Survey Tells Developers “If You Build It They Will Come”

Survey Tells Developers “If You Build It They Will Come”

Peoria is part of the second largest metropolitan area in Illinois, and boasts the second most intensely developed downtown.  The downtown is a vibrant and successful commercial district, and boasts a very attractive riverfront, beautiful buildings, and a strong and growing employment base.  Like many older cities, however, it is in need of new housing and retail in and near the downtown core.  The City boasts numerous quality industrial buildings that could be redeveloped into quality housing and retail areas. Some vacant tracts could welcome new construction of single-family homes and townhouses.

Real estate developers who were contacted about building in these areas wanted to see market data demonstrating the interest level among people in new or renovated housing and commercial development around downtown Peoria.  In conjunction with a number of city stakeholders, Peoria’s Department of Economic Development created a brief paper survey that gauged people’s interest in three distinct areas:  Downtown Peoria, the warehouse district directly south of Downtown, and “Renaissance Park,” an area of older, single-family homes just outside of Downtown.  The survey also gathered some demographic information about age, marital status, etc. 

Initially, the survey was hand distributed to a limited audience to refine the questions and get initial feedback.  The interest level of those respondents were so positive that the City decided to release the survey more widely.  Contracting with iceCentric, a Peoria-based technology company, the survey was made available on line from January 10 – February 10, 2006.  Through the Chamber of Commerce and other local entities, employers were requested to ask their employees via email to complete the survey.  

In one month, the survey generated 1,545 responses.  According to iceCentric, the response rate exceeded the industry standard by 10%.  Even better, the results themselves validated the City’s desire to have increased focus on these areas.  Among respondents, 31.2% were interested in Downtown, 30.2% were interested in Renaissance Park, and 29.6% were interested in the warehouse district.  Some respondents indicated an interest in one area but not others; in total, 42.8% of respondents expressed interest in one of the three.

The survey also yielded useful data about what types of people were most interested in these areas.  Generally speaking, interested individuals were more likely to be single and have less children living at home than those not interested.  (In fact, 68% of all those expressing interest had no children living with them.)  There seemed to be an equal distribution among education levels and income, with interested individuals trending as slightly younger than their counterparts.  These demographics are important when talking to developers about what to build and who to market.

Lofts 25%
New Construction 24%
Previously owned - needs renovation 12%
Previously owned - renovated 39%

An important feature of the survey was determining what people’s ideal price range was.  These figures below show the housing price range of people interested in these areas, as well as the types of property they are looking to buy:

One very important output of the survey was that people who were interested in living in one of the target areas were able to leave their email address on the site.  The City now has 250 email addresses of those interested.  Those email addresses will be provided to developers when they are considering a development.  Under this scenario, the developer could get an option on a building, email all those interested, and invite them to visit the building.  At very little expense or effort, the developer could get a quick response from prospective buyers or renters.  

This housing survey was an excellent and low cost way to develop valuable market research.  For less than $1,000, Peoria now has some proof to show developers that these specific areas are worthwhile investments.  

Craig Harlan Hullinger, AICP, is a Consultant and the Economic Development Director for the City of Peoria. Craig has a BA Degree in Public Administration and a Master’s Degree in Environmental Planning. Contact him at or (309) 634 5557.  

Lou Schendl is a Co-Founder of iceCentric, a digital communication and market research firm based in Peoria. Lou received a BS from Iowa State University.   Contact him at or (309) 685-7900. 

Christopher Setti is the Senior Development Specialist with the Economic Development Department of the City of Peoria. Chris has a BA in Political Science and a Master's Degree in Public Administration.   Contact him at or (309) 494-8618.

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