The fading, dirty yellow brick building has stood for several years as a reminder of an earlier era along Thunderbird Road east of Sun City.
But soon the structure that housed The Escape Hatch bar and lounge will be coming down, making way for one of the next generation of gas stations and convenience stores operated by nationwide chain QuikTrip, the Tulsa, Okla.-based company that has added locations at a rapid clip since the late 2000s.
The new site will replace one across the street on the south side of Thunderbird Road, according to Ironwood District Councilman Bill Patena, who represents that area.
“I’m really excited. This store is going to be bigger and better. (The Escape Hatch building) has been an eyesore for many years,” he said.
The idea is not just to replace an old, unattractive building.
Rick Williams, site manager for the project with the city’s Economic Development Services Department said the new QT, one of the company’s Generation 3 stores, will help promote and support the city’s Rio Vista Recreation Center and Rio Vista Community Park, Peoria’s showcase recreation complex about three-quarter miles up the road but away from any major surface streets.
“This was certainly an opportunity to enhance that corner and create a gateway into Community Park itself. It’s a high-profile corner where people from all over the Valley pass to come to events,” Williams said.
On weekends, the park is especially busy, noted Economic Development project manager Paul Zampini, adding the new QT is a good use for that corner.
While company officials were unavailable to detail the plans, QT’s newest group of stores has been reaching beyond the traditional gas pump and convenience-store layout, Williams said.
“(It) will be significantly different,” he said.
“They’ll have entrances and exits on all four sides of the store. It adds a lot more variety, including made-to-order sandwiches and pizza by the slice.”
The company plans to “decommission” its store on the south side of Thunderbird and Rio Vista Boulevard, said Williams.
“They’ll take the (gas pump) canopies down, remove the (underground) tanks, take signage down but leave the building up, make it appear as normal as possible, and market it nationwide,” he said.
Not everyone is happy about that aspect of the plan.
Mayor Bob Barrett is one of two City Council members to vote against the rezoning plan when it was passed 5-2 by the City Council June 17. He said the plan fails to give the city enough guarantees the property on the south side of Thunderbird will not sit idle for an excessive period.
“Apparently, we cannot compel QT to tear it down, although they say they are going to do that. Having a dead gas station across the street would not be a good thing. They say they’re going to do something with the property. I hope they keep their word,” he said.
But Patena was confident the company could find a taker for the property. “I think they’re going to actively market it and turn it around very shortly,” he said.
Still, Barrett and others welcome the impending departure of The Escape Hatch building.
“It’s an eyesore that’s not going to be missed by many, if anybody,” the mayor said.
The building, which opened in the late 1970s, according to Zampini, closed in 2007, a victim of the recession.
“It’s fenced off, but still been vandalized,” Patena noted.
The new gas station and store will involve about 2.5 acres of the 4.88-acre parcel. No immediate plans have been disclosed for the rest of the land. But the project is sure to perk up the neighborhood and reflects an improving economy, Zampini said.
“It’s kind of exciting to see things starting to happen, instead of hanging on, hoping something will happen.”