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Peoria Aims To Revitalize Its Old Town, Using Distillery As Flagship

Published: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - 4:21pm
Updated: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - 4:28pm
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(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
Lucidi Distilling Co. opened up in Peoria’s old fire station.

We hear a lot about the development in downtown Phoenix these days, and Old Town Scottsdale has long been a place to be and be seen. But what about Old Town Peoria?

If you haven’t heard of that, that may be changing.

The West Valley city’s council has big plans for the area, near Grand Avenue and Washington Street. The council recently approved an initial land acquisition to buy three parcels near 83rd Avenue and Washington Street where, right now, there are old, boarded-up buildings sitting empty.

The plan is to clear those lots and then work with private developers to redevelop the area, according to Andy Granger, city engineer for Peoria.

He said the city envisions the area as a mixed-use development, but, in the end, it’s not entirely up to them — it will be driven by the market.

“It may be restaurants, it may be an ice cream shop,” he said. “We don’t want to have a franchise here. Ee want it to be an authentic area where it’s a destination for people to come back.”

Granger said they’ve tried to redevelop this area before, using public money to build public infrastructure, like their community center. But, now, they want to try a different approach.

“We’ve taken the next step to try and redevelop this area by purchasing private properties that we’ll work with developers on to rebuild these properties and try and revitalize this area, to hopefully spur growth around this block," he said.

One business is already seeing success in the largely abandoned area near Theater Works’ theater and the Peoria Town Center.

Lucidi Distilling Co. opened up in the city’s old fire station just a few months ago, and city officials are hoping its early success will help spur more development in the area.

“You know, when I originally sat down at a council meeting, I said this is not an ‘if you build it, they will come’ scenario,” said Chris Lucidi, owner of Lucidi Distilling Co. That was in February 2015.

“I was dead wrong. We have food trucks here every Friday, 4,000 to 5,000 people. They close down Washington Street," said Lucidi.

“What we hope is that this will be the flagship for more people to say, ‘Hey look, they did it, and it’s crowded all the time, we can do it, too,’” said Peoria City Councilwoman Vicki Hunt.

The building was built in 1921 as a movie theater and then it became the city’s fire station in 1954, Lucidi said.

“It was our only fire station in all of Peoria, but then Peoria didn’t extend up to Lake Pleasant at the time either,” said Hunt.

In 2006, the fire station moved and, then the building sat empty for almost a decade, said Hunt. The city was using it for storage, but she knew the building was important to the city and its history.

“We always said that we would preserve this building because of its uniqueness, and the stories associated from the people who do still live around here and who remember it,” she said.

So, last year the city made a deal with Lucidi, and he opened the distillery and tasting room soon after.

Inside, the walls are decorated with firefighter uniforms, an American flag made out of fire hoses and the words “Fire Station No. 1” painted in white. It wasn’t the way Chris Lucidi had originally planned to decorate his first distillery.

“We were going to tell our story. Technically, I’m a fifth generation distiller,” he said. “But, from day one, when we started demo, the firefighters started showing up. And we realized that their story was, not only, more important than ours, but it’s their building.”

The distillery is only one part of a three-legged stool, said Lucidi. Having a place to get a drink is great, “but you also need food, so we need a restaurant down here and then you need entertainment.”

But, he thinks all of that is coming.

“I think we can do something unique over here,” he said. “Just the way that Grand [Avenue] intersects, the proximity to the 101, you got the Coyotes — hopefully — staying where they’re at, and then, even further down the road, you got the Cardinals. Now you got a casino that just popped up.”

Lucidi said he’s purchased other properties in the area and has plans for them. The city’s next step is to have a study done to figure out what development in Old Town Peoria should look like — from streetscapes to what kind of architecture they want to adopt.

“There’s things happening over here,” Lucidi said. “And I don’t see a lot of roadblocks anymore, the barriers to entry are low.”

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