Friday, May 27, 2005

Prosperity Almost a Reality for Dreamville

“Prosperity Almost a Reality for Dreamville” was the title selected by the JSEB “letter to the editors” written by Don Axt several years ago. Don, I believe was a longtime Caterpillar employee and former editor of the Caterpillar internal newsletter. I quote Mr. Axt; “Years ago a prominent community leader asked me to suggest ways to improve the prospects for the future of our fair town. I said: get rid of Wallace Station, it’s an eyesore; improve the weather; and change the name of the place. “Peoria” is an icky name.

Well, what do you know? Wallace station is gone; in its place the scenic glory of Walmart’s backside. And global warming has mellowed our winters and brought salubrious spring days. That’s two down. Ah, but the name. That seemed to be an impossible problem.

But then a perfect name came to mind in a flash of near divine inspiration: “Dreamville” – friendly, positive, in keeping with the spirit of the place that 30 years ago had a dream to renew the city with a Civic Center to bring crowds downtown. To finance that dream with a dream tax on food and beverages: a temporary tax paid mostly by out-of-towners. To rejuvenate the waterfront with cultural uplift like Hooters. And what is the micro-brewery called? To leap the obstacle of Chicago access with a highway to bring our attractions 15 minutes closer to culture-starved Chicagoans with a Rt. 29 super speedway. And the ultimate field of dreams…baseball!!

Oh Lordy, don’t you tingle with anticipation at the thought of a 10-day Dreamville/Rock Island World Series? Stand back, Dreamville, the long wait is nearly over. Prosperity is an almost in-hand reality”.

Well Don, while you wrote that piece with tongue-in cheek, I’ll update “Dreamville” happenings since you wrote that article. Yes, the ballpark has been built and the Cubs are back in town. Are there long lines at the ticket booths? Go to a game and see for yourself. The RiverPlex was built and opened in August of 2001. Meet projections? How about a miss of close to $7,000.00 a day. And Damons, with its high perch above the riverfront, what, you say it closed and the building is sitting empty for more than a year?? And RiverStation, this once popular riverfront restaurant is gone and the building sits partly unoccupied? And a new Gateway to the city has been built and its losses are eating up part of the East Peoria gambling boat revenue? And One Technology Plaza, touted to be the most technology advanced building in Peoria? You ask what new business it has brought to town and why is Peoria County stuck with what appears to be a very difficult space to sell or lease in this “high Tech building”. A spectacular set of museums are planned to rise from the dust of the abandoned Sears building.

Dave Dobson, Economic Development director has abandoned ship and move to greater opportunities in the west. The JSEB challenged a city council subsidy of hundreds of dollars for a recreational development in the old Kirby Risk building. The JSEB further said “last time we checked, people were leaving Peoria not because it doesn’t have enough entertainment, but because of concerns about its schools? (JS 9/23/02).

The zoo expansion that started out like a turtle and then leaped ahead “Zoo remake moving with cheetah speed”. (JBES 9/23/02) Since then, this expansion has slowed to a turtle pace. Then an article “Agreement extended to raise zoo funds” appeared in the JS on 4/15/05. “The new agreement gives the Peoria Zoological Society until 12/31/2007 to raise $25 million. The society, a not for profit group, has raised 17 million so far”. A little further down in the article it says “the Society hired a zoo planner to a $2.7 million contract to design a $32 million dollar zoo”. I thought the JS wrote about a $25 million dollar zoo expansion?? An article in the JS dated 4/23/02 said the Zoological Society was also to set up an endowment that will be used to maintain and upgrade the buildings and Rita Kress said she hoped the endowment would be $1 million to 2 million. Seven percent return on 2 million is $140,000.00, yet the article goes on to say the present zoo was projected to lose $397,146.00 in 2002?? An article in the JS dated 3/6/04, quoted park administration “that they hoped to award a construction contract by late summer, 2004”.

Where was I? Oh yes, here in Dreamville where we still will need additional millions for such things as the new trail from downtown to Alta, the new softball complex promised to us by Mr. Cassidy and Mrs. Noble. And what about the new playhouse scheduled to occupy present PPD headquarters. If the playhouse occupies the present PPD headquarters, a new headquarters building will need to be built. Park administration was recently quoted as saying the building the PPD bought from IDOT (Knoxville and Northmoor) years ago and tagged to be a future headquarters, is not big enough The PPD says they now need 33,000 square feet.

In addition to funding needed to complete all these dreams, we’re still waiting on a cash strapped state to help fund the Med-Tech District. More taxpayer dollars will be needed to fund the infrastructure for the Civic Center $65 million expansion. Then there is the museum and its request to the County of Peoria to raise six million dollars thru increased property taxes. The museum planners expect to get an additional $24,000,000.00 from the state of Illinois and the federal government.

This combined $30,000,000.00 will come from additional taxes because the state, county and the federal government do not have any extra money. We all know that the federal and state governments are operating with huge deficits.

Oh yes, I left out the sorry financial condition of the Peoria Public Schools which some outside consultants believes should be our major priority. And one newly elected mayor had the audacity to believe we should spend more money on public safety. And did I mention the conditions of some our streets and roads?

In case you think that I think we can’t afford all these things I must tell you, you are wrong. There is a lot of wealth in this community. Let this wealth foot the bills and let the rest of us support these projects by paying admission when we want to visit. If we don’t attend these enhancements, it probably means we have other places to spend OUR money. We already have a beautiful museum that we support with our dollars. We also have 75 or so social agencies already in place in Peoria to support our youth and underprivileged. In return we support these agencies with our taxes and donations.

By continuing to raise property taxes, we place an unfair burden on property owners. It is only fair that those who want these amenities build and pay for them and charge those of us who visit whatever dollars are needed to keep these facilities in operation.

Elections over the past four or so years indicate that this community is looking for new leadership and new direction. Voters all over are looking for public servants to represent them, who, when asked to spend more and more taxpayer dollars for things we can do without, ask that these elected officials have the strength to say, NO!

The fairest method of raising taxes for other than necessities such as public schools, public transportation, public safety, public libraries, public health facilities, public parks and public recreation, ect., is to ask the taxpayer by referendum. Most public bodies HATE referendums. (Refer to Dave Ransburg’s opposition to a referendum for support of the IA buyout, you recall it failed as Mr. Ransburg knew it would; 81% NO and 19% yes).

A Large Fortune 500 company has had its headquarters in Peoria since its inception. Its workforce has dropped to less than one half of what it was twenty years ago. Scare mongers say if we don’t give them what they want, they will move their headquarters. Probably not. It would be difficult to move to a different community where they would have the power they have always had in Peoria. Plus by their actions, they appear to believe Peoria is a good place for them to be. I agree but differ from them in believing what it takes to keep it so. Other companies have reduced their workforces; companies like L.R. Nelson. Foster-Gallagher and others have disappeared in total. Keystone has seen better days and numerous companies have moved across “the river”.

Caterpillar wanted the ballpark and the recreation center. They want the museum and the expansion of the zoo and Civic Center. I don’t blame them at all. But we elected officials are responsible and are supposed to represent all the people. We are the ones who voters and taxpayers expect to have the knowledge to say yes to what we can afford and have and the “guts” to say no to what we cannot afford. When our actions mirror the wishes of the majority of our constituents, we should get reelected. When we represent only the special interest groups we should not be returned to office.

To say if we don’t build these enhancements, people will move elsewhere is known to not be a true statement by most of us with common sense. There is more building OUTSIDE of Peoria for reasons stated many times by myself and others. We built the ballpark and the recreation center and they still move out!! Where is all the new development that was to follow these new projects? If this development is there, post on this site who these businesses are and where they are located so all who read this blog can share. Those that have moved to other nearby communities know if Peoria taxpayers build these enhancements anyone can come visit for only the cost of admission. No increased property taxes for them!

Please don’t keep reminding me where we would be without Caterpillar or the Civic Center. They are here and each is an asset. However, the Bloomington-Normal area has far surpassed Peoria in % of growth and did so without a Civic Center like ours, but they do have companies that keep adding employees and a University far surpassing anything we have in Peoria in enrollment.

Many people thought Peoria was dead because we didn’t have a “highway to Chicago”. If we are dying, it is because people are moving out of the city of Peoria and no amount of ballparks, recreation centers, zoos, museums or Civic Centers are going to stop this migration. In fact rising taxes will speed up the process. I don’t see a new highway to the northeast in the foreseeable future. Somehow, visitors seem to find us and I personally have never heard a complaint about lack of access but I have heard many complaints about the condition of our roads.

There will be no vote on the increased property tax until it comes before the full board. I don’t know the date but it will not be until our July meeting or later. In the meantime, I plan to visit Bloomington, Dubuque, and Rock Island museums and ask questions. I am not interested in visiting Cincinnati, Memphis, St. Louis or Indianapolis. They are totally different communities. I expect to get input from my District 11 constituents. When I vote, it will be in the best interests of the electorate

What the private sector does with their own money will surely be in their best interests and the community with minimum dollars from ordinary taxpayers for infrastructure.
I don’t want to stop people from dreaming big.

Everyone, I believe has “dreams”, some that are more realistic than others. We “smaller dreamers” know in the end, those who dream beyond our communities means are going to stick us “smaller dreamers” with taxes or assessments that will be never ending.


Stormin' Norman said...

Actually I do want people to stop from dreaming big. We as Americans are living way beyond our means. Personal debt is at record highs, the state is $35 billion in debt, and the feds are approaching $8 trillion in debt they intend to pass on to future generations. Good luck at trying to reduce all this debt on the backs of service workers wearing blue vests with yellow smiley faces. We need to quit dreaming big and come back to reality and acknowledge the fact the rest of the world is eating our lunch when it comes to jobs in technology and manufacturing. I realize it's tough to give up on dreams, but we need to reduce our standard of living. Otherwise, we're going to encounter a term I hear more often anymore, i.e., a 'fiscal train wreck'...

pollypeoria said...

Dunlap and Morton don't have a riverplex, civic center, or new ball park. Of course, they don't have any debt either.

Yet people are moving there in droves. Two reasons: Safety and good Public Schools. No one goes through the hassle of buying, selling, and moving their family so that they can live close to a zoo or museum.

If local Government and CAT would accept this truth and dedicated themselves to overhauling District 150 and fighting crime, Peoria would change overnight.

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