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Murray Building owner: 'There's a boom coming'

Downtown Streator buzz encourages renovation for retail space

Personal issues stalled Bill Phelan's plans for the Murray Building in downtown Streator, but after a Facebook post garnered serious interest in an open storefront, the former five-story bank may see some life by next spring.

For now, the only surefire thing Phelan said is coming is a storefront, but he still has plans for the 401 Main St. building that were put on hold 3 1/2 years ago.

He said his initial idea has since come to fruition downtown with More On Main, and he’s looking into doing something similar.

“I’m very encouraged by everything that’s happening on Main Street,” Phelan said. “Earlier this week I took a walk out the front door and just on this side of the street there were saws and drills going. It reminds me of an old Western movie. Everyone’s got their hammers outside building something because there’s a boom coming.”

The storefront space Phelan is looking to rent out is 1,700 square feet, and he said it can either be broken up into several spaces or it can be one space for a larger tenant depending on the demand.

“Every new store that opens is good for everyone,” Phelan said. “People don’t want to make a drive for just one store. People want to walk around.”

Phelan’s initial plans were to turn the former Streator National Bank location into a multi-use hotel housing a couple of bars, a restaurant and a community-driven shopping center.

The hotel still is his long-term goal for the building and he’d like to put an entertainment venue in the basement in the style of a blues club or speakeasy. 

Phelan pictures the hotel as a collection of Airbnb-style rooms, similar to little apartments where each room is unique. He said if anyone is going to stay downtown, it will be because of the experience instead of the room.

“That’s one of the things I”ve learned from guests that come from out of town for the Silver Fox,” said Phelan, who was part of renovating the Streator Masonic Temple and turning it into the popular wedding destination Silver Fox. “When I’m there, I interact and talk with people to get a sense of what would get them to stay for a whole weekend. I’m trying to get people here and get them to stay longer and give them something to do. I want to change it from one day to a day and a night, or to three nights.” 

Phelan said communities similar to Streator try to play up a quaint, antique image, but he said what he sees at weddings is something different: He sees people coming to Streator to have a good time. 

“They have a blast, and I want to play off that,” Phelan said. “Streator is known as a place where people go to have fun and that’s the overall dream. There’s a lot of work to get to that point but that’s the overall direction.”

Phelan also addressed rumors the Silver Fox was closed, saying activity slowed down while he dealt with a divorce, but he was hosting two weddings every weekend. 

The first wedding was held at the venue in 2013 and it hosted about 70 weddings a year until 2016. Since Phelan came back into sole possession of the venue, the business is back to conducting about 60 weddings this year.

“I posted over on the Silver Fox (Facebook page) and there’s a bunch of comments asking if we closed,” Phelan said. “I understand there are rumors, and just for the record, it’s not closed. We’re actually doing better than ever.” 

For more information on the Murray Building restoration, follow the restoration team at facebook.com/libertyrestorationstreator.

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