A 'Woman's Touch' Leaves Fingerprints on Peoria Heights Development

Mar 29, 2017

As one building in Peoria Heights reaches full occupancy, another one is about to be added to the Prospect Road streetscape.

The newly-renovated Rouse Hazard building reached 100 percent occupancy Wed., with the opening of Jill Wakefield Portraits. It's an exposed-brick photography studio and gallery flooded with natural light, and the faint scent of cake flour wafts up from a bakery downstairs. Wakefield calls it her "dream studio," but she was reticent to move in the beginning. 

Jill Wakefield and Katie Kim get together for a photo, after the ribbon cutting for Wakefield's new portrait studio.
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

“The vision was here, but I was single at the time, with my three kids," Wakefield said. "And I think it gets down to numbers, you get terrified of the numbers.”

The photographer started her portrait business out of her home 35 years ago, and she says a personal connection is what ultimately sealed the deal in her decision to move out.

Katie Kim is CEO of the Kim Group, who manages the building. Kim's family sat for a portrait shoot at Wakefield's studio. When Kim returned to purchase prints, the two women got talking about their jobs and personal lives.

Westfield says from the start, Kim seemed more attentive to her vision and identity than other developers she'd met. 

“I think that is truly a woman’s touch," Wakefield said. "I have not seen that in any of the 'adventures' that we’ve had in dealings with men, I don’t mean to be derogatory by any means by that, but I just thought it was an interesting twist."

That "woman's touch" may be a lucrative approach for Kim's company and the Village of Peoria Heights. 

“When we go in, when the Kim Group goes into a development, we look at adjacency, what’s to the side of it, how can we make the adjacency better and how do we fit in with that development,” Kim said. 

Just a stone's throw away from the Rouse Hazard building, cranes are busy laying foundation for a new brick and glass commercial building at 4500 Prospect Rd. It's also developed by Kim Group and owned by MK Enterprises I, LLC.

Kim says that $5.25 million construction will house office space, retail and a farm-to-table restaurant. She says the redevelopment of the Rouse Hazard Building opened the doors to more investment in that corridor, not just from her company.  

“That in essence has spurred a lot more people to look at the Heights and say, 'huh, I want to invest here.' You see Sherman’s [Distribution Center] bought the Cohen Building. That was a couple million dollars' purchase. Kevin Shields purchased Heritage Square," Kim said. 

In all, Kim says it’s about an $18 million investment in the village over the past year and a half.