PEORIA — It's difficult to overstate the reaction of business owners around the vacant block where Caterpillar Inc. once promised a gleaming new global headquarters campus.
The withdrawal of those plans almost exactly one year ago brought on an identity crisis for the whole region and delivered nothing short of despair for entrepreneurs in the immediate vicinity of abandoned plans — and abandoned buildings.
Some of the people who worked in the Chase Bank building before Cat acquired and emptied it went to eat across the street at Adams Street Cafe & Catering, and owner Joe Slyman was looking forward to the day when Caterpillar employees would work on the block.
Business had already slowed down by the time it became apparent that wasn't going to happen, so the news Thursday of a different Downtown investment of up to $100 million — and the repopulation of the vacant block with an estimated 750 employees — instilled a sense of euphoria.
"I thought about how wonderful that will be," Slyman said. "I said to myself, 'Oh, brother, thank God, the glory days are coming back.'"
It will be a couple more years before those OSF HealthCare employees relocate to the new ministry headquarters, but the redevelopment partnership unveiled Thursday at least puts the prospect of more customers in sight for Slyman and other nearby business owners.
Around the corner on Main Street, Riley Greenwood counts on Downtown employees as her most common customers at Riley's Cupcake and Coffee Lounge. For her, the basic premise of many new OSF HealthCare neighbors made for exciting news.
"That's huge, to have so many people within walking distance," Greenwood said.
And just a few doors down from her, Tommy Dunne took an even longer view of the development.
While more foot traffic would likely help his Cookies By Design business, the permanent presence of another large employer Downtown will be more beneficial to him as the owner of three storefronts and three loft apartments along Main Street.
"It stabilizes my investment," Dunne said. "It's going to be a life saver, because the business climate is very rough down here, and this will bring a lot of stability."
Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.