Workshop yields ideas

Marianne Gillespie
This shows the current riverfront area properties with the proposed areas of interest.

Ideas, opinions and criticisms flowed freely at a workshop Saturday morning about the city’s proposed plan for the riverfront.

Council chambers was full of residents and drawings as Tom Tincher made a full presentation.

At the Chillicothe City Council meeting Feb. 25, Tincher gave an abbreviated version of the drafted plan.

Mayor Gary Fyke asked aldermen and any interested citizens to attend the meeting. The only absent aldermen were Chris Boyer and Jim Thornton.

Tincher explained the background of Chillicotheans on the mayor’s riverfront development advisory committee working on the plan before he was hired as a consultant.

“I never saw in 35 years that kind of work done by a volunteer group,” said Tincher.

Adding to that initiative, he said, is an evolving collaborative effort in lakefront development in area communities.

“It’s not just what Chillicothe can do alone ... it’s a regionwide collaboration,” said Tincher.

The effort includes five partnering cities — Chillicothe, Peoria, Peoria Heights, Pekin and East Peoria.

Instead of competing with each other, the group would collectively market themselves as Rivertowns USA.

Tincher responded to questions about talking to State Sen. Dave Koehler about the possibilities. Tincher said he talked to him in the context of the big picture, not specifically about Chillicothe.

He said there is tremendous support for the overall concept.

“Whether you accept that concept, that’s entirely up to you,” said Tincher.

He reiterated what he said at the council meeting about the downward trend of downtown growth and how Chillicothe can more easily tie together its downtown, riverfront and commercial area (Illinois Route 29).

“To do nothing isn’t doing nothing,” said Tincher. “To do nothing is to decline.”

In other cities where he worked on plans, he recommended a follow-up program offering incentives to downtown businesses to help them match a theme.

Resident Suzie Carroll mentioned that due to the bickering and fighting with downtown merchants in the past, the owners may not agree.

Tincher said whatever development Chillicothe officials decided upon, they need to offer incentives to make it a win-win situation.

Hotel/retreat center

At the core of the plan is a hotel/retreat center of development in Chillicothe, which is sketched to be where Bananas and other properties are located on Front Street.

Tincher said he could assure the audience that the hotel/retreat center would happen in the region. He said he thought Chillicothe is the “perfect” place for it and there are willing investors for the project.

Specifications of the hotel would depend on the developer, but Tincher said they anticipate at least 60 rooms with the ability to expand.

As to who would use to the hotel/retreat center, Tincher said groups like the Area Agency on Aging, Illinois Central College, a multi-church group and more are possibilities.

Resident Greg Nelson explained that in his role at Caterpillar, it was his job to find venues for team-building getaways. The challenge, he said, was to find something interesting and different.

Though the city needs to be financially accountable, he said he thought the city should look at the ideas with interest.

Possibilities

The visitor’s center, by the riverboat landing around the former ADM grain elevator, does not have to be located in Chillicothe. It could be in another city, Tincher said.

The grain elevator/observation tower could be enclosed at the top, and possibly feature different levels inside with local history or a children’s discovery area.

With the city in the process of buying Four Seasons on Cedar Street, that block has potential for a re-investment opportunity, Tincher said, to provide a gateway to the downtown.

Other possibilities include consolidating J.T. Fennell Co. Inc.’s property into a single site along with buffering and landscaping.

A marina could be to the north of Fennell’s, along with the possibilities of a marina village.

The Senachwine Creek, he said, could provide nature-based tourism and help reduce sediment flow.

With Chillicothe’s gravel history, Tincher said Chilli Rec Area offers a “unique re-use” of a former gravel pit.

Additionally, Galena Road Gravel officials met with Tincher and Fyke about future possibilities for its land. Once mining is completed, waterfront homes could be built.

Tincher also met with Three Sisters Park officials to explore expanding its role.

At a minimum, Tincher said, it should be a state agritourism center with opportunities for education and training.

Additionally, it could offer family fun and entertainment with a children’s discovery area.

Questions/input

Alderwoman Judy Cantwell asked if there was thought of buying Hamm’s and using it instead of building a marina.

Hamm’s could be annexed to the city since Three Sisters Park is a part of the city and across Illinois Route 29.

Cantwell said Hamm’s has a natural buffer and is a “more viable harbor.”

Audience members asked questions about dredging, wildlife/environmental concerns, the Corps of Engineers, contracting with the Spirit of Peoria, and the closing of Henry Harbor and EastPort Marina.

Tincher noted that Chillicothe does not have problems like those on the other side of the river — mud flats and willow trees.

Carroll said she noticed last year, due to high gas prices,  a decline of about half the boaters on the river the previous year.

Tincher said because most of the ideas proposed would use private funds, the proposed marina could be a full-service marina or could be limited to serving itself. The public boat launches would be there also.

Carroll also asked if Chillicotheans will see the projects broken down by cost.

Tincher said the city is in the conceptual phase and that there would be public hearings for the developments.

Audience members said some property owners had not been approached about the riverfront plans.

Tincher said they had contacted some, but that with the number of consulting hours, there was not enough time to contact everyone.

This phase, he said, is to identify possibilities. Research drove them to this concept, he said. If the council concurs with the plan, then the next phase would be to meet with all the property owners.

Additionally, projects would be prioritized.

Alderman Carl Spencer said he would be concerned in an opposite manner as some of the audience and aldermen if the plan did not include all the information.

“That’s what we’re paying for,” he said.

Spencer also said at this point, “You don’t talk to 100 percent of the people.”

Jay Close said that in the past, studies on the city come back to the Illinois River being one of its greatest assets and that more should be done with the river.

Some talk centered around differences between Peoria and East Peoria and the riverfront. Jettia Draper said that East Peoria offers gambling, and asked if gambling would be a part of Chillicothe’s future.

As far as visitors coming to town for retreats, she asked, “Do we really want Chicago people in our town?”

She also asked if aldermen have talked to their constituents about this proposal.

Irvin Latta congratulated the group and said he would have been disappointed with anything less than the proposed plans.

Advisory committee chairman Gary Sutton said the committee hosted three well-publicized meetings to gather information and solicit comments.

Attendance was not what the group wanted, although they did give out surveys to various clubs.

The group will continue to solicit comments, Sutton said.

Tincher said that comments should be coming to the council now as they need to make a decision as to what to do.

His contract was up in the end of February, but he said he plans to stay involved in helping facilitate the regional network and is committed to completing follow-up work.

If officials want him to stay involved in the future projects, a supplemental contract for a period of time would be required, he said.