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Kim Blickenstaff Plans Nature-Focused Al Fresco Park Revival

The famous figure-8 roller coaster at Al Fresco Park
Courtesy Peoria Historical Society / Bradley University Library
The famous figure-8 roller coaster at Al Fresco Park

Developer Kim Blickenstaff is adding yet another project to his plate. This may be his biggest yet.

The Spring Bay native has already turned his eyes towards new uses for several historic buildings around the Peoria area, including the Scottish Rite Cathedral downtown and the old Pabst Brewery Building in Peoria Heights.

Now, he's eying a second spring for Al Fresco Park along the Illinois River.

The amusement park on Galena Road in Peoria Heights was the place to be a century ago. It opened in 1904. In its heyday, the park featured a figure-8 roller coaster and other carnival rides.

But by the late 1920s, flooding on the river began to take its toll. The park slipped into gradual decline before finally closing for good in 1943, according to the Peoria Historical Society.

Today, all that's left is a narrow strip of land along the riverfront. The broadening of the river as sedimentation has filled in the riverbed has left much of the original Al Fresco Park underwater.

Blickenstaff said he doesn't foresee another riverfront amusement park. Instead, he's looking to mold a nature park, with fishing, boating, scuba-diving, bike trails, and zip-lining. He said he also wants to introduce species like river otters, trout, muskie, walleye, and various bird species.

He said he envisions it as a place for inner-city kids to commune with nature.

“Fundamentally, why we’re doing it is that it was once the real attraction here in Peoria during the summertime,” said Blickenstaff in prepared remarks. “It was known for its clear blue water. My mother recalled hot days going out there to go swimming. It just seems like a good addition to the Galena Road improvement.”

A major revamp of Galena Road and the McClugage Bridge are in the works.

Blickenstaff's KDB Group presented the plan to the Peoria Heights Village Board on Tuesday.

The former Al Fresco Park is now owned by the village. Trustees gave their nod to approving a long-term lease of the land to the developer. Blickenstaff said he plans to raise the future park above the 100-year floodplain.

Blickenstaff is a graduate of East Peoria Community High School. He moved to California to make his fortune in the medical supplies industry.

He came back to the Peoria area about a year ago. He's bought up several properties for redevelopment, mostly in the Heights.

Blickenstaff said the project will take the cooperation of several agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

A timeline hasn't been announced yet.

Copyright 2021 WCBU. To see more, visit WCBU.

Tim Shelley is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.