Peoria Heights lofts, hotel and arts center planned by returning California businessman

Dec 14, 2018, Peoria Journal Star

A California-based businessman is returning to his roots with an imaginative, ambitious proposal that would remake the village of Peoria Heights.

“I’m getting a little dizzy with all we are doing here (in Peoria Heights),” Blickenstaff told a dais loaded with business and elected officials and a standing room only crowd in the cozy space of the former library.

Blickenstaff closed on two of the properties last month and is still working out the deal to buy the Grayboy building from the village of Peoria Heights. Construction has already begun on turning the library into the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts, named in honor of Blickenstaff’s mother. The inaugural concert with folk artist Chicago Farmer and a list of other performers is already scheduled for Feb. 2.

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Construction on the hotel, to be known as the Atrium Hotel, is planned to begin this summer. The current plan is to keep the inner atrium, or courtyard, refresh and renovate the lower level and add a second story. A second story was part of the original Prospect Mall plans from the 1970s, but it was never built.

The Grayboy Plaza development would include 10 second-story residential lofts with retail and commercial space on a lower level. Blickenstaff said he intends to buy the first unit for his own use.

The cost of transforming the old library into a performing arts center is about $2 million. The cost of the hotel project would likely be several times that amount.

A recent planning study commissioned by the village indicated Peoria Heights could sustain a small, boutique hotel. Village officials have pursued a buyer and operator of a hotel ever since, but found little interest until Blickenstaff showed up earlier this year with plans of his own.

Blickenstaff forged a successful business career in California, mostly in the medical and biotechnology fields, but got his start in life in central Illinois. After graduating from East Peoria Community High School in 1970, Blickenstaff spent two years at Illinois Central College and then moved on to Loyola University in Chicago where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and later a master’s in business administration.

He moved to California where he started, developed and sold several biotech companies and has been the president and chief executive officer of Tandem Diabetes Care Care, Inc. since 2007.

Blickenstaff reconnected with his roots following the death of his father in 2007, and returned frequently from California to conduct family business. He fell back in love with central Illinois and began to form development ideas that he brought to village officials earlier this year. On Friday, casually clad in blue jeans and a blue quarter-zip sweatshirt, he was quick to evoke the memories of architect Richard Doyle, who designed Village Hall, the library and other Heights landmarks and philanthropist Bill Rutherford who envisioned and developed Forest Park Nature Center for the Heights.

It’s the kind of work he wants to bring back to Peoria Heights.

“This is going to be fun,” he said.

Several other unnamed projects in Peoria Heights are in the works.

Mayor Mike Phelan said the village has been working with Blickenstaff for months.

“He is not imposing his vision on the village,” Phelan said. “He has embraced our vision.”

“I got to put my money somewhere,” Blickenstaff responded. “Why not here.”


Shannon Halford