PEORIA — Kim Blickenstaff, who is already remaking a portion of the Peoria Heights downtown, is adding a historic part of Peoria to his list.
The Illinois native, who is now a biotechnology entrepreneur in San Diego, Calif., has bought the Scottish Rite Cathedral, 400 NE Perry Ave., which has been up for sale since last year amid dwindling membership of the fraternal organization.
Blickenstaff purchased it for $490,000, and closed on the property Friday at 11 a.m. in Peoria.
The landmark, built in 1925 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, boasts a working theater that seats 900, striking stained-glass windows and has more than 10,000 feet of usable space as well as a full basement kitchen and banquet facility. With the local Masonic membership falling to about 1,200 members from as many as 15,000 at the height of its popularity, the group was unable to keep pace with the cost of upkeep and other expenses, and reluctantly tested the real estate marketplace.
"It happened fast," member Charles Robertson said Friday. "We couldn't be happier about the way that it turned out."
The building most recently had been used for an occasional entertainment program and concert, wedding receptions and Masonic activities.
Blickenstaff, 66, a 1970 graduate of East Peoria Community High School, remembered walking into the cathedral after a downtown Santa Claus parade when he was a pre-schooler. He saw it for the first time as an adult on Friday. He sat in a padded theater chair and outlined a grand vision for the historic building as an important piece of a resurgent entertainment scene in the city, the likes of which has not been seen since the glory days of Vaudeville.
He linked his first Peoria purchase with his plans already underway in Peoria Heights. There he's working on a hotel, residential lofts, a restaurant and bar and a performing arts center in the old Heights library. He also bought the old Pabst Building on Prospect Road.
"The common thread through all the projects is preserving history," Blickenstaff said."Another thread is walkability. I think we could create a couple of entertainment corridors in Peoria Heights and Peoria, connecting with what is happening in the Warehouse District, where people could walk from venue to venue.
He hopes to make use of the facility for a future theater district and for events including, perhaps, the Illinois Music Educators Association annual conference in Peoria.
"My model would be the Orpheum in Galesburg," he said in a prepared statement. He also plans to display many of the historic contents of the building as a "living museum."
Scottish Rite members will be able to use the facility in perpetuity, and the building will be placed in a trust rather than owned directly by Blickenstaff.
“It won’t be inherited by my children. ... It’s going to be preserved for the community,” he said, noting fond memories of attending performances there while growing up in the area.
He plans to touch up the building, including ensuring it complies with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and add air conditioning.
"We are beyond elated that Kim has stood up — again," said Bill Shaner, the commander in chief of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite Valley of Peoria, in a prepared statement.
“We’re excited about what he’s talking about doing with the building,” said Shaner. “We’re happy people are going to be able to enjoy it and learn about” freemasonry, about which there are many misconceptions, he said.
Blickenstaff, who plans to move back to the area from California, was asked about the limits of his real estate buying binge in central Illinois. How many properties is too many properties?
"I'm having fun," was the only answer he offered.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at email@example.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.