Sunday, November 30, 2008

Peoria Park District and the RiverPlex Continuing Saga's - Part 5

This concludes my "saga's" that brings together much of the controversy that swirled around the PPD and the construction of the $20 million dollar indoor recreation and fitness center. From 1998 to the present era. The RiverPlex badly missed the experts projections. By 2005, JS, 6/16/1999, the Benfield Marketing Group of St. Louis, the marketing firm hired by the park, projected that with only 5000 members, the RP would turn a $515,494 profit. The RP now claims to have over 8000 members and 500,000 visitors per year but still can't pay the principal and interest on it's bonds. Nor has the OSF/PPD Family Fitness Center ever made a profit. The Benfield group also said, "Our study supports that 17,028 households in the study area, have a meaningful interest in the RP, all of whom are likely to join the center."

This community has been more than "twice burned". It is perhaps useless, to warn of possible pending projects.

Consultants to the public sector usually will ask the people that pay them, what results of our study do you want? They then figure out a way to legitimize projections that most often do not pan out. Why does this happen so often in the public sector? Because that sector alone can make up any deficits' with increased taxes, the sale of bonds, more donations through fund drives and increased fees.

Park Superintendent, Noble, said in 1998 when the PPD controversy started to swirl, that "the family that plays together, stays together". Yet the PPD requested the City Council to grant the RiverPlex a liquor license. A license was granted on 10/24/01 by an 8-2 vote.

All private organizations plus public organizations like the YM and Eastside lost revenues due to the heavy advertising of the PPD. In one year the PPD spent over $800,000, much of this money spent on RP billboards and TV advertising. The RP cut membership prices and introduced liberal policies. For example, as a profit center, the Clubs at RiverCity has a 30 day membership termination. The RP cancellation document reads "No cancellation fee. Membership may be cancelled at any tine". The RP also permits (3) 30 day membership freeze programs, no dues. Private clubs who like LandMark and RiverCity, who combined, paid over $200,000 in property taxes last year while the entire PPD complex, paid none, have a hard time expanding or just surviving competing against the liberal policies of tax funded competition.

Level playing field? I think not.

President Cassidy wrote to the JSEB and printed on 3/17/03, right before the election so no rebuttal could be made, that the PPD could fund any project through bonding that they wished to do through the common practice of selling bonds. That is true as legislation permits them to do so without a referendum. This allows entities such as the PPD to build whatever they believe is in the best interests of the community. Mr. Cassidy and Treasurer Allen pointed out that otherwise no golf courses, tennis courts or parks like Glen Oak could ever be built.

That logic does not "hold water". The community argument was how far can a public entity use their unfair advantage to compete against the existing private sector? Under the reasoning of Cassidy, Noble and Allen, the PPD could enter into any type of business they wish, say, the massage business, opps, they're in it, perhaps a hairdressing salon, nails and manicures, barber shops, fashion boutiques, free legal advise, the dining and restaurant business, the trophy business, sports equipment sales of all kinds, movie theatres, fortune telling, bicycle sales and service, fast food and pizza places, locksmith businesses.... Stop - on 2/13/03, as reported in the JS, "Gym (and locker) patrons report rash of thefts" at the RP. PPD officials responded to say they had stopped these "incidents".

The following day they had another. Thereafter, the JS no longer reported "incidents" at the RP.

Our president-elect' with his "spread the wealth" policy will permit, and many voters believe that, will allow private sector workers to quit their jobs, spend a little money with the "free" PPD and live off the tax free gratis of the surviving businesses. "What a great country this is! (So said Weatherman Bill Ayers, bomber and "respected" colleague of 3000 University of Illinois left leaning liberal professors), when a jury found him not guilty of acts of violence against the United States of America..

That the RP is a complex admired by many, and the PPD is winner of many awards, is true. (Advertising Manager Cindy McKone is very talented) But few communities our size has a park district that collects over $14 million in property taxes alone. And with grants, fees,donations, etc., collects over $41 million dollars, this figure on target to rise sharply after the $25 million zoo opens in mid 2009. At least one board member and many citizens wonder what happened to what many enjoyed as free parks, free recreation and with modest budgets and largely supported by modest taxes and philanthropists. Like Laura Bradley.

PPD boasts of having approximately 9000 acres under their control. All donated or bought with taxpayer dollars or state and federal grants. And just a few dollars in their massive budget for erosion control.

Taxpayers beware. The PPD future planning is to spend a total of $125 million to expand Glen Oak Park. The zoo is the first phase of $125 million.

In the meantime, the locker rooms at Owens Center are in a sorry state according to a couple fathers whose sons pay to use the facility. The ball parks were never built and Glen Oak Park looks a little run down. And no Porta-Potties or drinking water at Becker Park. And the hyped skate board park? Find it if you can. It's there in the worst possible place with a poverty class expenditure for a "world class" park district.

And, yes, what did happen to all of Noble's and Cassidy's hype about world class softball complexes? And what is the real story behing the "oral" land swap deal with Bradley where the PPD gave Meinen Field back to Bradley. The board member who said the Meinen Field swap was an "oral" agreement, said the park also received money? Cassidy said "we can't take money for land given to us". Hmmmmm.

Bradley gave Meinen Field to the PPD years ago with a "no liquor covenant". Yet while baseball legend and Peoria's most lovable con man, was on the board, that Laura Bradley covenant was removed.

Considering all the projects being proposed or underway the taxpayers in Peoria and Peoria County "haven't seen anything yet". (Roughly 40% of the "members" of the RP do not live in Peoria Park District property tax collecting jurisdiction).

More and more taxpayers are taking this attitude: "Those who want all these non-priority enhancements should pay for them out their own pockets. The rest of us will be glad to pay the entrance fees".

If we want to attend and many of us will. Most everybody I know, likes parks, museums, libraries, greenery, open space and ball fields. But, more important, we want well paid jobs with money to enjoy and retire secure in the belief that our savings will not be taken from us by those who think they know our "wants" better than we do.

More government and more expensive tax collecting "circuses" are not what the majority of the working middle class wants. Perhaps I'm wrong.


Karrie E. Alms said...

Merle: Excellent coverage.

A oouple additional points --- please remember that the original back door referedum was for several projects --- fixing the former IDOT building, etc. along with the Riverplex. The PPD Board was advised that they could aggregate all the unbonded monies toward the Riverplex. This was illegal as the PPD changed their mind at the last minute when a legal challenge was in the wings. The PPD then purchased some other bonding instrument to cover the shortfall for monies needed to start construction.

Mr. Cassiday shared that he had learned from the Riverplex experience when the zoo expansion project came on the horizon --- no bonding until all the bricks and mortar money was raised upfront. Ooops -- let's just approve some loans from the PPD to the PZA to get the monies to start building --- so much for promises to taxpayers. Promises are made only to be broken --- I guess or so it seems.

Now, the museum cartel is knocking on the Peoria County Board Door for another handout for bricks, mortar and in the future operating costs. If their project was so viable, wouldn't they have been able to raise the required funding? If their project was more what the community has shared that it would like to see, wouldn't fundraising efforts be more successful? Perhaps.

So, if their project is so sound --- let's do an experiment. Let's take their museum proposal to the Novus Venture Capital Meeting (or some other venture capital meeting) and see how much money the venture capital would be loaned ... and the answer is ....$0.00. It is more of the same --- lies, lies and more lies. Spin it anyway you like --- show me the hard data for other U.S. museums --- types of exhibits --- revenue and income figures --- real not juiced numbers --- it would be a short list of profitable ventures, if any such ventures exist.

And of course not having this museum will adversely affect our quality of living or so the cartel tells us. As for myself and many others in Peoria --- let's get back to the basics --- the unglamorous sidewalks, streets, police and fire --- in good repair and working order. My family needs to be able to afford housing, utilities, food and clothing before more money is $pent to fund bread and circus.

Can't wait to see if we get to approve a referendum for any type of public facility versus the wolf in sheep's clothing which is being promoted as the "Build the Block" museum.

Karrie E. Alms said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Merle Widmer said...

Karrie's second blog comment was sent in error. I deleted at her request.

Kathleen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.