PEKIN, Ill. (WMBD) — Pekin City Council awarded nearly $15,000 on Monday to hire a local development consultant, with goals to create a downtown revitalization plan for Court St. and beyond.

“It will probably be the biggest movement that Pekin has seen in a couple decades. We have reached a point to where with all things we’ve put together, and we need to make sure the pieces on the table are put together correctly to fulfill that whole picture,” said Pekin Mayor Mark Luft.

The city elected to hire Reader Area Development Inc., a local consulting firm that specializes in reenergizing downtowns. Most recently, they worked Havana’s downtown district in 2018.

Erik Reader, president of Reader Area Development, will go block by block evaluating empty lots, old buildings, local ordinances, and talk to business owners.

“He’ll be here and this is his area, his town… He’s not learning from the ground up, he knows a lot of people, and that’s very important to me,” said Pekin City Councilman John Abel.

Abel said upgrading Pekin’s downtown is way overdue.

“I was born and raised here. A lot of these roads haven’t been touched in decades, literally. Its good to see a lot of things changing, but I can say next year is going to be a busy construction season in Pekin,” Abel said.

“I look at what businesses are down here. So that we can see, at this point in time, what’s here, what’s not here, what needs to be done, and then make some recommendations…I’ve been familiar with Pekin for about 20 years, so I’ve seen it at different stages. It’s always cool to see this reenergizing of a community,” he said.

Reader said downtowns across the country have deteriorated ever since shopping malls became popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

“There has been a movement over the last 20 years to bring things back. People have that need to be in that community space where they see their neighbors again, that there’s local mom and pop shops that they know whose running those stores. It’s an important thing for any community,” Reader said.

Mayor Luft said the time is right to invest in downtown Pekin.

“To be able to move this quick is a real blessing for us, and we want to take advantage of that,” he said.

Luft said while new businesses like Asher’s Bar and Grill have opened in recent months, downtown apartments and riverfront development would be a big boost.

“It’s time to start looking at downtown living,” he said. “It really adds more foot traffic, stability to the buildings, and more people in the buildings which benefits every business owner down here.”

Matt Fick, economic development manager for Pekin, said hiring Reader is a “big step forward” and echoed Luft’s sentiments.

“It’s just a positive feeling that now’s the time to move forward with this. Opportunity windows open and close, so the window seems to be open right now for some change…It just feels like something’s different,” said Fick.

Reader has four months to develop a plan before presenting those recommendations to Pekin City Council.

Councilman Abel said the multi-year project will likely be funded using downtown tax increment funding, and he ruled out any tax hikes for residents.