The city of Pekin has received a $25,000 grant to help the city determine what the best approach is to reinvigorate the Derby Street commercial corridor.

The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission’s Peoria/Pekin Urbanized Transportation Study (PPUATS) is providing the federal grant for the study, for which requests are being sought for proposals from companies interested in conducting the study. Proposals must be submitted by 4 p.m. Aug. 31. The grant requires a match from the city, which is $2,500. The study must be completed by June 31, 2018, to complete the study, said City Planner Katy Shackelford.

The study will look at the area’s needs, assets and opportunities with the focus on better serving residents, visitors and businesses who use the street regularly. It will examine issues such as walkability, street beautification, parking needs, traffic calming and safety. The idea is to improve the quality of life on Derby.

“Derby Street is a thriving commercial corridor and the gateway to southern Pekin,” said City Manager Tony Carson. “This will be the first comprehensive planning study ever taken to address the unique challenges that make this street vital to the Pekin community.”

While the study will take some time to complete, Carson said the city will not wait to do some beautification projects along Derby, such as the ones done in downtown Pekin. Volunteers are being sought to do cleanup, pull weeds, plant flowers and so on. A date will be announced later. Perennials can be planted now and they will survive the winter and be “hearty” in spring, said Shackelford.

“We’re not going to wait a year to see what we can do to improve Derby Street,” said Carson. “Because it’s such a long street we’re going to take some specific areas, at least for the first time we go through, and do the flowering.
Carson said the work to be done will depend on the property available. In downtown Pekin, for example, there are sidewalks where planters, tables and benches can be placed. Carson said the city is concerned about all areas of the community. Unfortunately, the city can only upgrade one at a time.
Shackelford said the city started looking at options for Derby Street in December. At first, officials considered a study by University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana students, but the Federal Highway Commission, which governs uses of federal highway funds, said that was not an option with federal funds.

The city reviewed its options and decided to open it up to consultants, said Shackelford. The picked consultant will be required to form a community steering committee made up of residents and businesses and interested parties “who are directly affected by activities on Derby Street.”

The city is looking for recommendations from the consultant for policy changes or actions that could be used to upgrade the area.

“Those are going to guide us as we move forward because Derby Street is nearing the end of its life span as it’s built right now,” said Shackelford. “So it’s going to need some reconstruction in the near future. So we’re hoping that the plan helps inform (on) how it can be best used by all users of all modes.

“It’s a very wide street, so the ability to bring in street-side parking, bike lanes or rain retention — those are things we’re all looking for the consultant to tell us, how best this street can be maximized to help everybody in the community.”

And what are the possibilities for Derby Street?

“I think it’s open,” said Shackelford. “It’s kind of, the world is our oyster.

“We need to see what kind of proposals will come back, what the consultant feels is the most feasible options, and then we’ll look at our funding streams and how that fits in with city budgets, what we can and can’t do. We may have a Cadillac plan that comes out — that this is the best and highest option that can come forward, but it may be that we don’t have enough funding to do everything. So we would use that opportunity to come back and say to the citizens that we can’t do it all, but we can do some. What is the some that you would really like more than others?”

City residents may wonder why the city is spending money on Derby Street when Court Street remains in bad condition. Shackelford said the city is only spending $2,500 of its funds for the study. The federal government is paying the rest. Court Street is still the property of the state.

“Also, one of the reasons we’re doing this is there has been a community outcry that work is needed for Derby Street,” she said, “that it has been neglected, that attentions have been spent elsewhere, and we’re responding to that concern.”

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