Residents up in arms about proposed Pekin demolition

Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 7:27 PM CST
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PEKIN (25 News Now) - Two historic buildings in downtown Pekin are set for demolition, but not without some pushback from a group of passionate local residents.

The Arcade and Tobin buildings on Capitol Street were purchased by Tazewell County a decade ago, but have sat mostly vacant since then. That’s on top of up to $500,000 in renovations for one of them, with an estimated $1 million further to keep them habitable. According to the Board, it’s a more cost efficient option to demolish them than continue to renovate.

According to board president David Zimmerman, money from American Rescue Plan grants would be used to build a new County Health Department annex, along with a new courthouse. The current courthouse would be re-purposed for office space and County offices, not knocked down.

“I think it’s a win-win for all the parties involved. I know those are beautiful buildings, but they are just beyond repair at this point,” says Zimmerman.

The proposal is part of a $35 million project paid for with grant money to revitalize downtown Pekin. It’s a pursuit achieved before in towns like Morton and Washington, with the goal of bringing more business (and revenue) to those who set up shops in the district. But over the past several months, there’s been some resistance to the idea from residents.

“I wish people would have become more engaged earlier,” notes Zimmerman. “But now that we have plans and they’re in the works and we’re moving forward, now they’re coming forward.”

A local Facebook group created in November called ‘Save Pekin’s History’ is pushing back. Debbi Reed-Montgomery created the group after seeing consistent complaints from residents about losing historical buildings. Those include the old high school, movie theater, and west campus. Now, she says, these are just more sites on the chopping block.

“We don’t want to lose anything else, we are saying enough is enough, and we’re going to take action.”

Reed-Montgomery says the demolitions won’t stop after this. On top of that, they’re looking for consistent public support at meetings going forward, for both the Pekin City Council and at the County level. They plan to gather again at the County Board’s next meeting Wednesday.

“Step up. If you don’t step up now and help us save these buildings, the wrecking ball is going to come...and heaven knows what comes next,” says Reed-Montgomery.

The board is awaiting approval from the City Council to move forward on three separate proposals, since the city owns the lots. The board then plans to make a final decision regarding demolition and plans moving forward in February.