Peoria First plans for expansion



PEORIA — While plans for a $102 million hotel project to revitalize Downtown are in limbo and many traditional social service agencies are struggling to stay afloat, First United Methodist Church is planning to revitalize its Downtown location and upgrade its social service ministries.
Church leaders announced a multimillion dollar expansion project to the congregation of about 1,500 members during services Sept. 18.
"I'm hoping this sends a strong signal that we believe in Peoria . . . and the heart of the city," said Joan Krupa, a member of the church and one of the co-directors of the "Transforming Lives" capital campaign project.
Though the ultimate fundraising goal, $6 million, would allow the church to complete the project without debt, members of the planning team are prepared to start construction with a smaller goal of $3.5 million. They've also set a mid-level goal of $4.5 million.
Even before the formal announcement, about 40 families informally pledged $2.4 million, including a single pledge of $1 million, according to the Rev. Bob Phillips.
Krupa, her husband, Ted, and Julie and Rod Rolffs are co-directors of the capital campaign. Katie and Jim Owens, the retired CEO of Caterpillar Inc., are honorary advisers.
The church's plans for the 100 block of NE Perry Street come on the heels of the $9 million renovation of the Peoria Public Library's Downtown branch, which sits at 107 NE Monroe, in the same block as the church. Both locations are bounded by Main Street and Hamilton Boulevard.
A multipurpose space, the largest aspect of the 29,000 square-foot-expansion, would be used for contemporary worship on Sundays and for sports, indoor exercise, banquets and special events throughout the week. The children's wing also would be renovated.
All but 16 parking spaces in the church lot at the corner of Main and Perry Streets would be eliminated.
But the church's Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen - which feeds about 300 people each Saturday and provides free clothing and basic health care - would gain space and kitchen upgrades.
A former drive-through bank building across the street from the church, church property that houses the church's AIDS/HIV ministry, Neutral Ground, would be torn down and used for additional parking. Neutral Ground would move to church property at 700 Main St., which is used for the church's urban ministries programs.
What is now First United Methodist Church started in Downtown Peoria 178 years ago. The church's commitment to Downtown allows the congregation to maintain a relationship with students at Irving Primary School and residents throughout the near northside, Phillips said.
"When we looked at what we might want to add or renovate, we had two criteria," he said. "How will this change benefit the congregation and how will this change benefit the community?"
The congregation is scheduled to vote on the project in November. With their approval, construction could begin soon after and is expected to be completed within 18 months.
(Reprinted with permission from the Sept. 18 issue of the Peoria Journal-Star)