Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Peoria Park District and the RiverPlex Continuing Saga's

So many statements, some outright falsehoods and other half-truths, have appeared over the years in some form or another, two very recently, has prompted me publish and re-publish many of the facts that surrounded the original controversy over the siting and building of the RP. Facts are gleaned from all records I've accumulated. Many events occurred before I started blogging in 2004. I did join with many in the community to protest taxpayer funding of direct competition to the established private sector. And to protest the site proposed for the indoor Recreation and Fitness Center. For the first time in history, I ran against the sitting park board president but was overwhelmed by the media, outright lies and half-truths from the park board president and the treasurer. I was out spent by a margin of $5 to $1.

Most of the projections made by the PPD did not pan out. The major one was that the RiverPlex would be self supporting and later very profitable. It has operated at substantial losses since opening day. These are facts, generally denied by PPD officials. However, the saying goes, "To ignore or deny facts, does not change the facts".

One news media recently said that "some" public money was spent on this project. Actually, more than one-half of the original costs were supported by taxpayers dollars. $5 million was pledged by the Bielfeldt Foundation, (this foundation has withdrawn it's pledge to the proposed museum), and OSF committed $4 million to be used for leased space for their Fitness Center. PPD documents dated 12/31/2001 and 12/31/02 recorded these advancdes as "deferred revenue, as the JS had reported that the lease payments of $4 million would be paid "upfront" to help make up the building shortfall of $4.5 million. ($10 million in tax bonds and $5 million pledged from the Bielfeldt Foundation, $4 million from OSF to make up the projected $19.5 million construction costs). With change orders and furnishings, the entire project totalled just short of $21 million.

In early 1999, JS reporter Jennifer Davis wrote, "While the city owns the RecPlex (original name) land, it already agreed to lease it to the park District and spend $4.7 million on nearby parking and street improvements". TAXPAYER DOLLARS.

Later, the lease was turned into a land swap. On 3/13/99, I quote Jennifer Davis, "RecPlex land swap has its opponents", 'Some sort of fair land trade is required since the proposed RecPlex site is currently protected property, paid for with a $424,000 federal grant, TAXPAYER DOLLARS, on the condition it remain open space'. Deceased Bill Rutherford, master conservationist spoke up against the development of building on this valuable piece of riverfront property. "It's beyond imagination that land beneath a bridge with no access to the river (a seawall exists along this strip of land) to be equivalent to the land where the RiverPlex now stands", said one opponent out of many thousands.

So the City Council started over again.

On 8/18/99, JS reporter Mike Ramsey wrote, "City Council Approves Land Swap. By this time the land swap switched from the "under the bridge" property to some land near John Gywnn Park. "Tom Tincher, City executive director of riverfront development, (Tincher is the gentleman named in my recent blog) said an "informal" appraisal put the land value of the RiverPlex site at $5 a square foot; $430,000; this appraisal made in a letter to Tincher dated 8/25,1999, from James W. Klopfenstein, State Certified General Real Estate Appraiser. On 8/27/1999, Tom Tincher wrote a letter to Mick Rosendahl, Senior Grant Administrator, IDNR, in Springfield as follows: "The proposed land swap site (by Gwynn Park) is a natural extension of an important recreation facility serving families and children who reside within neighborhoods adjacent to downtown Peoria. Expanding this park by adding open space at this location (a major problem never presented was that a THROUGH street separates the park parcels) will provide for the development of family picnic areas and will improve public access to the park and provide a much needed open space buffer ($5 a square foot!!) between the more active recreation facilities and the adjoining office uses.

A local appraiser has completed his field work in appraising the replacement open space site. He has determined that the property should be valued at $5 dollars per sq. ft. We would certainly appreciate your help in expediting the processing....."
Tincher and Klofpenstein said this despite attention being called that land adjacent to this $5 a sq. ft. land had recently sold for $2 a square foot. Tincher never mentioned that FACT in his letter to the IDNR.


THE FACTS; The land the city approved in a land swap with the park district is basically worthless. It sits barren in back of the outfield of John Gwynn Softball Field, a softball field with lights, unused for quite a number of years. The land the PPD swapped for the extremely valuable riverfront RiverPlex property has never been used a picnic area, a most unlikely spot for a picnic. The land has not been used for anything including a "buffer". A buffer from what?

Go drive by this $5 a sq. ft. "parkland with its 'picnic benches' and NO restrooms, water or any other utilities" off Richard Pryor Pk.. It's the land directly behind the unused ball park, no picnic benches, scraggley trees and piles of dirt in the front. Accessed by a bicycle path. Worthless unused city property.

To the credit of the JSEB, they wrote in 1999, "City commitment to riverside park unfulfilled" and wrote "Based on comments made at Tuesday's council meeting, many Peorians do not view a two-acre neighborhood?? tract in the center of town, in the same light (and value) as parkland on the river. They have a point".

Do tell! Only Jim Ardis, Gary Sandberg and Patrick Nichting voted to oppose the land swap.

Tom Tincher's credibility?? James W. Klopfenstein's credibility?? IDNR indifference??

Many have wondered why the RP was built in downtown when the PPD had called the Lakeview Musuem complex owned by the PPD, the "center of the city". The susposed reason was as Carlotta Bielfeldt of the Foundation told me "because I want it there".

This is part one of a series exposing the "real story" behind the manipulations of the PPD, the succumbing to pressure of the city council and the incredible naivety or incompetence of the IDNR, the large expenditures of public money continuing year in and year out to support a recreation and fitness center, never supported by anywhere near a majority of PPD property taxpayers.


Karrie E. Alms said...

Ah yes, the famous land swap --- where Bonnie Noble wrote to the National Park Service that the land on the waterfront was not covenanted to be 'open space in perpetuity' --- although the PPD Master Plan found at the Public Library indeed stated otherwise. Interesting position for her to take as the PPD director who was a former PPD Board Member.

Or the lack of a cultural/historical review of the property where the Riverplex was built because ----oops the Park District did not complete the study required by law and the IHPA did not enforce this requirement. Oops the PPD preloaded the building site with several tons of dirt before all the i's and t's were dotted and crossed. Requirement never completed --- oh isn't this the area of early settlements in Peoria....?

Or Gale Thetford, the then 3rd District City Council person, who stated at the city council meeting .... to the effect ... that the vote before the council tonight was not about the value of the value of the land but the ability to keep this project moving foreward.....

I still have several (4 or 5) boxes of data on this project.

Merle Widmer said...

More taxpayer dollars were spent by the city to buy the Lenz Oil Company land and oil storage tanks to build a road that would wind from Adams and Wayne streets down to the RiverPlex. It's going to be a much more convenient entrance into the RiverPlex.

Not so, said Gene Voss in a LTR to JSEB, "City spending too much on oil company property". Mr. Voss said he had walked around that property for several weeks and was shocked at the $380,000 the city was paying for a dilapidated facility on a tiny, contaminated lot at the foot of Wayne street.

PHA Execdutive Director Roger John said the PHA has long been waiting for that site to be cleared and a land swap to occur before investigating redevelopment options for Taft Homes.

John envions multi-phased, mixed income shops and condominiums and replace Taft Homes with something similar to RiverWest.

What baloney. Johns is long gone, the land sits idle and RiverWest was and is a another large taxpayer boondoggle.

Some taxpayer dollars spent on trying to help the RP?

Sure. But we were already long onto the process of "spreading the wealth" before the upcoming Obama daze.