Friday, January 04, 2008

Peoria Riverfront Museum

First, let me correct a statement made by Mark Johnson, Project Manager for the Cat Visitors Center on my blog site. He indicated I could be excused for not knowing what Museum supporters stated before the full County Board meeting last month. I did miss out on what Ray LaHood, Dave Koehler,Jim Vergon and Jim Richerson said but I had heard their pitch before. I did hear what Sid Banwart, a Cat VP, Mark Johnson, I had also listened to Mark Johnson previously, Dan Silverthorn, and Dave Leitch had to say. I had heard Leitch before on the museum subject. Silverthorn was doing his job. New building means new jobs.

A year or so ago, Vergon and Richerson pitched each County Board member individually. My session was over an hour. Less than two months ago, I was asked to hear Byron DeHaan and Jim Richerson presentation on the building and operating budget I have a copy of "projected operating projections". That briefing lasted approx. 90 minutes. Jim Richerson is doing his job. He is the Museum Director.

In the summer of 2005, I visited the Mississippi River Museum at Dubuque, Iowa. You can review my blog of 6/11/05 covering my visit of this Museum listed by the Peoria Museum Board as a comparative to what could happen in Peoria.

Every city I visit, I make a point of visiting their Museums. It is only within the last four or five years, I have started to ask questions about how they are funded year in and year out. My most recent visit was to the Tennessee State Museum at Nashville. There is no entry fee and it is funded by both private sources and public taxation spread out over the entire state. I have recently visited the City Museum in St. Louis which is owned and operated privately. I have also visited the Putnam Museum in the Quad Cities. I understand that museum is considering combining with other enhancements to relocate to the riverfront. I believe they have a sizeable endowment. The State of Iowas has been very aggressive with their funding in promoting more attractions and more tourists to their state.

I also gather facts about other museums thru various sources; mainly the media.
I have more than a passing knowledge of museums.

Three museums were listed by our museum board as examples of county support for museums. One, the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is described in the handout to Peoria County Board members, Dubuque County, Iowa -2003 $51 million for Port of Dubuque Project, including 27% of $188 million project; the Museum was $57 million. As explained to me by Development Director Terri Goodmann, $50 million of the $57 million came from the Iowa Department of Tourism to promote lagging growth of tourism in the State of Iowa. One million came from the county. Ms. Goodmann pointed out the the "must" hierarchy of attractions as recommended by the experts as follows: Z00/Aquarium combination, Children's Center, Science Center, Living History and Art.

I followed up last year to see how this Museum was doing in attendance. Ms. Goodmann had moved to a new position and did not have figures. Jerry Ensler returned my call today and indicated the museum has been well received and expansion is planned as the gambling boat had donated one of their buildings along with a couple of million dollars. The expansion planned is approximately $40 million and they were in the process of raising funds but for a number of reasons, mainly financial uncertainty, the expansion has not yet started. They are currently putting together another fund drive.

Attendance last year was 225,000 down from their opening year 2003 of 301,000. The feeling is if they add more attractions, they will boost attendance. Admittance fees are $9.75 for adults down. Full information about membership and fees can be found at

Wichita Exploration Place that is also used by the museum promoters as an example of what Peoria could be opened in 2000. It drew 400,000 visitors in its first year but was down to 250,000 visitors by 2002 according to an article in the JS dated January 20,2002.

I have closely followed the overall vision of the Peoria Civic Federation (now called the CEO Roundtable. I understand the the Museum is probably the major linchpin in the original plan; new Ball Park, $32 million zoo expansion, the RiverPlex, Civic Center expansion, new WTVP building, Children's Playhouse, new Zoo headquarters, (planned destination to be Lakeview Museum off University) Renaissance Park with it's now open Innovation Center, major hospital expansions, Peoria Next Heart of Peoria structured development, warehouse district development, $100 MILLION PLUS for new District #150 schools and $35 million for City Libraries and the in progress $100 million dollar plus Bradley University expansion.

How have some of these visions panned out? My $50,000.00 investment in the Peoria Chiefs Baseball team 14 years ago have not paid me one dollar in dividends; my stock has been for sell since 1998 and I haven't had one offer. I'm told we are close to breakeven this year despite the presence of Ryan. The Riverplex projected to be six figures in the black each year has instead operated in the red since completion. The fitness center alone lost $606,000 last year. Reliable sources say the $32 million zoo expansion didn't raise the funds necessary for completion. Since the current zoo loses approximately $400,000 a year, expect larger losses in upcoming years. The PPD annual budget is up to near $50 million and expected to increase after the zoo is completed and headquarters relocated again from the old Knoxville Highway Department Headquarters.

Gateway Building and One Technology Plaza did not pan out as planned, nor did many of those businesses who originally invested in the riverfront such as Damon's. The YWCA is asking for more money as is WTVP. Globe Energy has asked the County for understanding as they apparently struggle to get the financing promised and FireFly appears to be still in the development stage. Keystone has had their problems and a number of small business have either gone out of business or declared bankruptcy.

Property Taxes are at record highs (the fair value on my home was increased $46,000.00 despite no improvements and no visit by the assessor.

The vision I have always understood. Attendance has not met projections and funding sources have been disappointing.

On 7/10/07, the JSEB stated that the Peoria Riverfront Museum was launching another
major fund raising drive. A local executive felt that $16 or $17 million could be expected. Jim Vergon said the next six months should make us or break us. Right now, none of the County Board members know where the Federal Treasury $20 million New Tax credit program stands. If that comes thru and another $16 million is raised in private funding, the building part of the project should be complete without any additional funds from the County.

The JSEB says that if Caterpillar took a self defeating attitude they are probably talking about the county who wasn't aware of the need for $24 million shortfall until three months ago) they wouldn't be where they are today in the business world.(in the past few months, Caterpillar stocked is down from a high last year of $86 to $68 today) I need to remind some that Caterpillar got there by using private, not public tax dollars, funds for the great majority of their growth. Also the newspaper says the Caterpillar Visitors Center would be a viable project. Few disagree. However, Caterpillar says they will be responsible for their own profits of losses. Not true for the PRM if Peoria County gets into what Mike Phelan calls "the museum business" and if the Museum Board's projections don't turn out, we will be in it. The operating plan already calls for an annual $500,000 fund raising drive.

My opinion is that I will continue to listen and evaluate facts. If the museum committee wishes to take the shortfall in funding to the people by referendum, I have no problem. I will insist that all the facts be known to the voter before they vote. This blog is a step in that direction.

In the meantime, all should note that a "mild market is expected for Peoria for 2008 as projected by a Manpower Employment Survey, 10% below the State of Illinois average. I have more info that I will add later. As usual, any comments, factual corrections, etc. may be made on this site.If you are following the stock market you will note that Cat stock is down 5 consecutive days as a large number of analysts believe we are on the edge of a recession.

Thank you for reading as this decision rests not with the Peoria County Board but with the Museum Committee and the voting public.


Karrie E. Alms said...

The answer is simply NO! As a community, we cannot afford another project -- not the bricks and mortar nor the annual maintenance/deficit funding. These studies seem to be what the promoters want to hear and then sell to the taxpaying public. All rosey and juiced numbers as the various projects we have already seen, Riverplex, ball stadium, Gateway Building, riverfront restaurants, civic center expansion, all fail to met projections --- more pie in the sky and living dramatically above our means.

Our future is so mortgaged for our children and grandchildren while we drive around on potholed streets, walk along broken sidewalks and cross over crumbling curbs. Not to mention safety issues and so on and so on.

Meanwhile, no united vision for our community --- no plan to rally the main body of our citizenry and so we end up chasing our tails like puppies. When will taxpayers stand up and say enough is enough to our elected officials' addiction to listening and following every peeping wizard who comes along to promote another new project? Please stop the insanity. Please Peoria County Board say NO to any funding of another boondoggle.

Mark L. Johnson said...

For the benefit of anyone reading this post, here is the comment I posted which I believe you are referring to:
"In Mr. Widmer's defense, Ms. Woith and I have worked on this project every day for at least the past four years. There are many different aspects to the project, many of which are very complicated and confusing. Mr. Widmer saw a 45 minute presentation at the county board meeting last month. It was a very, very brief summary of many of these complicated issues. He should be commended for attempting to pursue a more complete understanding of those issues that are of special interest to him. Unfortunately, in the present uncertain circumstances, some of those answers will depend on his own efforts and leadership within the County Board."

Now for the benefit of everyone, would you please explain exactly which statement you are correcting?

Mark L. Johnson