Monday, April 18, 2005

Lest We Forget

I title this blog “Lest We Forget” as a reminder of taxpayer funded projects to come and projects that should have never started. Remember the bold projections of Park Board officials who were quoted in the JS on 6/16/1999, where they were attempting to hype the RiverPlex? If not, I’ll quote: Bonnie Noble said “approximately 17,028 households in the Benfield Market study area have a meaningful interest in the fitness center (RiverPlex), all of whom are likely to join.” (Benfield was hired to do a feasibility study.) On 4/12/05, almost 6 years later, Brent Wheeler, manager of the RiverPlex said the facility has approximately 7700 members. Sounds good, right? Wrong! First, Wheeler says “members” not “memberships.” Big difference! Figuring the average membership has three members; 3 divided by 7700 is 2600 memberships. Now remember the deal the PPD signed with the State? One third of the memberships, not members, must be at no cost to those who qualify for “poverty” memberships. One third of 2600 is app. 860. Deduct 860 from 2600 and you have only 1740 actual memberships. Then consider that many of the memberships are not for a full year and you can see why this facility in the first 40 months of operation lost approximately $6,000.00 each day of the week!

Read further into the JS article dated 6/16/05, the JS writer again doesn’t distinguish between members and memberships. (The 6/16/1999 article quotes the park as saying with 5000 members the facility would show a $521,381.00 profit a year after four years of operations.) Compare that figure with almost $7 million lost thru 12/31/04. The JSEB, meanwhile, has remained quiet on the subject of the RiverPlex since their infamous Editorial on 2/22/03 that the RiverPlex was only $74,000.00 in the red. Had the JS any investigative reporters; they do but don’t want them to dig any deeper than PPD statements, they would have learned like I learned, and I don’t get paid, that the RP had lost $1,178,000.00 in the first 4 and a half months of operations and has continued to lose money every month as they will for the next 16 years. The JSEB knew this and when I showed this PPD document (dated 9/18/02), the JSEB manager exclaimed “give me that” and took it out of my hands with no comment.

I have accused the JS of a cover-up on the real facts about the RiverPlex and I do so again. The JSEB is at least starting to have doubts about “everything we have on our plate” and whether the lack of money pledged for the zoo is an “omen” for the museum.

Bonnie Noble, PPD Administrator makes $130,182.00 a year plus benefits too numerous to mention. She also collected a bonus last year of $1264.00. Can the PPD afford all the raises they gave last year? Why not, if they are a little short they can and do every year sell new bonds, raise the costs to use park facilities, and raise taxes. No problem says Mr. Allen, who I believe is PPD Treasurer and who was recently reelected with no opposition. Everybody is pleased with the performance of the PPD? Time will tell.

Now let’s look at the projections of the ball park. Ten years ago, I was given a document (not marked confidential) which projected the ballpark would earn approximately $153,000.00 the first year of operation. On my personal tax forms, (I bought shares in the ball club 10 years ago,) not one year has the ball park ever made ME A RETURN ON MY INVESTMENT. Also, I have had my shares up for sale for years with not even an offer! This year the highly bally-hood Cubs came into town and published attendance for Friday, Saturday and Sunday were 2077, 2385 and 1839. Total – about 6200. (Last year, they missed projections by around 82,000 paying customers.) Hardly enough in total to fill up old Meinen field on one night. Break even, I read, is about 3500 PAYING customers a night. At least I got to throw out the opening pitch last Friday night. Glad you weren’t there, I didn’t get it to home plate!

People have told me “forget it, what’s done is done.” Unfortunately, I can’t. History is about to repeat itself. Read on.

The Peoria Park District with a history of big time money losing projects is about to unload another big time loser on the taxpayer. I suspect the leadership of the PPD, The Zoological Society, (fund raising branch of the PPD), and some major donors are readers of Machiavelli who said “we (people) are so simple and so ready to obey present necessities that one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.”

How are you being deceived? Here’s how. After over three years of trying to raise funds and pledges needed to build the addition to the present zoo, the fund raising arm is still short $14,650,000.00. (The fund raising arm has been given until 12/31/07 to come up with 90% of $32 million the amount PPD officials say they must raise BEFORE starting construction on the zoo addition. (That’s 28.8 million dollars.) Keep that statement in mind “90% before STARTING CONSTRUCTION. (By then inflation will boost costs by a considerable amount.) Since I made two requests to see a business plan for this facility without success, I have concluded there is no business plan same as there was none for the RiverPlex, or at least, not one available to the public. I quote Trustee Roger Allen and financial guru, “Even if the RiverPlex needs a SMALL subsidy in the beginning, it shouldn’t be long before we are in the black.” The then district superintendent of planning said “it may take a year or two to get up to full utilization.” (He’s long gone.) Do these comments sound like these “leaders” had or have a business plan?? Why would a business plan for the zoos not be available for public viewing and input? Or maybe they have confused a “marketing plan” with a dollar and “sense” business plan. Big difference, the PPD is good at “marketing” themselves. I also suspect that even if you could see a business plan, it would be so “creative” as to show the zoo making money just like the terribly failed projections of the RiverPlex and the ball club. (A private enterprise with approximately $7,000,000.00 of taxpayer money invested in it.) The RiverPlex has approximately $5 million of your taxpayer dollars invested in it.

Want to be reminded of more history of highly touted facilities that didn’t live up to their hype? How about One Technology Plaza (Eldon Polhemus longtime County Board member and a person the JSEB attacks without any success, he just got reelected by a sizeable margin over the JSEB preferred candidate, is quoted in a JS article “My fear is that in a few years we’ll be landlord of a million-dollar piece of office space that we won’t know what to do with it.” Sharon Kennedy, long time Peoria County board member is quoted “I think we were sold something that isn’t there.” How true, the million dollar space the county got oversold into buying, is setting empty. (I was not on the County Board at that time. The County Board member I unseated, voted for the project. You don’t have to guess long about how I would have voted!!

Who represented the selling of the space to the county? Sandra Birdsall, the same person who is pulling every stop to get the City of Peoria to buy the water company!! Who was the developer and realtor? Diane Cullinan, the same person who tried to sell the city the now forgotten potential taxpayer killer, the “Promenade!” Check into the connection between Sandra Birdsall, the Chamber of Commerce, who also supported One Technology Plaza and the water company buy-out, and the former Diane Cullinan, realtor and developer. Nothing wrong with the connections but taxpayers have the right to know. Fortunately the city council saw thru this taxpayer rip-off called the Promenade, with a little help from the financial community. Bob McCord, CEO of Illinois Mutual Insurance came up with figures that would show this potential boondoggle called the Promenade, would cost Peorians approximately $70 and $99 million in taxes over a period of time.

Then there is the Gateway Center. Funds from the East Peoria gambling boat were to be used for our schools; instead, much of that money is used to make up the Gateway Center deficit. Did I say EAST PEORIA gambling boat? How did it dock there??

Peoria, as Don Axt, former Caterpillar newsman wrote in a letter to the editor, should be called “dreamland”. It’s great to dream but dreams are dreams and facts are facts. Everything I’ve written above was someone’s “dreams”. Unfortunately, some of the dreamers have dreamed right past wake up time.


Fortunately, there may be a few new leaders on the horizon who will not be so easily deceived. On the other hand the die may be cast. A PPD Board member has told me that park administration is considering selling more bonds if not enough private money is invested in the new zoo. I remind you that the PPD currently owes $24,011,497.00 in outstanding bonds with interest. I also remind you that I said some time back that the PPD budget could reach $60 million in the near future. It’s $44 million plus this year, up from $33 million last year up from $16 million in 1993.

I remind you again what recently reelected PPD Trustee Allen said on 6/19/99, referring that if the PPD doesn’t have the money to do certain projects, “We could borrow from reserves, (which must be paid back) or we could include it in our annual bond issue and it wouldn’t affect anything.” Of course not now, only later when the bonds come due with interest and must be paid back with tomorrow’s more expensive dollars!

As a business man for 36 years, I support growth that pays wages to support a family; I support enhancements that a majority of our taxpayers want, provided they are not propagandized by the elite who can afford all the projects they believe this community needs. When people say “you can afford it” ask them to show figures and take these figures to an accountant for a financial trustworthy opinion. If in doubt of the community affordability of these public enhancements, demand a referendum. Those opposed to referendums are saying “then we will never get anything done.” I say to that, B---S---!!!

I am hoping someone challenges me on these figures or statements. I have documentation to back up anything I say on this blog site. It is my business experience and observation that those who are saying “stay the courses” can either afford the tax spending course we are on or are deceiving themselves and in turn deceiving you. For those who can afford it, you pay for it ALL and charge us only when we use what you build. But remember, one half of us (homeowners) have already paid for the basic services and maintenance thru our property taxes.

I close this overlong blog with a quote; “Half the harm in this world is done by people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm – but harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves. (T. S. Eliot)


C. J. Summers said...

Thank you so much for this post! I'm glad someone is keeping track of facts and figures since the JSEB isn't. I'd be interested in knowing how much taxpayer money is going to be wasted when the PPD turns the Kellar Branch into a bike trail that few will ever use.

Anonymous said...

very insightful piece.

Trainlady63 said...

I too am interested in knowing how much taxpayer money is going to be wasted in turning the Kellar Branch into a trail not to mention the jobs that will be lost by those currently using this trackage. Also, what did the PPD do with the grant they got for this several years ago? Is this one of those places where they are borrowing from for other projects?

Stormin' Norman said...

Your closing quote says it all. The only purpose of the majority of these taxpayer-funded projects is to simply feed the egos of their proponents...

Anonymous said...

Great post....thanks for doing the digging.

Merle Widmer said...

Thanks for reading my blogs and I much appreciate your comments. I don't have a file on the proposed Kellar trail and I don't know what happened to grant monies already recieved. Sarah Okeson, 686-3251, follows the PPD & Jenny Davis, 686-3282, handles the city for the JS. They can be helpful. Also Karrie Alms can help you get started on FOIA; she can be reached at

If you have read my 6 blogs on the water company buyout and agree, call Bob Manning @ 688-2104, Barabara Van Auken@688-3039, newcouncil people who will be seated in May, Patrick Nichting @674-1390, who opposed this buyout as did Mayor Ardis, @692-1149, to voice your opinions and more importanly download the blogs I write and pass them on. I'm slowly building a following. I've possted about 60 blogs since I started in August and all should still be available from my archives. Since all of them can't all show up on my sidebar at one time, keep clicking and they will appear! Thanks again!!

Angela Anderson said...

Wow! Great work. I always learn so much from your blog. Keep it up.

evankai said...


For the record, are you against all city, state, and federal tax payer funded projects... or just ones that are spun to the public as costing less than they actually do?

What, if anything, do you think the city should be doing to improve Peoria?

A number of bloggers in the Peoria Pundit circle think any money spent on any project is a waste. I'm sure if they had a voice in in th 80's and read about Tim Berners-Lee's "boondogle", they would have pissed on that too... yet they use results of this crazy waste of money every day.

I'm still trying to figure out which camp you're in... fiscal conservative or piss on everything.

As someone who's on the receiving end of city, state, and federal grants, I get a little frustrated by the negative attitude of Peoria's "blogging elite" towards every city initiative... especially ones that enable Peoria's population to enjoy an active, healthy, or culture rich life style.

I don't think these people are capable of seeing the bigger picture. If Peoria doesn't offer the type of activities people my age, income, and education want in a city, I don't care how much Bradley pays me to or how much I enjoy my job... I will leave. And so will my friends who work at Bradley, ICC, Cat, the area hospitals, medical school, multimedia shops, public schools, etc.

I am all for fiscal responsibility, but I'm also for the city showing leadership in developing the type of community everyone wants to live in.

Taxing only at a level that provides basic city services will not save anyone money. In that environment, Peoria's major employers will lose the employees with enough talent to get work else where. Employees leave, businesses suffer, the tax base is reduced so taxes must be raised or services reduced. New businesses don't start here. The area can't retain talented high school and college graduates because there are no jobs for them. Businesses don't have discretionary funding for the arts, limiting cultural events... more people leave... the cycle continues.

Before you discount every city initiative as a boondogle, I encourage you to attend the PeoriaNEXT Discovery Forum on Friday and see the innovations these investment like MedTech are producing and how new businesses are being created and existing Peoria businesses are benefiting.

If you're going to Watch Peoria... please spend some time pointing out the positive things that come from the city's investments as well.


Kevin Reynen
Director of Instructional Technology
Slane College of Communication and Fine Arts
Bradley University

Merle Widmer said...


Thanks for uour comments. I don't exspect you to read all of my blogs, but I starting blogging in August. I encourage you to go back into my archives and read some of my earlier blogs. I'll answer some of your questions on my next blog so that my reply will be read by more viewers as I find even I don't always go back several days to see who has made the latest comment.
What I write is usually never either black or white. My name stands on my old business 13 years after they bought me out. If the present owners thought I was anti business and growth, they would have changed my name when they built the new business. I'm not anti growth at all. Just don't care much for lies ans subtle falsehoods and arrogant egos!