s what our leaders are supposed to be here for,” community teacher Linda Wilson said.

Hedy Elliot with the Moonlight Coalition Peoria Park District Foundation suggested another option.

Elliot sent out emails to the Peoria County Board and other city leaders encouraging them to tear down the longstanding eyesores and public health risks on the Southside: Harrison, and McKinley Schools.

“If the city has this money why isn’t that a number one top priority and I would guess it’s not a number one because of where it stands in the city because if this were out north this would have never been,” Elliot said.

Inspired by the challenges of COVID-19, community leaders said the funds would be better used to create an outdoor green space in place of the decade-long abandoned schools.

“I’ve seen resources depleted and a lot of empty promises and we need to start standing up together and advocating for the community,” Rossman said.

The coalition of leaders said it is time to uplift and rebuild a community that has been long forgotten.

Rossman said the empty Aldi building is in good condition and would better serve the area if a new business took it over.

She plans to discuss community suggestions with the city manager early next year.

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