The city of Pekin completed a project earlier this month that represents a step forward in the city's downtown revitalization strategy.

The finished street furniture installation project brought 12 new benches, 11 new bike racks and four new picnic tables to the downtown area. City officials and members of the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce marked the occasion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 23 in front of Maquet's Rail House bar and grill.

Pekin has been engaged in a continuous downtown revitalization effort since 1999, when the city began to partner with downtown business and building owners to refurbishing Pekin's central business district.

“We're working to make Pekin a more livable city,” said Pekin city manager Tony Carson. “The new street furniture will give residents and visitors an opportunity to safely and comfortably enjoy Pekin's downtown businesses and attractions.”

“Downtown revitalization is going to help everybody, because businesses will continue to stay here," said Pekin mayor John McCabe. "And hopefully new businesses will come in. We want Pekin to become a destination, not just a place to pass through or to run and get something. Putting in the new benches, bike racks and picnic tables were a way to quickly improve the outward appearance of our downtown.”

The bicycle racks, benches and picnic tables were placed in areas with a high volume of pedestrian traffic. The city council identified those areas through community input and requests from area businesses and organizations, and approved the project in early May.

“Downtown Pekin is a place to explore, shop, dine, and mingle,” said Pekin City Planner Katy Shackelford. “During the day it's alive with courthouse activity and business. At night you will see diners and socializers. We want to make sure people feel welcome to stop and stay awhile. With the basic amenities of added bike racks, picnic tables, and benches, we are sending a message to the public that you are welcome and wanted here.”

Pekin's downtown revitalization strategy is important to the entire community because Pekin's downtown reflects its history, Shackelford added.

“Our historic downtown tells a story and it's part of what makes Pekin so special,” she said. “Once lost, through demolition or disrepair, we lose an important part of our identify that can't be replaced.”

While preserving the beauty of a historic building vital to preserving a community's identity, making certain those buildings are functional is also essential. That means a need for such modern amenities as modern plumbing, wheelchair access and high-speed internet. The city allocates funds through a tax increment finance district program to help small business owners manage the cost of modernization efforts.

Investments in a downtown beautification effort raise property values, which raise private equities of business owners and building owners. Higher property values mean potentially more revenue for agencies that rely on property taxes from the district.

“This form of targeted investment pays dividends all across the city for decades to come,” said Shackelford.

In May, the city council approved a project to install updated crosswalks downtown. Installation will begin in July. The new crosswalks will not only promote pedestrian safety but also reflect and enhance downtown Pekin's historic character. The city council is also considering an experimental program through which it could provide small matching grants to Central Business District building owners to repair or replace signs and awnings.