Warehouse District gets $1 million obligation

By:  John Sharp
Peoria Journal-Star

A project some local leaders view as a major revitalization to Downtown Peoria got a boost Monday with a $1 million obligation from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's office.

The money legally guarantees the city can proceed with engineering and design work for the side streets of the Warehouse District, the area from Downtown south toward Persimmon Street.

The $1 million is part of a $10 million grant that was awarded to the city in October, but has since been included as a possible budget cut as Congress wrangles over the federal budget.

"This will at least protect a part of the $10 million in federal funding that has been awarded to the city of Peoria to revitalize the Warehouse District, create jobs and boost economic development," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Monday in a news release announcing the obligated funds.

The news came as a "positive" to at least one local leader who views the Warehouse District project as one of the city's top economic development priorities.

"The potential to take these dollars now being obligated and transform them into private sector investment is tremendous," at-large City Councilman Ryan Spain said.

Spain said there is a good chance the city can have the design and engineering work completed in time for construction to begin in July 2012. Of course, he added, the remainder of the $10 million grant must be obligated before road work commences.

"If changes take place in (Washington, D.C.) and those dollars aren't available, we wouldn't be able to move quickly," Spain said.

The money to redesign and improve the side streets in the Warehouse District was awarded to the city in October through a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant.

Improvements to Washington Street from Hamilton Boulevard south to Edmund Street are funded separately through state construction money. The Washington Street work is also seen as a key part of improving the infrastructure through the area.

Officials have said that improving roads, sidewalks and drainage could help turn underused and abandoned warehouses into shops, apartments and condominiums.

Durbin, the Senate's No. Democrat, has been working to get TIGER II grant money obligated in recent weeks after the U.S. House, behind its Republican leadership, voted to cut $60 billion from the federal budget, an amount unacceptable to Senate Democrats.

Republican and Democratic leaders are negotiating a budget deal that would avert a government shutdown by Friday.

The TIGER II funding source had been criticized by local Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, who said last month the funding was akin to "racking up credit card bills without a means to pay for it."