Our goal for Main Street Commons: Inject life into Main Street

Originally published September 10, 2010

What comes to mind when you hear the words Main Street?

Not any particular Main Street, but Hollywood’s version.

Small shops, pedestrian activity and maybe even a park probably come to mind.

Not in Peoria, though.

There’s little question that the River City’s Main Street corridor needs some work. Once leaving Downtown, the street becomes gray, shady and mostly barren.

The city took a very preliminary step toward concrete changes on Main when it reduced lanes of traffic, but there’s still a lot that needs to be accomplished.

That’s why we’re excited about Main Street Commons.

The new apartment building will hopefully inject some life onto the street, one that most students cross only to get to Jimmy John’s, and even then only in the daylight.

The Commons’ owners are opening storefronts on the building’s first level. With any luck, all those shops will be rented and occupied by businesses that will benefit both students and the neighborhood.

And with just a little more luck, the university, neighbors and city will team up to further clean up the area, including Campustown, to make the West Bluff look like a campus neighborhood.

Apartments in the Commons won’t be cheap, coming in at $659 per person, plus electric and cable. So the company is going to need to prove to students that its worth living in a neighborhood that most deem unsafe at best. Will the offer of an on-site gym and tanning facilities do it? Possibly.

Security, though, will have to be key.

University East is a mostly quiet neighborhood, but with several shootings and one homicide this summer, there’s proof that it isn’t immune.

With all the benefits the Commons is likely to bring to the area, it’s not surprising the university has thrown so much support behind it.

The apartment complex has been featured on the school’s website, it has a table set up in the Michel Student Center several hours a week and it is sponsoring two Late Night BUs this semester. The Commons will help Bradley’s business – recruiting students – and Bradley will help the Commons’ business – which is also, in a way, recruiting students.

That said, Bradley’s level of involvement is somewhat disturbing.

Administrators have imposed the same ridiculous same-sex apartment rules it enforces in St. James. We see why the university may be wary of mix-gender apartments, but when is it time to let people in their early 20s make their own decisions and reap the consequences, if there are any?

The university was also able to ban kegs from the new apartments, though we can’t really argue with that.

Representatives of the apartment complex said they had no problem adding those rules to the lease, which makes sense after learning Bradley invested $1.2 million – 10 percent of the project’s cost – to help the struggling project get off the ground.

That money came out of the university’s endowment, which is sort of like a savings account. It wasn’t allocated for anything in particular, and it won’t affect students.

In fact, the university will probably see a return on its investment. When coupling that with the life the project will hopefully inject onto Main Street, it seems to be a win-win.

The university’s relationship with the company does, however, make us nervous.

If administrators were going to start getting more involved with off-campus housing, we would have hoped they’d be working to clean up the many barely inhabitable houses so many students reside in.

That, however, is an argument for another day.

Despite a few hesitations, Main Street Commons is undoubtedly going to do good things for Main Street.

Even if the project were to fail, which, judging by the number of leases already signed, doesn’t seem likely, it’ll be better than staring at the old Walgreen’s.