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Broadgauge Rehab on the Petersburg Square | Community Voices

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The Broadgauge

Broadgauge, a historic structure on the Petersburg square is being rehabilitated into an arts complex with restaurant, bar, coffee shop, and event space. Douglas Pope, developer, discusses the plan and progress toward adding another community asset.

Douglas Pope midshot
Douglas Pope

Edited for time and clarity:

Randy: This is Community Voices. I'm Randy Eccles, for co-host Bea Bonner, we're happy you could join us today and we're joined by another community member, Douglas Pope. We like to ask our guests to introduce themselves.

Douglas: Hi, I'm Douglas Pope. I am a Petersburg native. I graduated from PORTA about 20 years ago. I had been working in tech editor street in San Francisco for the last 16 years and, recently, due to the pandemic and being able to work remotely, I moved back home to Petersburg last July and ever since then have been investing in the community and in this real estate development project called Broadgauge.

Randy: Welcome back to the area. It's always nice to have people rejoin the central Illinois family. Douglas, one of the reasons we wanted to talk to you is that there's been a bit of a buzz about some redevelopment that's going on, not in Springfield but, in Petersburg and that that's where you're from and what you love. Tell us about the Broadgauge.

Douglas: It's the Broadgauge building that was built in 150 years ago, so in 1872. It was the original kind of megastore for all of central Illinois. It hosted a hardware store, grocery store, and a dry goods store all under one roof. It was really grandiose at the time. Through last 150 years it's been a retail shop right in Petersburg on the square. It's gone through a lot of transformations over the years and there's a huge opportunity. What we are doing is restoring it 100 years back to its original glory. It's going to be absolutely beautiful -- redeveloping it into a restaurant and coffee shop and bakery on the first floor. Then, one of the things that I'm really excited about, is really big events in an arts center on the second floor of Broadgauge. It was the second floor and actually spans three separate buildings that we're connecting through this project. We're going to be hosting performing arts and concerts and all kinds of attractions, weddings and things like that, too. It's exciting. It'll be a fun place to invite people from all central Illinois to enjoy and experience Petersburg.

Randy: So, in a sense, this is one of the earliest big box stores.

Douglas: Yeah, exactly. Someone has described it as the first Target to me before.

Randy: There are many of us who have sat down and looked at a building, sitting in a place we love and thinking, "That could be something more, that could come back." How do you go about identifying a place like this and deciding you're going to do something for the community to help it out?

Douglas: I grew up four blocks from the Broadgauge. I spent my childhood there, every once while running in and exploring it. You could always tell how beautiful it could become in the future because it's filled with really, really ornate woodwork throughout and really high ceilings and just a lot of original architecture and design that have remained throughout the 150 years. They just need a little bit of love to make them shine. For instance, when you walk into the first room there's a huge kind of ash mezzanine that goes the entire length of the building and then it ends at this kind of this really beautiful double grand staircase that goes up to a ballroom. My whole life I've been falling in love with these features of this building and it's definitely a project from the heart. I'm excited to be able to do it.

Randy: What's the timeline looking like?

Douglas: We are looking to open the first floor -- the restaurant, coffee shop, and bakery in September. We started actual construction in mid-January so it's been a fast project, but a bit hard because there's so many pandemic related delays.

Randy: Are you seeing the same lack of materials available, etc.

Douglas: Yeah, exactly and long wait times on reels and ovens, so the whole turning back on we're fighting over stuff.

Randy: There's a coffee shop and a restaurant. What's the plan for the restaurant? What will be going on there? What type of food?

Douglas: We haven't released the menu yet, but it will be a very good traditional American food with a little bit of a German flair. You can get a really beautiful have homemade Bavarian pretzels and some schnitzel and German items. Petersburg has a rich history of Germany immigrants in the mid-1800s that settled this land, built the Broadgauge and a bunch of other beautiful buildings.

Randy: How do you put together a team to do something like this? If somebody else was thinking, “There's some improvement I'd like to do in my community,” and identify a building like you have -- it's not that simple. Is it?

Douglas: I've never done a project like this before. I've definitely had to find the right people and luckily I had struck gold a few different times with the people I found it right here in Petersburg. It's a complete local team. Pete Olson is our creative director. He designs the building. I give him the initial idea. He runs with it and makes it amazing. He's local and his son is my development manager, Stowe Olson. We built the team around them. It's been really, really good.

Randy: You said there's an arts center aspect to the upstairs grand ballroom. Besides weddings, tell us a little bit more about what you envision is for that.

Douglas: The second floor highlight of it is this beautiful grand 3,600-square-foot ballroom, 15-foot ceilings -- beautiful tin ceilings. We're going to be having beautiful chandeliers. It's right on the corner overlooking the Menard County Courthouse and some other beautiful buildings on the square. We want to be a destination for people. One of the central Illinois destinations. We want to host a band, not just local bands. We also think that we can get some well-known or medium well-known artists to come to Petersburg. Whether they're in between shows in St Louis and Chicago, need a place to stay -- we have a we have an airbnb that we can put them up in, host them at the Broadgauge, and have really cool concerts and performing arts. It's a really good opportunity to showcase what we have here in Petersburg and also all central Illinois has a pretty good music scene. We want to tap into that.

Randy: Petersburg is about a half hour drive from Springfield. You hope you hope to pull people out of Springfield and other areas in central Illinois to come, see the shows?

Douglas: Yeah, absolutely.

Randy: When this is another year or two down the road, what do you hope to see as an impact, not only for yourself, but for the Community and Petersburg?

Douglas: The town square has gone through a lot of change just recently. Just five years ago, six years ago, it was relatively quiet, kind of dead, and we didn't have lively businesses on the square that people would come and visit. Then six years ago, we got Hand of Fate at Petersburg and that started opening up people's eyes. During the pandemic, I purchased the Broadgauge. Then a few other properties have turned over. There's this kind of rejuvenation of the town square in Petersburg. A few years down the line you'll be able to walk down the street and see people, hustle and bustle. If you look at old photos of Petersburg in the 70s, there were people spread out on the sidewalk shopping in our retail shops. We had paid, coin-operated parking at one point because Petersburg was so popular. First, for a shopping destination, but White Oaks Mall opened and took retail away from Petersburg. Petersburg can become this destination for food and beverage and entertainment. People like small town life and the way we treat people, so I really do think we can be that kind of daytime destination for people in Springfield and all over central Illinois.

Randy: New Salem is not too far away. Are you partnering with them, at all, to try to bring some new traffic over?

Douglas: We're partnering with the nonprofit that supports New Salem. We're partnering with them on the development project. We will do some cool marketing.

Randy: Your plan is pretty transparent on the Internet. You make this so people can dive into it and see a lot of what's going. on Tell us a little bit about that, and where people can go look into it.

Douglas: I did want to approach this project in a very transparent way. I want the community to be involved in it and get them excited because it's going to fail if the community is not behind it. We've been publishing all of our blueprints and the changes that we plan on making on Broadgauge.com/plan. We show our architectural drawings and some of the look and feel of what we're going for in the restaurant. It's been really, really nice when the other day, we had a big open house where we walked people through the construction zone. We probably had 700 people show up. It was awesome. People were really excited. It was definitely rough -- they're definitely seeing a work in progress. They thought we were crazy with our opening timelines. It's really great to share this project with the community.

Randy: I've been seeing some advertising for staff and we're hearing stories post-pandemic of how difficult it can be to find folks. How's that going for you?

Douglas: We've had a lot of luck with a lot of positions. Our daytime positions like lunch servers and lunch cooks actually had filled. That's great. That's exciting. We're having trouble recruiting nighttime servers and nighttime cooks. That's something we're working through right now and we might have to open with a little bit of a limited schedule, a limited menu, depending on what's going on. It's something we're working on right now.

Randy: You mentioned Hand of Fate earlier and how it acted as a stimulus for the area. Now, with the Broadgauge adding to that, what do you think will be next for Petersburg?

Douglas: I really do think Petersburg can become this destination for food and beverage and entertainment. We have a Hand of Fate down the block from Broadgauge. We had a new boutique and wine bar open up called First and Third. We have a fitness center opening up on the square. I think what's next is the town square becoming alive and people having this destination to come to as a community and see each other. I think people are also wanting that after a year and a few months going through this pandemic. Everyone is trying to get out of the House and see each other and explore different areas. Whether it's local or they're starting to fly again. That's exciting.

Randy: This is Community Voices on NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS. We're talking with Douglas Pope, who is putting together a new complex in Petersburg. Taking an old building, the Broadgauge, and bringing it back to life. Douglas, anything else you'd like to tell us about the project?

Douglas: I love that history -- that coming alive with it. We have we have New Salem. We have a lot of history from Abraham Lincoln but now, this kind of awakening the new era of history in Petersburg. I'm really excited about the spotlight.

Randy: We're looking forward to seeing it come together and going out to see some shows in Petersburg, enjoying the square, and the historical attractions. Thank you so much for joining us today on Community Voices. What is the website address if somebody would like to see what's going on with this restoration?

Douglas: You can visit us at a Broadgauge.com and get all the information about our project. I appreciate you inviting Community Voices.

Randy Eccles is thrilled to be talking with community members and joining them in becoming informed citizenry. Please reach out at randy.eccles@nprillinois.org.
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