PEORIA, Ill. — New life is planned to come to Peoria’s historic Armory.
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Kim Blickenstaff announced Tuesday he has bought a 50% stake in the Peoria Armory Building, located at 523 NE Adams Ave., and will partner with another local investor in trying to bring back to life the run-down property.
“It was just empty bottles and sleeping bags. Some of the rooms were as much as 8-10 feet deep. You’d have to crawl through the top of the door to get into the room,” said Peoria Armory Co-Owner Rollie Campbell.
Underneath all the rubble, Campbell saw potential buying the Peoria Armory nearly seven years ago.
He’s now partnering with the KDB Group to turn it into a place of entertainment and excitement.
“This whole area is in need for some entertainment for the kids. Basketball, baseball, soccer. This building lends itself to the community around… and is good neighbors with them also,” said Greg Birkland, CEO of the KDB Group.
Birkland says this property is going to be great for young sports players around the area.
“You go to Detweiller Park, you’ll see the kids of all ages playing soccer. It’s entrenched here in downtown Peoria and Peoria County,” Birkland said.
“I’ve already commissioned Farnsworth to do all the studies for me, both structurally and to do all the sight planning. Once that’s all completed we’ll start getting HVAC and electrical, getting the necessities into this building,” Birkland said.
The part of the building facing SW Adams Street has three levels. Each level is around 4,000 square feet.
Blickenstaff, the KDB Group, and Campbell said they envision the front part of the Armory being converted to office space, with the back and largest portion potentially becoming an athletic venue, with indoor soccer, hockey, and basketball.
“The building itself, structurally, there’s nothing wrong with it at all. It’s amazing a building could sit open to the environment like this one has. And still be as solid and structurally sound as it is,” Campbell said.
Campbell says seeing reports that Peoria is the worst city to live for minorities is unacceptable, and he plans to change that.
“We have to make a difference in our own community. For Peoria to be the worst place for minority people to live, in my community, that’s not acceptable. We’re gonna do something about it, we’re going to change it,” Campbell said.
“We believe we can create a whole entertainment district and employee the local people, local neighborhoods. We really want to concentrate on working with Carl Cannon and his Elite Program,” Campbell said.
He adds the city of Peoria needs more ice rinks, and this can be the answer.
“It gives the community another ice rink which we’re really short on ice for the youth,” Campbell added.
All of those plans could evolve as this partnership gets deeper into the renovation, as prospective tenants come forward.
“Kim Blickenstaff’s investment in the historic Armory is outstanding news for our community,” said Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis. “His plans to breathe new life into the structure are very exciting and will be another link in his vision to significantly enhance quality arts and entertainment venues.”
Mayor Ardis says after the Caterpillar move, Peoria is finding ways to excel.
“People are finally starting to understand that we’re Peoria, we persevere and we fight our way through these things,” Mayor Ardis said.
Campbell and Birkland say the goal is to bring an NBA G-League team to the city of Peoria that will play at the Armory.
They add they want to add a hockey team and/or a soccer team. The venue will also hold concerts and events, becoming like a little sister to the Peoria Civic Center, when they are booked.
Blickenstaff’s KDB Group also will be purchasing the properties to the immediate south and north of the Armory, in the 500 and 600 blocks of NE Adams.
The building was constructed in 1924, currently lacks a roof over much of it, with the interior exposed to the elements. It hosted Bradley University basketball games from 1925-1950, and also conventions, concerts, circuses, and more.
“It’s a museum,” said Blickenstaff.
In the late 1970s, the Illinois National Guard looked to build a new armory, out near Peoria’s airport. In 1995, the Guard shuttered the place for good. The building was supposed to be demolished in 2004, but never was due to the cost.
Blickenstaff said he anticipates the building needing at least $5 million of work, the first necessity being the construction of a roof over the back of the building, where “the steel trusses are still there and still sound.”
He also said other cosmetics like new windows, an HVAC system, an elevator, and lead paint abatement are all needed.
“All they need is a little capital to get it going, to get things moving again,” said Blickenstaff. “We have a path to do something and it could be really good.”
Blickenstaff also purchased the Scottish Rite Cathedral last spring and has announced other developments in Spring Bay and Peoria Heights.