There was an interesting meeting in the East Bluff last night. It was a follow-up to meetings/communication with business owners/managers along or near the Wisconsin Corridor. The area under consideration follows Wisconsin Ave. from Forrest Hill, south to Glen Oak. About 30 +/- residents of the area met at the East Bluff Community Center at 6:00 PM.
We took a short walk. We looked at buildings and houses. We noticed some fantastic land use and vacant buildings in need of new facades, but full of possibilities. We saw homes that showed pride of ownership and houses in dire need of repair or re-purpose. Following the walk, we returned to the Center to begin our table discussions.
Each table had maps of the area and the assignment to figure out realistic goals and time lines for those goals. There was a surprising amount of agreement on the type of improvements the neighborhood would like to see. We envisioned improved street lighting, public art, neighborhood gathering spots in the form of a restaurant, coffee shop, diner, etc. Small businesses such as a bike repair shop, beauty parlor/barber or thrift/antique shop would be welcome. We want to see kids playing soccer on the grounds of Glen Oak Learning Center. We want to see a Farmer's Market located on a parking lot on a Saturday afternoon. We want to see the parking lot at Wisconsin Plaza reconfigured. Public art could include decorative shop windows, sculptured bike racks, carved wood decoration and murals like the one at Wisconsin and Frye Avenues. We are pleased that that one has been there for over a year and has not been vandalized. The neighborhood is proud of it!
We were realistic enough to know that safety is goal #1! It doesn't matter how good it looks or what it offers if people do not feel safe enough to visit the area all times of the day. We also know that an active, welcoming street scene providing many eyes on the street increases safety. We can't have one, without the other!
One item on the list from our table raised some eyebrows. I was even quoted in the Peoria Journal Star! I thought we needed a Starbucks among the businesses. Well, maybe not Starbucks, but something like it. We want Mom & Pop places to succeed, but it may take a chain like Starbucks to pull people traveling to and from work into the area to see what else is there. A business that could provide employment to people living in the neighborhood. Mom & Pop places usually are run by the family and do not hire many "outsiders". Whether Starbucks or another well known entity with a philanthropic mission to empower young people, a business of this type could serve the neighborhood in more than one way. Heck, I would even get a $4 cup of coffee occasionally!
I am hopeful! It was a good meeting that went until almost 9 PM. I am anticipating the report that will be presented to the City and look forward to private development $$$$$, East Village Growth Cell $$$$$ and mostly, I look forward to the renaissance of the East Bluff.