Chris West, partner and chief operating officer at Cullinan Properties Ltd., answered the following questions regarding Cullinan's involvement with The Levee District in downtown East Peoria.
Chris West, partner and chief operating officer at Cullinan Properties Ltd., answered the following questions regarding Cullinan's involvement with The Levee District in downtown East Peoria. A LOOK BACK Q: How long has this project been in the making? A: Perhaps no other area project has generated as much investment of time and financial resources before one foundation was excavated or one brick was laid, as the new East Peoria Downtown Development. Since 2000, when initial plans were first discussed, two different mayors have helped shepherd the process along, with the help of multiple terms of City Council Commissioners, numerous city staff and attorneys, the Cullinan Properties team, and our design and construction partners at Stark, Core, Midwest Engineering and Farnsworth. All have devoted thousands of hours to the project. Q: How did it all begin? How did Cullinan get involved? What is Cullinan's role as “master developer” entail? A: For more than 20 years, Cullinan Properties, Ltd. has been a leading provider of commercial and mixed-use real estate services in many different communities throughout the country. We've built our reputation on strong relationships and successful projects, and it has been especially rewarding to partner with a city like the City of East Peoria which is right here in our backyard. We have been able to successfully blend the team's visionary thinking and innovative ideas, to help create a new retail hub for the Central Illinois market and the East Peoria Community. In January 2008, the city issued requests for proposals (RFPs) from private development firms. Cullinan Properties was selected after an extensive review and became the main developer of what was initially referred to as East Peoria/Downtown 2010 and has now been recently named The Levee District at East Peoria Downtown. As master developer, the Cullinan team has provided expertise and support in all facets of the development related to both the on-site work, as well as the off-site work encompassing the new downtown area. Activities included assisting with and collaborating on site engineering and building design; site work and building construction coordination; Leasing and Marketing activities, including facilitating bringing in the two anchors for the project (Costco and Target), and now preparations for the operational phase. The Cullinan and City team members met regularly to manage all phases of the project from initial leasing to concept site planning to the opening of bridges and streets, and now buildings. There hasn't been a phase of the project where the teams did not work closely together to create the successful mixed-use environment that is now on the cusp of opening after many years in the making. Q: What did Cullinan do as its first steps in implementing a project of this magnitude? A: Once chosen as master developer, our leasing team worked with potential retail occupants on local, regional, and national levels on a daily basis. This effort focused on potential anchors first, knowing that once those deals are secured the specialty retailers quickly follow. In conjunction with leasing team efforts, design details for the retail portion of the project began to solidify as the anchor tenants were positioned on the site. Once the development agreement was passed, we were able to create a timetable for construction and delivery of each phase of the project which is proceeding ahead of schedule. Q: Looking back, are there any regrets or things that could have been done differently or is Cullinan satisfied with how things have progressed? A: We are very pleased with the progress of the project and excited about the transformation that has already taken place. We've already seen new jobs created, increased shopping options for the community, and are excited for the grand openings of Target, Gordmans and ULTA Beauty in March. We are also very pleased with the progress being made on the Holiday Inn, the Hometown Community bank building and the FonduLac Library which are also integral parts of the new Downtown and are all scheduled to open in 2013 as well. Q: What challenges or hiccups have you experienced during the process? A: The economic climate in general posed challenges, as it has with all projects throughout the country. However, the strength of this market and the perseverance of the Cullinan leasing team, in addition to the readiness of the site due to the City forging ahead during the economic downturn, allowed the project to be one of the few to come out of the ground during this time frame. The credit goes to everyone's belief in the project, from the City of East Peoria to Cullinan Properties to the many partners on the project to the retailers who have agreed to become tenants. Q: What was one of the biggest successes for this project? A: There is no doubt that one of the first exciting moments was when the initial demolition equipment started breaking into the 86-acre slab of concrete covering the site. The project was real at that point. But there have been many successes throughout the project. For the Cullinan team, finalizing the anchor deals with Costco and Target, as pairing those two international retailers in the same development, at the same time, placed the East Peoria downtown project on the national retail map. As a result other national retailers such as Gordmans, ULTA Beauty, and Ross Dress for Less signed deals soon thereafter. Q: How many people have worked and are still working on this project? A: In addition to the City and Cullinan teams, there are hundreds of on-site workers on a daily basis between Target, the base building construction of the remaining retail center, the specialty tenant contractors that are now arriving on site, as well as workers at Holiday Inn, Fondulac Library and Hometown Community bank. In addition, there are many local off-site consultants and contractors such as Midwest Engineering, Farnsworth Group and Core Construction that employ many office support functions for the project. Estimates of on-site man hours include Target at 100,000; Costco at 100,000 and other buildings at close to 150,000. These estimates are before the full-time on-site hours commence with retail operations. Q: How has the project changed over time? I believe initially the City Council talked about creating an urban area with livable space and smaller shops where people could walk to work. It seems to be more big box retail. Was this always the plan or did something change midway? A: The development continues to be a well-diversified mixed-use project in which retail was always intended to be the anchor. Complementing the retail portion of the development are hospitality, office, and civic users including Holiday Inn, Hometown Community Bank, the new Fondulac Library, and the future City Hall and museum, respectively. The project has maintained pedestrian connectivity with buildings directly fronting W. Washington St, which was a critical design requirement by the city to provide for sidewalk dining, in addition to not having expanded parking lot surface between the downtown street parking along W. Washington and the building storefronts. There is a pedestrian-friendly walkway/plaza that connects the Civic Plaza and the retail project and provides for outside seating and dining, outdoor music, and green space. The walkway/plaza will connect with the East Peoria pedestrian and bike trails. PRESENT AND FUTURE Q: What is the largest part of the project in progress at the moment? A: Finalizing the multi-tenant buildings in the development, for opening in March alongside Target, Gordmans and ULTA Beauty. Q: How much of EP Downtown is complete? A: Target is installing fixtures and merchandising their store. More than 150,000 sq ft of additional retail construction is underway and the majority has already been turned over to tenants for them to apply the finishing touches before opening. The new pedestrian walkway/plaza extending from the Civic Plaza to the pedestrian and bike trail head is completed and fully landscaped. The new street network, including the new vehicular roundabout and the new Clocktower bridge spanning Farm Creek from Camp Street, is open and has traffic flowing. A second bridge, which will span Farm Creek at Altorfer, is under construction and will open later this summer further enhancing the connectivity throughout the downtown district. Q: What are the upcoming businesses that will be opening this year? A: Target, ULTA Beauty, Gordmans, Ross Dress for Less, Heartland Dental, Mattress Firm, Tequila's Mexican Bar and Grill and Red Robin have all committed to the center and are in varying stages of construction, to be opening in 2013. Q: Can you talk about any prospective businesses that are coming in the future? A: We have many more exciting retailers and restaurants that have selected East Peoria Downtown, but unfortunately, due to tenant negotiations and confidentiality, we are not able to announce additional tenants at this time. As soon as we are able to announce, we will gladly do so as there are many more exciting retailers and restaurants to join the line-up. Q: What does the future hold for EP Downtown? A: Costco opened in mid-November to a buzz of activity and results that are already well above what was anticipated for this location. We anticipate an equally impressive result when Target opens in March. The Fondulac District library is expected to open this summer, followed by Hometown Community Bank and Holiday Inn & Suites in the fall. Q: How do you think this development will change East Peoria? A: With the state's award of $26 million in capital budget funding, East Peoria Downtown became the largest publicly funded project in East Peoria's history. Once built out, The Levee District at East Peoria Downtown will comprise about $130 million in mostly private investments, making it the largest overall project development in East Peoria's history. This development encompasses over 86 acres that will include 500,000 sq. ft. of retail, restaurant, office, hotel, and civic space, making prime retail locations available for the first time in this highly visible, easily accessible dynamic trade area located in the heart of the Central Illinois market. Q: How many jobs has this project created? A: Phase I Road Construction - 200 construction jobs over 2 years Phase II Development Construction - 1,000 construction jobs over 5 years Office/Retail - Up to 3,000 office jobs; Up to 500 retail jobs