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SPECIAL REPORT: California man invests millions in Peoria Heights development

Peoria Heights, Ill. (HOI) – A Heart of Illinois native is investing millions of dollars in local development from nearly 2,000 miles away. From a fine arts center, to luxury apartments, the Village of Peoria Heights is trusting in this California man to expand their walking community.

Known for their line of locally owned restaurants, small boutique shops, and the World’s Most Beautiful Drive… there’s no doubt Peoria Heights has charm. A California man, originally from Spring Bay, wants to capitalize on that.

“Originally I was a little bit hesitant, knowing he was from out of town. So we scheduled a meeting, Kim flew in and we spent a lot of time together,” said Mayor Mike Phelan.

It started with a phone call last May to Mayor Mike Phelan. On the other end of the line was Kim Blickenstaff with a pitch and research ready. Despite some skepticism, Phelan says their goals aligned.

“Right now we have a lot of people who come here for dinner and to patronize the events, but they go home at night elsewhere. We want those people living here and staying here in Peoria Heights,” said Mayor Phelan.

But why the Heights? Blickenstaff says the idea sparked when he was in town years ago and went to dinner on Prospect.

“I always loved going out to eat in the heights, I got to know a few folks, I like what I saw,” said Kim Blickenstaff, developer.

That’s where it began for the East Peoria High graduate, who now owns multiple properties in the Heights.

First order of business for the investor, the former Kelly Avenue Library.

Today, it’s a construction scene, but with the help of KDB Group, it’s being transformed into the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts. It’s named after Blickenstaff’s mother.

“A lot of people need social and enriching things to do and the ability to walk to do it… and now that’s a missing piece I think Peoria Heights needs,” said Blickenstaff.

While maintaining the building’s historical character, it’s being renovated into a space for intimate concerts, film presentations, and even conferences.

“We have an upper balcony that use to be the adult reading room… You sit up there and look down at the stage and it’s enchanting,” said Blickenstaff.

And if you’re in the Heights for music and drinks, Blickenstaff says you’ll need a place to stay. That’s why he’s adding another level to the current Prospect Mall and transforming it into the Atrium Hotel, starting this summer. The 55-room boutique style hotel will feature retail space, rooftop terraces, and a bar and lounge.

“All glass right here on the second level and also facing Prospect so aesthetically it’s going to be very open, airy feeling type of atrium hotel,” said Greg Birkland, project manager.

Or maybe you’re looking for a longer stay than just the weekend? The recently cleared lot in front of Trefzger’s Bakery is going to be the home of Grayboy Plaza Lofts.

“They’re almost already pre sold. We have 10 units and six of them are already spoken for,” said Birkland.

Project Manager Greg Birkland says these are meant to be luxury condos, over 2,500 square feet, that are customized for the buyer. He couldn’t give me an exact price range of each condo but says it will be over $250,000.

If that’s out of your price range, the loft building will feature retail space below with the intent of creating more walkability.

“Bradley University Marketing students did a couple of studies for us and we found that’s one of the appealing things about Peoria Heights is being a walkable community. That’s important to people from all walks of life.” said Mayor Phelan.

But what if you already live in the Heights, how will this impact your wallet?

“As far as the residential homes in Peoria Heights, those probably aren’t going to be impacted, as far as values go. How it could impact all the people in our village is the tax rate, because usually if assessed values go up, tax rates go down,” said Laurie Epkins, Richwoods Township Assessor.

Another major reason Mayor Phelan is welcoming the investor with open arms, Blickenstaff is funding these projects on his own.

“He’s not asking for any money or incentives from the village, which is refreshing and unusual. These projects are all paid for by himself,” said Mayor Phelan.

Blickenstaff also bought the Save-A-Lot store with hopes of bringing a grocer with more fresh options. Now that he owns the Pabst Blue Ribbon building, he wants to bring PBR beer back to the heights in the future.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the Atrium Hotel is scheduled for May 7th at 9am.



***Photographs in these piece credit to Photography by Jeffery Noble/Mouve Film LLC, courtesy of Peoria Magazines.***


Jenise Rebholz

Evening Anchor, Heart of Illinois ABC

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