Community Building with River City Construction

by Heather Swick

This talented group of professionals continues to play a key role in some of the region’s most prominent building projects.

Above: River City Construction leadership: Kent Kampwerth, Cody Gerdes, Steve Dorris, Leanne Skuse, John Sutherland, Eric Bursott and John Hoelscher

Peoria RiverPlex. Dozer Park. The Caterpillar Visitors Center. Behind some of Peoria’s most innovative and iconic buildings, you’ll find a familiar name. River City Construction, formed in 1984, has developed and built more than $4 billion in construction projects. And there’s much more to come.

From the Ground Up
The founders of River City Construction arose from another fixture of central Illinois’ construction industry: V. Jobst & Sons. Established in 1859, that firm worked on many of Peoria’s most prominent early construction projects, including the Hotel Pere Marquette, First National Bank Building (now known as the Commerce Bank Building), Caterpillar headquarters, the Orpheum Theatre and Lehman Building (no longer standing), Peoria High School, and many of the structures at Bradley University. 

V. Jobst & Sons had a long and respected history in Peoria, but that wasn’t enough to survive the economic crisis of the early 1980s. When its doors closed, it left the company’s managers without work. So they decided to start something of their own.

The early to mid-‘80s was not an easy time to launch a company in Peoria, to be sure. Reeling from the 1981-82 recession, the construction industry was hit particularly hard. Still, the fledgling firm planted its roots and started to build. Billions of dollars of business later, River City Construction has weathered every economic downturn since, fueled by its stellar reputation and commitment to excellence.

“The key to River City's success has always been our project people,” notes John Sutherland, company president. “We think we have established the best workforce of any contractor in our operating area.”

Sutherland has been with the company for 25 years, starting as an intern in 1993 and working his way into project management from there. He also helped establish operations in Missouri; River City now has a presence in Peoria, southern Illinois and central Missouri. When the company’s previous president Bernie Koch retired, Sutherland returned from Missouri to step in. 

“We are always looking to expand, both geographically and in type of projects we do,” he notes. “We’ve been very fortunate to be a part of many of the fun local projects.” This is a big year for River City Construction, as they are indeed expanding in the type of work they take on.


River City's original ownership team: Jim Barr, Wynne Carter, Don Brennan, Joe West, Jim Wendle and Lu Ori

Pride in Projects
Since 2015, the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy has left more than a dozen people dead. Governor Bruce Rauner visited the home in January, and later declared that it needed to be rebuilt to prevent further cases. “The State of Illinois could have selected any contractor, and there are many to choose from,” Sutherland says. “But they sought us out because of our reputation for getting tough projects done in short timeframes.” 

As part of the rebuild, the State purchased an existing long-term care facility in close proximity to their existing campus. Upgrades to this facility, for which it has budgeted $12.5 million, must be completed by the end of the year. It will include the complete renovation of the facility, with all-new electrical and mechanical systems, a new roof, new kitchen, dining facility and finishes. “The State has thought enough of us to give us the opportunity,” Sutherland notes, “and we are committed to getting that project done by whatever meansnecessary.”

The Peoria Ronald McDonald House, which just broke ground in September, is expected to be finished by October of 2019. The $7 million, 4½ story facility will sit at the corner of Spalding and Monroe avenues and is expected to serve more than 700 families every year. River City Vice President Leanne Skuse says this project is near and dear to their hearts. “Obviously, they have a wonderful mission that we all feel very strongly about—a mission that will provide a great impact on the Peoria-area community,” she explains. “To be selected as their construction manager was a great honor.”

Sutherland says it’s projects like the Ronald McDonald House that they take the most pride in creating. “Every once in a while, that special project comes along that we know we definitely want to be a part of,” he adds. “This is one of
those projects.”

Meanwhile, a longstanding relationship with Commerce Bank led to another project the River City team is excited to work on: the bank’s new Peoria headquarters building. “We're especially proud to work with Commerce Bank on this project because it’s going to change the look of Main Street,” Sutherland says. “With the new materials and design, it’s definitely going to be very eye-catching and appealing on that block.”

Partnering Up and Giving Back
After 34 years of business, River City Construction has helped create a diverse range of projects—big and small, colorful and corporate. Even with all that experience, they’re about to have another first. “We are currently constructing the new Uftring car dealership, and we are joint-ventured with one of our main competitors in town,” Sutherland explains. “That's a huge change in dynamic, but we share similar philosophies and a mutual client. This way, our client didn't have to choose between us or them—and they are receiving the benefits of the combined efforts of both firms.”

River City worked out an agreement to form a joint venture entity with P.J. Hoerr to rebuild the Uftring Chevrolet dealership in Washington, Illinois, which was destroyed by fire in January 2018. The new 42,000-square-foot dealership will include a sleek showroom, service center, body shop, customer lounge with a kids’ area, offices, a coffee bar and a retail display. 

This connection with the community—and even with their competitors—is significant, Sutherland affirms. “We feel very strongly at River City that it's our corporate responsibility to give back. We've been fortunate to have a very successful company, and we feel we need to serve our community and help those who are less fortunate.”

Their employees are encouraged to be actively involved, and the company prides itself on being involved with many local charitable events. “We’re not just involved with nonprofits, either,” Sutherland says. “We are heavily involved with construction industry associations, and we encourage our employees to do the same.”

Since 1984, River City Construction has grown from a company with no assets or projects to a thriving business with more than $4 billion in work—and an extensive client list that includes Caterpillar Inc.; Bradley University; UnityPoint Health – Methodist, Proctor and Pekin; OSF HealthCare; American Water; the Diocese of Peoria; and many other influential institutions throughout Illinois, Missouri and Indiana. “We've been very fortunate to be involved with so many projects that are huge assets to our community,” Sutherland declares. iBi

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