In my recent Road Trip story about Decatur, I spent some time in the city’s downtown area. Odd fact: the city has two Main Streets, although no one could tell me why. It is also the site of Abraham Lincoln’s first “official” political speeches. The news everyone’s excited about in downtown Decatur, though, is ADM’s consolidation of some of its operations from around the city into one office building downtown:
It’s one of the hottest days of the year in Decatur. So the lRobbie’s Grill on Merchant Street in downtown Decatur isn’t as packed as it usually is at lunchtime, owner Rodney Powell says, even though nearly every table is full.
Powell was “born, raised and baptized” in Decatur, he says. He’s also earned the unofficial title “The Mayor of Merchant Street” for his efforts to bring more people downtown.
That’s why Powell is thrilled that Archer Daniels Midland Co. is bringing 300 to 400 more workers downtown soon as it consolidates its IT, audit and accounting personnel into the Reynolds Building downtown.
“I am a fan of anybody moving anybody into downtown,” he said. “It’s definitely better for restaurant owners like myself – the more the merrier.”
Powell has been working to hold events Saturday night once a month on Merchant Street, to bring bands in from Chicago and have a place for families to gather.
(Food note: Powell makes excellent soups. All the recipes are in his head. It was at least 95 degrees the day I had lunch there, and his cold borscht hit the spot.)
The city of Decatur is working on re-routing truck traffic outside of downtown, redesigning street scapes to make space for outdoor cafes, and working on a redevelopment of its lakefront as well, Craig Coll, of Decatur’s Economic Development Corp., said.
On a tour we took around the city, Coil told me there aren’t many vacant buildings anywhere downtown. Many downtown workers work for one of Decatur’s largest non-manufacturing employers, Decatur Memorial Hospital, which employs about 2,000 people.
But it’s clear, to me at least, that the downtown lacks a vibrant, walking group of working people. That’s what the EDC is hoping ADM will bring.
“I’m really optimistic about the future of our community,” he said. “We’re kind of at that turning point where things are going in a positive direction and we’re laying the foundation for the future of the community.”