Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Peoria Chronicle Museum Facts

Reprinted from The Peoria Chronicle blog by C.J. Summers.

County ready to build without counting the cost
The Journal Star reports that members of the newly-formed Peoria Riverfront Museum board of directors were chosen. But that’s not the really newsworthy part of the story. The real news is contained in these two paragraphs:

Once convened, [board appointees] will work to finish the redevelopment agreement for the museum block, assist in closing the remaining private funding gap [emphasis added] and in various aspects of the construction phase and develop an operating agreement….

[Peoria County Board Chairman Tom] O’Neill said he expects to break ground on the parking deck in June. [emphasis added] The total cost of the parking lot project, including design work, is estimated at $8.5 million.
Jesus said, “‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.”‘”

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Find out how much the project will cost, and then figure out how much money you have, before you start building the foundation. You’d do that if you were building a home for yourself, right? But what is Peoria County doing?

They don’t know how much the project will cost. The first design (the one with the big sphere) was rolled out to the public in January 2006. In July 2007, just 18 months later, they rolled out the current, smaller design. The reason given for the change at that time was “construction costs [had] risen at a much quicker rate than could have been anticipated based on historical data.” It’s now April 2010, 33 months after that design was presented. Even if construction costs rose consistent with historical data, it’s still going to be more expensive to build the project now than it was in 2007. What is that cost? Nobody knows.
They don’t have enough money raised to complete the project even at 2007 costs. Despite years of fundraising efforts, federal grants and earmarks, a successful sales tax referendum, IDOT funding, and the promise of state funding, they still do not have all the money raised that they needed three years ago. What makes anyone think they can raise the remaining funds now? Much of the private funding that has been raised is still in pledge form, not cash in hand, so there is even a question as to whether that money will really materialize.
The parking deck is the foundation. The parking deck is the first stage of constructing the museum. It is, of course, completely unnecessary since there is a glut of parking downtown as numerous studies have shown. Regardless of that, the parking deck is not designed or sited to be a stand-alone deck. Its design is specifically tailored to the 2007 museum plan. It’s an underground deck over which the museum building and grounds will be built.
The County doesn’t own the Sears block. Seemingly forgotten in all of this talk of construction is the fact that the City still owns the Sears block, and the County can’t construct anything on it using federal funds unless they own it or at least have some agreement with the City. So far, there is no such sale or agreement.
And so, the question is, why would the county even think about starting the foundation when they don’t know how much the whole project will cost and they know they don’t have all the money raised to finish it, and they know the prospects of getting the rest of the money is slim? Isn’t this foolish use of taxpayer funds, regardless of their source (federal, state, local)? Why this push to start construction by June? Are they hopeful that they’ll have final costs and all money in hand by then? I doubt it.

And then there are those assurances the County gave to voters before the referendum passed last year. Remember those? The County told us they wouldn’t start construction until all the money was raised. If they start construction in June, they will be going back on their word.

The only explanation I can see is that it’s a capitulation to Caterpillar. You may recall that Cat threatened to pull out of the project if the County didn’t start construction this year. They don’t want to “lose another construction season,” they explained.

Rather than capitulating and beginning this building project, the County should stick to a fiscally-responsible course. Here’s how to kill the museum project in three easy steps:

Bid out the project and find out how much it will cost in real numbers to build the museum, and compare that number to the amount of cash in hand raised by the museum folks.
If there’s not enough money to cover the project (and there won’t be), the County should insist that construction not start until the money is raised.
Since that will entail losing another construction season, Caterpillar will pull out of the project, at which point the project dies.
To make up for the loss of construction jobs, the county could then reallocate the money from the sales tax to other public facilities that need constructing/rebuilding, thus giving the trades just as much work as they would have gotten from the museum boondoggle, but less long-term loss to the taxpayers.


April 3rd, 2010 | Tags: Peoria County, Peoria Riverfront Museum | Category: Museum Block, Peoria County | 14 comments

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