PEORIA, Ill. – For years, residents of Peoria’s south side have hoped for a plan that brings life to their community. Now — there is one.
“This area is in need,” said Aaron Gunn as he overlooked MacArthur Highway Bridge. “But beyond that it has so much potential.”
Gunn and his employer, IDG Architects, developed a plan to revitalize the MacArthur Highway Corridor and surrounding communities, including the South Village. Gunn, the company’s business development director, wants to close the gap between Peoria’s south side and other parts of the city.
“I think there is somewhat of an isolation occurring right now where the south side is on an island both physically and economically,” said Gunn. “And I think the overall objective is to create a greater sense of connection and also bring some pride to the south side.”
According to IDG renderings, the plan paints MacArthur Highway Bridge with murals and adds street lighting to the well-traveled entrance into the community.
Perhaps the most notable changes involves a pair of empty, city-owned lots near the intersection of MacArthur Highway and W. Johnson St. According to Gunn, a community plaza and open air market are planned for the properties.
Those facilities would feature space for entrepreneurs, artists, food vendors and a grocery store. The latter addresses a noticeable food desert on the south side, since the departures of multiple grocers over the last several years.
“There needs to be a strategic way to combat that, and the strategy is essentially keeping the space low cost,” said Gunn. “It also gives other existing businesses a low cost way of having a presence in the South Village. They don’t have to make a huge investment to have a presence here.”
In order to limit costs, buildings will be made from recycled shipping containers. According to Gunn, the material slashes construction costs by nearly 25 percent and lowers the time to build by half.
“It can easily be built at a lower cost and much faster, and the maintenance is much less than what a normal building would be,” Gunn said. “So the strategy is to keep the costs low so it makes business sense for a grocer or even a small business owner to stay open and stay profitable.”
The estimated cost of the complete plan remains uncertain.
In August, IDG presented the proposal to the public — first to the community and then to Peoria City Council.
It is also unclear what will happen next for the proposal. However, Gunn hopes city leaders will seriously consider investing in the project and the south side.
“I keep hearing the south side doesn’t have a plan,” said First District Councilwoman Denise Moore. “That stops today. We have a plan. We have developers who have already stepped up to say ‘let’s take a look at that.'”
“It’s not an option to move forward with any plan that is going to create a better Peoria or a plan that is going to make the city what it can be, without focusing on this area,” said Gunn.