The call to revitalize Old Town Peoria seems to have echoed in the ears of city officials and residents since the area first received its name.
But this time, the echoes could end in the form of something tangible.
The city council unanimously approved an agreement with Phoenix-based Vintage Partners to explore expansive development of Old Town, taking a big step toward the possibility of breathing new life into the city’s historic core.
This is the first memorandum of understanding between the city and a private developer to create a large-scale master plan for the downtown area.
Mayor Cathy Carlat said Peoria works really hard to keep up with growth while not forgetting its origins.
“That one square-mile of what we now call Old Town started everything for us. As soon as we forget where we came from, we don’t end up with a destination,” she said. “So this is critical for us to take care and time and to make sure that what we do in our Old Town reflects who we were, and who we are, and who we have become as residents of the city of Peoria.”
Approval of the memorandum of understanding allows the city and Vintage Partners to begin preliminary work on possible development, which includes the coordination of a development agreement, masterplan, economic impact analysis and other reports that will come before council at a later date.
The revitalization is expected to be rolled out over 10 years in four phases with multi-family residential, retail and restaurants, as well as office expected during the second half of the timeline.
Deputy City Manager Katie Gregory said an MOU is not binding, but it provides an outline for some of the terms and conditions by which the city and Vintage Partners have found some preliminary agreement on.
“We are very excited to bring forward what we hope is the first step of what we’d call our highly anticipated Old Town revitalization plan,” Ms. Gregory said. “The MOU gives us the chance to explore what those opportunities might be for us with a redevelopment program for Old Town.”
The city and Vintage Partners will work together to improve the already-built environment and bring in private sector investment to create unique local dining and entertainment experiences to the area. Ms. Gregory said the agreement will pave the way to create Old Town as a destination for residents and visitors, while honoring the past and fostering entrepreneurs.
“This public/private partnership was very unique in the sense that we needed private investment that understood our vision and what we want for Old Town, that we wanted to create unique experiences in Old Town. We want to honor the past that Old Town has, bring in life, reinvigorate it, create that sense of place, those places you come for that chef-driven restaurant to have an experience. And to help foster entrepreneurship,” she said. “We don’t want to take away what we truly believe Old Town can be and we want to honor that. So we needed a development partner who understood that, and understood how to do that because we are not the experts.”
As part of the agreement, Peoria plans to improve infrastructure to the area including park amenities, landscape, signs, public parking, pedestrian walkways, street improvements and other elements.
Potential incentives include a five-year scaled lease rate for the developer to account for the initial cost to improve the area, and the option to convert to fee (purchase) at groundbreaking or certificate of occupancy at 2019 appraised values, and others.
Vintage Properties has completed a number of projects throughout the Valley, including the Churchill in the Roosevelt District of downtown Phoenix and Uptown Plaza at Camelback Road and Central Avenue. City officials have taken those commercial developments as models for what Old Town Peoria could be.
The revitalization has been a long-time goal of Councilwoman Vicki Hunt, who represents the area. She likens the MOU to “putting the engagement ring on.”
“This will be a period of engagement. It’s not the marriage. This is a period of time when you really get to know each other better, you make promises, you talk about your future and your vision for the future.”
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.