Should We Build InterPlay Park Over I-74 in Downtown Peoria?

For those of you who have heard about the proposed InterPlay Park to be constructed in downtown Peoria over the I-74 interstate highway from Adams Street to Perry Street, what do you think?  Should we build this park in downtown Peoria?

InterPlay Park

Illustration by Terrain Work

This is the description of the park reposted from the KDB Group Facebook page:

The five-acre InterPlay Park that could be built above I-74 as it carries traffic through the city from Adams to Perry – essentially a roof over the recessed roadway, which would effectively become a tunnel covered in green – has the potential to remake Downtown Peoria as we know it; to become a beautiful public hub of recreation, culture and the arts; to address the lingering pollution problems – of air, water and noise – that the steady stream of traffic below has inflicted on the surrounding neighborhoods; to be a catalyst for economic development; and to stabilize and energize a once-thriving neighborhood and restore a high quality of life there, for families and visitors alike.

Last Thursday there was a meeting at the Scottish Rite Theatre, owned by entrepreneur Kim Blickentstaff, who is also involved in the InterPlay Park project to explain what the vision for the Park is, how it can be funded and why it’s important to the Peoria area.  Mayor Rita Ali, many Peoria City Council members plus other local officials who would be involved in its construction and maintenance were in attendance along with Theodore Hoerr of Manhattan-based landscape architecture and urban design firm Terrain Work (and a Dunlap native) along with retired congressman and United States Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood.

During the meeting, Theodore Hoerr went through a presentation explaining the basics of InterPlay Park, discussed the goals of the park, and thoughts on funding to build it.  Ray LaHood also added his take on what the park could mean to the Peoria area plus some specific ways to use the Infrastructure Bill that is currently being discussed at the federal level to fund its construction. In his presentation, Hoerr used a page from the White House website where $20 billion in funding for just this type of project is discussed as a part of the overall bill.

InterPlay Park

Illustration by Terrain Work

For those of you wondering if this could be another Pere Marquette fiasco where the city of Peoria was left “on the hook” for millions of dollars when the deal went south, this is where you should pay attention.   LaHood estimates that the cost for construction of InterPlay Park would be between $160 and $200 million.  This is the part that is important:  he also estimates that 80% of that would be from federal and state funding leaving roughly 20% of the amount to be funded by local developers.  This is possibly a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have this type of funding available for a project like this, so the timing of a project like this is ideal.

This type of park has been done in other cities in the US.  Klyde Warren Park in Dallas is one of them with over 1 million visitors annually. Here’s a snippet from the park’s website:

Since opening in 2012, it has become the city’s beloved town square, welcoming more than one million visitors each year and earning national acclaim.

Klyde Warren Park has also served as a catalyst for the ongoing transformation of the region, not only through the significant economic impact it has had, but also by bringing increased quality of life and foot traffic to the area. Leaders envisioned a place where families from different neighborhoods could create new traditions, share experiences and have fun in the center of Dallas. These are benefits that the community will enjoy for generations to come.

And the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston is another.  Here’s a snippet from that park’s website:

In 1991, after almost a decade of planning, construction began in Boston on the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, more widely known as the “Big Dig”. The project, recognized as one of the largest, most complex, and technologically challenging in the history of the United States, would remove the elevated highway and create a tunnel system below the city.

With the elevated highway relocated underground, community and political leaders seized the opportunity to enhance the city by creating The Greenway, a public park that re-connected some of Boston’s oldest and most vibrant neighborhoods, and the city itself with the waterfront. 

The four project goals of the InterPlay Park are:

  1. Stitch 2 neighborhoods together that were separated when I-74 was constructed in 1958.  They are downtown and the North Valley neighborhoods
  2. Create intergenerational and community play areas.
  3. Spur economic development and community engagement
  4. Create a greener city
InterPlay Park 4

Illustration by Terrain Work

Peoria was named the 25th fastest-warming cities in the US.  What does this mean?  According to www.statesatrisk.org, Illinois overall is projected to see a 40 percent increase in its index of the severity of widespread drought by 2050.  Creating a park in the downtown area, where there is little tree canopy currently, this could help that situation for the Peoria area.

As far as spurring economic development, a new development like this would be similar to the Rock Island Trail and the Peoria Riverfront developments according to LaHood.  For those of us who remember downtown Peoria before the development, it’s obvious that that made downtown Peoria a destination attracting area and regional visitors to the Riverfront every year.

“You can’t say it enough:  If you build it, they will come,” said LaHood.  Having someone like the former congressman and United States Secretary of Transportation on board to help navigate the complicated road (pardon the pun!) of getting funding from the federal government for a project like this is kind of a secret weapon that Peorians are extremely lucky to have.  And the entrepreneur who is a visionary of what can be done for the area like Blickenstaff has proven several times already in his short time back in the area with his Scottish Rite Theatre project, the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts, and his most recent accomplishment, the Sankoty Lakes development.

InterPlay Park at Night

Illustration by Terrain Work

The group is hosting another meeting with a presentation and Q&A session open to the public on Thursday, June 3 at 6 pm at the Scottish Rite Theatre located at 400 NE Perry Ave. in downtown Peoria.  Attendees can learn more about the project, ask questions and become an “engaged partner” in the project.  They want the community to be active in deciding what elements will be included in the park with ideas such as stages, a pond/ice skating rink, a community garden, a sensory garden, a performance stage.  Admission is free.  Shortly, on their website at InterPlayPark.org there will be a survey area residents can take to give their input about what they’d like to see included in the park.

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