Urban Strategist to Peoria Businesses: What's on the Outside Counts

Mar 8, 2017

Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

“Show, not tell,” was the theme of an urban development workshop in Peoria’s Center Bluff neighborhood, Wed.

Local business owners, developers and urban planners met at the vacant Lippmann's Furniture gallery, once the retail anchor of the surrounding Sheridan Triangle business district.

“This is tan land. The buildings, everything, is beige,” Michele Reeves, an urban strategist for the Portland-based consulting firm, Civilis, said, while looking out the storefront window.

Michele Reeves, an urban strategist for the Portland-based consulting firm Civilis, says businesses should take advantage elements, like sidewalks, windows and lighting, to generate pride and experiences.
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

Reeves’ recommendation for business owners is straightforward: the exterior should be inviting and reflect the service being offered. For example, a travel agency she consulted spruced up its window display, complete with a sidewalk mannequin dressed in a hula skirt.  

“Everyone who walked by smiled, and stopped, and looked over at the store,” Reeves said. “Is this better than an A-frame sign? Absolutely. Because you’re showing, not telling.”

The two-day presentation was part of the City’s ongoing “Embrace The Place” initiative, which aims to revive four business corridors in Peoria: Sheridan Triangle, West Main St., Western Ave. and Wisconsin Ave.

Peoria’s Innovation Team Director, Anthony Corso, says the plan is to start with small, affordable steps to that help generate neighborhood experiences and identity.

“You know a three-story, new building that might cost $5 million to build on this corner is not likely not happen anytime soon, there’s not a market to support that,” Corso said. “But what can you do with existing buildings?”

Peoria's i-Team Director Anthony Corso listens in on the discussion, while standing next to a board displaying the Sheridan Triangle's history. The powder blue, toile wallpaper is a relic of the now vacant Lippman's Furniture showroom.
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

Examples from the workshop included setting cafe tables on sidewalks outside of restaurants or frequently changing up store window displays. The aim is to improve the pedestrian experience.

The “place making” concept is based on urban development principles that say business corridors can spur development if people are encouraged to linger and stay for reasons other than a single transaction, like dropping off dry cleaning.

But the “show, not tell” idea isn’t easy to implement for everyone. Development Specialist Leslie McKnight, of the City Manager’s office, was seated at Wednesday’s discussion. McKnight says similar efforts in the area failed because of the immediate challenges small business owners face, like maintaining their properties and a lack of foot traffic.