Peoria resident Charles Bracy lives a few blocks from the city’s entertainment district, the stretch of 83rd Avenue south of Bell Road that includes the Peoria Sports Complex, a Harkins Theatre and numerous bars and restaurants.
Bracy has been following the city’s plans to overhaul the area, so when he heard city staff and representatives from the developer would have a community meeting Monday night at the Arizona Broadway Theatre he made the trip.
“I’m just trying to keep up with the project,” he said. “I’m very interested in finding out what the timeline for this project is supposed to be.”
The redevelopment project would see the west parking lot of the sports complex transformed into a 400,000-square-foot mixed-use redevelopment, with an emphasis on pedestrian traffic.
The working name for the development is Peoria 83. While Scott Whyte, economic development services director, said that could change as the project moves forward, he also said it serves as a good example of what the city is trying to accomplish.
“We need to create a distinct identity, something that sets us apart and keeps people coming here,” he said. “The name P83 has some panache to it. And at the end of the day, it tells you this is in Peoria and it’s on 83rd Avenue.”
As for why the city is moving forward with such a big project now, in a down economy, Whyte said the city has to look forward.
“For one thing, there is going to be a Super Bowl in Glendale in 2015,” he said. “It would be nice if we could take advantage of that. This will allow us to take advantage of the market when it re-emerges before anyone else has a chance.”
Besides, he said, much of the work has already been done.
“The infrastructure is in place, the major tenants are already in place,” he said. “We don’t need to wait for a major anchor. We don’t have to go chasing them. They are already here.”
Matt Lamont, an architect with Osage West LLC, said the entertainment district as it stands now is good, but it could be better.
“What you have are these points of light, but there is nothing that really links them together in one cohesive identity for the district,” he said.
Using Peoria 83 as an example, Whyte said the area would feature monuments with consistent logos and signs, a gateway at 83rd Avenue and Bell Road to give the district some distinction, and lighting features that would make the district visible from the Loop 101. There would be directional monuments, shade structures along with enhanced pedestrian walkways and informational kiosks.
“Those kiosks would be interactive, too,” Whyte said. “You could use them to pull up menus for restaurants, check movie listings at Harkins, to make reservations. They would actively engage you.”
Whyte said one of the biggest hurdles the plan faces was clear from the beginning.
“That is 17 or so acres of parking that needs to be replaced,” he said.
The second major addition in the planned project is parking garages. Whyte said the city is looking at building a parking structure on the parking lot south of Harkins.
“We need to replace those spaces, otherwise the math just does not work,” he said.
The question of how to pay for those parking structures is still under discussion, but Whyte did offer an example of what might be done to offset the cost. The city could install electronic billboards, he said, both large ones to be viewed from Loop 101 and smaller ones along 83rd Avenue.
“Those signs would create revenue that we believe would cover part of, if not the majority, of the debt service,” he said.
No matter what, Whyte said the project has to put an emphasis on pedestrian flow, which is another reason why the plans call for parking garages over parking lots.
“We need to compel people to move from one destination to another without having to traverse a sea of parking,” he said. “We know that is not an attractive prospect, especially on a hot summer day.”
Whyte also acknowledged that the city will have to connect the west and east sides of 83rd Avenue for pedestrians, especially if the parking structures are on the west side. One design concept he showed would call for removing the buildings east of Harkins, opening up a view to the theater from 83rd and also creating a wide pedestrian crossing “safe zone.”
“Maybe at the end of the day it’s a pedestrian bridge,” he said. “We don’t know. But whatever it is, we know we need to get pedestrians from one side to the other.”
Councilman Dave Pearson said the prospect of a new-look entertainment district should be exciting to everyone.
“It has been successful, but like every great entertainment district it needs to reinvent itself,” he said. “We have a great opportunity here to reinvent our sports and entertainment district.”
Bracy said he likes what he has heard so far.
“I think it’s a good idea. A lot of times, people feel like they have to go to the other side of town for entertainment. Whatever they can do to keep people spending money here in Peoria and Glendale, that’s a good thing.”
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.