As the current economic downturn was settling on the country in 2009, the city of Peoria decided it needed to do something to avoid serious financial trauma.
So 18 months ago, the city created the Economic Development Services Department with a mission of developing and implementing a strategy to avoid regression and also encourage growth.
Scott Whyte, the department’s director, paid a visit to the Peoria Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday to offer his views on where the city is headed.
“When our department was created, the City Council set the tone,” he said. “They wanted a whole new paradigm. They wanted to transform Peoria from a bedroom community to one that innovates, one that creates jobs.”
In order to do that, he said, Peoria has to focus quite a bit on its reputation.
“We have to change the perception of Peoria in the eyes of investors and developers,” he said.
To that end, an investment conference took place in late January at Park West, where dozens of investors were treated to a presentation on why they should do business in Peoria. That conference, Whyte said, is part of a larger economic development strategy the city believes could result in big things. Among the priorities, he said, is the creation of an incentive and investment policy.
“So much of attracting businesses is offering incentives,” he said. “That’s just the way it is. We needed a tool we could use to evaluate the proposals we were getting to determine what is the benefit for Peoria and do we want to move forward. So we created that tool.”
As for what is ahead, Whyte said the city is focusing on a few key areas: revitalization and new development in Oldtown Peoria; branding and new development in the entertainment corridor around Peoria Sports Complex; and development along the Loop 303 in North Peoria.
One of the ideas being discussed, he said, is to dramatically reshape the look of the entertainment corridor.
“Right now, we are in negotiations with a developer to transform the 17-acre parking lot at Peoria Sports Complex into a mixed-use development,” he said. “It would be huge for that area.”
Whyte said the city has entered into an exlusive negotiation agreement with the same developer on a proposal for a 300-acre business park along Loop 303.
“The city looks at the Loop 303 as our employment corridor because of the potential for development,” he said.
He said there are also preliminary discussions for a full-service medical campus along Loop 303.
“I should add we have just started negotiations on these things and there is no telling which way they will go,” he said.
That these discussions are taking place at all, he continued, is evidence Peoria is headed in the right direction.
“The future we have before is challenging, but it is also very exciting.”
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.