In the crazy world in which we live, a blog looking to make sense of it all.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Vonster On Katrina

Fellow Peoria-blogger Vonster has a post today from an article on, which appears to be a quasi-Onion, parody news site. This particular article states that Calf. Representative Nancy Pelosi addressed a news conference among the destruction in New Orleans and told residents to "wake up and smell the personal responsibility."

While the story in question here is that of fiction, it speaks a lot of facts. I feel bad and I am sorry that so many lost so much and had to suffer so, but there are many there it seems that are just waiting on the government to take care of everything. These particular people are *so* dependent upon the government that they really don't know how to take care of themselves and they just expect the federal government to whisk their problems away. I realized this after watching a news clip earlier this summer.

Government on all levels failed miserably with the Katrina response. But the residents do not have to sit and wait for the government to fix all their problems. They can start by cleaning up their homes; throw out the destroyed furniture and such. If no one will haul it away, invite your neighbors over and have a bon fire.

Common Sense of it All: This story from sounded a bit harsh, but offered true realities. Many people need to assume some personal responsiblities and realize that the federal government shouldn't have to bail them out of everything.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Crime Statistics Are In

Today's Journal Star reports that while crime overall in the state of Illinois has dropped in the past year, crime has risen in Peoria. As reported in Leslie Williams' story, crime overall in the state dropped 3.1% while over the same period, crime in Peoria County has risen 14.2%.

I not only feel that this is a serious problem, but also a scary one. Just last week I read where a tavern located on Antoinette was burglarized of it's inventory of booze. Meanwhile, around the same period in time, only blocks away, a 35-year old man was robbed in his own front yard by a man riding a bicycle. The latter crime also involved another man on a bike encouraging the other to shoot the victim with a gun he was carrying.

Anymore, residents of the East Bluff have become accustomed to hearing gunfire on a regular basis. CJ Summers has a somewhat humorous story regarding the theft of his neighbor's laptop computer and an on-line discussion with the thief.

Common Sense of it All: This is what's becoming scary; Peoria is becoming a war zone of crime. Mayor Ardis, whom I personally like, has been a disappointment with this problem. His campaign was largely based on combating crime in Peoria. He acknowledged this growing problem, but yet, I don't see any real progress being made. Crime does not discriminate; all you have to be is in the wrong place at the wrong time. As I've said in my previous posts, this city is quickly becoming a ghetto.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Rise & Fall Of Peoria, IL (Part 3)

Part three of a three part narrative on how and why Peoria is in a sharp decline.

Current and Future Projects
The Peoria Civic Center, which was earlier discussed, is now undergoing a $55 million expansion. After reading the prior post on the Civic Center, one has to ask “why?”

The Civic Center Authority argues that it is becoming increasingly difficult to book certain conventions and acts due to the limited seating and facility space at the existing Civic Center. Their solution to the problem is to expand the Civic Center.

In recent years, a number of acts had cancelled their scheduled stops in Peoria for a variety of reasons. The unspoken and true reason these acts drop their show is because they did not sell enough seats for their stop in Peoria to be profitable for them. These acts were mainly from rap artists; just as well because they usually bring a lot of violence with them.

Now what kind of sense does this make? Acts cancel shows because not enough seats are filled and the solution is to provide more seating. The reality check of this is that the HRA tax was about to expire. The city leadership knew damn well that they could not run the city without it. This left them asking how to keep the tax in place. Their answer: allow the Civic Center expansion to happen.

In my view, this is totally irresponsible. Instead, city leadership should have just come clean with the Peoria taxpayers and admit the city desperately need those tax revenues (citizens already knew this to begin with; why insult their intelligence with stressing the need to expand the Civic Center). Then, work on a plan to slowly wean the city off of the HRA tax in a couple of years. But now, we taxpayers will have to fund the $55 million price tag (which I hear may be higher) for something we really don’t need. Once the construction is done, I doubt there will be that many more events at the Civic Center. A boondoggle within a boondoggle.

And recently, talk as resurrected again to build a hotel either connected to or adjacent to the Civic Center. Of course they want city assistance to fund this hotel, not to mention it would compete with the other hotels in the area. Occupancy rates now hover around 50%. The Civic Center Authority claim that they have lost a couple of large events because no hotel was attached to the Civic Center.

For starters, how profitable can this hotel be? Sure, if there are one or two large events come to town, the hotel will probably do well for those days. For the rest of the year, probably not so well. If occupancy rates are already at 50%, a new hotel will drive those rates down. That’s bad news for existing hoteliers who would then be forced to support this competition with tax dollars they pay in. The city council has oked a study to be done to see if a Civic Center Hotel is needed. The $21,000 needed for this study will be another waste of money. And this study will be conducted over and over until the city council gets the answer they are looking for.

And if this expansion does not prove to be a huge loss of money for Peoria, its newest development certainly will. The new regional museum planned and ready to be built on the old Sears block downtown has a $65 million price tag to it. It is to coincide with the Caterpillar Welcome Center. And of course, TIFs were factored into the deal, which earlier this year, caps on the TIFs were removed, which will no doubt cost the city even more money.

The museum is planned to be open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm; I’m sure a lot of adults and children have nothing better to do at those times other than visit this newest Peoria boondoggle. There might be some abbreviated hours the museum will be open on Saturdays. Peoria Journal Star columnist Phil Luciano asked, in his August 8, 2006 article, who will pack up the family from all points in the US to visit this museum.

The planners hope that this will be a regional draw, but Peoria history, nor some Caterpillar equipment, are not going to be that interesting to draw the masses to town. And local residents will visit it once every few years. If our city leadership really wanted to have a regional draw in downtown, they should have went with retail shopping on the Sears block. If my memory is still holding, I believe the developers of the Grand Prairie shopping center originally wanted to build on the Sears block, but were told no by the city council. Think of that. A retail shopping area, with a few other attractions, built with private dollars, and with a good chance of a regional draw, and would generate sales tax revenues for the city and District 150. Instead, these developers built out west Rt 150, tearing up the most prime farmland in the world, with tax dollars going to Dunlap schools. Good move city council!!

I’m sorry to say, but I predict this regional downtown museum will be a miserable failure and a grim disappointment that will have Peoria throwing more good money after bad. Its only saving grace will be an IMAX theater, provided that it materializes.

Conclusion & Common Sense of it All
I have just highlighted some of the mismanagement and debacles that have taken place in Peoria over the last several years. And as always, if any of my facts are in error, please feel free to point them out and correct them.

I am no historian and I cannot apply parallels from the history of other failing communities to that of our own. I am no political junkie and I don’t follow each and every Council meeting or School Board meeting. I am neither a Democrat nor Republican (if I took one of those political tests, I’d probably be a Libertarian of some sort) but I strongly believe in fiscal responsibility and will vote for whom I think will do the best job. I am somewhat involved in the community, but I know I could do more.

I am just looking at the history, facts and the situation(s) here in town, as well as applying what future plans there are going on. My mantra on this blog is that of common sense. Many of the decisions from the Peoria City Council in the past 10-15 years, I believe, have challenged common sense. There has been a woeful amount of mismanagement in the city from all areas. Many of those in charge like to start development projects and see new buildings constructed so as to leave a legacy; everyone can physically see a new building, but how easily can you see a balanced budget or the reopening of a fire station. Those things are dull, right? College and university presidents are guilty of this too. They like to rake in the donation money and build more buildings on campus so as to leave some type of legacy while they were in office and provide them with some self-gratification. I know of another way which is much less expensive for our leaders to self-gratify themselves.

In addition, the population, in general, are not as involved in the community as it once was. And based upon the aforementioned observations of mine, I see a once great city in steep decline. The results include infrastructure in disrepair, sharp increases in violent crime, continuing budget deficits, insufficient city services and a failing school system. If something is not done, very soon, Peoria will become either a giant slum or a ghost town. It’s already happening. Are we going to let it continue?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Rise & Fall Of Peoria, IL (Part 2)

Part two of a three part narrative on how and why Peoria is in a sharp decline.

Illinois American Water Buyout
Let's not forget all the hooha about the buyout of the water company. This transaction was stopped, but only after the expenditure of several hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. The concept was that if the city owned the water company, its citizens could be assured that they would not be bilked for unreasonable rates. In turn, the water company would continue to make a profit, which could offset needed tax revenues. Sounds great, but it would never happen.

For starters, it seems the city council and the city manager cannot even handle running the city; what makes any reasonable person believe that they can run a water company. Instead, the council would probably hire a management group to run the water company. And as long as they are getting paid their fee, does it really make a difference to them if the water company returns a profit. It would become a huge bureaucracy and would probably result in even higher water rates. And if the water company did actually make a profit for the city, the taxpayer would never see their taxes lowered because the city administrators and council will find other spending projects to use that money, or fill expanding budget holes.

But the city council tried its best to purchase the Illinois American Water Co. They paid consultants over and over until they could get the answer they wanted. Some of this money came from the Peoria Civic Federation, a group of well to do movers and shakers in Peoria. They loaned the city of Peoria $1 million to research and provide due diligence in the buyout of the water company. The catch was that if it was ascertained that it was not feasible for the city to buy the water company, the Civic Federation would forgive the loan. It was finally estimated that to purchase the water company, it would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $266 million; far more than they ever anticipated.

However, newly-elected councilman Bob Manning, who is also a financial planner, traveled to St. Louis to study Illinois American’s books and he determined that it would be feasible for the city to purchase the water company. This only cost the city a hotel room for one or two nights and a small per diem as opposed to the tens of thousands of dollars in previous consulting research. But strong public pressure forced the city council to pass on making the purchase. After spending thousands of dollars for consultants to do studies, the city has nothing to show for it. If that wasn't bad enough, now the city is being sued by the Civic Federation to be paid back their $1 million loan plus interest.

Increasing Crime
Only second to the failing school system in Peoria, if not the first reason, to why people are moving out in droves is the increase in violent crime. In my 40+ years living in Peoria, I cannot ever recall reading about so many homicides in one year. We are a little over half way through 2006 and we have what, seven or eight murders already. One murder even took place in the Rolling Acres neighborhood, which is in the central-northwest side of Peoria in the 4th district. Just mere hours after the Night Out Against Crime on August 1, 2006 was over, another shooting took place at the 1800 block of Kneer Ave, killing a 23-year old man. And yet, in the wee hours of Aug. 3rd, another shooting took place that injured three people. Good grief, criminals are even going after the copper piping in people’s homes.

What are the police doing? They are cracking down on prostitution, jay walking and parking infractions. That's really going to make this city livable. They need to start going after *real* crimes.

I can't fully blame the Peoria Police Department. We are stuck with a states attorney office that has a revolving door for criminals. I can see how a cop feels that he's jeopardizing his life and wading through mounds of paperwork, only to see the criminal walk free. Not to mention, the city cuts essential services to make way for fitness centers and ball parks. Therefore, they do not have the manpower nor the tools to do their job.

Property values and neighborhoods are in steep decline and there's no end in sight, largely in part to the increase in crime. Mayor Jim Ardis made the crackdown on crime one of his election platforms, but I haven't seen any improvement. What we need are cops to do their job, prosecuting attorneys to do theirs and tough laws on crime.

District 150 Schools
I am a product of District 150 schools, but way back from another day. It was a great school system with many talented and dedicated teachers. That quality school system no longer exists. It has decayed into one massive substandard institution. The school board over the years has totally mismanaged the school system to a point that almost everyone who has the means, have moved out to Dunlap or Germantown Hills school districts.

Despite a number of qualified teachers, the biggest problem with District 150 is the absence of discipline in the classrooms. Its becoming all too common to read about stories of students bringing guns and weaponry to school; as well as an occasional shooting. I can't even begin to think about the other disruptions in the classroom, all because the teachers are too scared, or are not allowed to discipline. This is why students in District 150 fail to learn; these distractions and trouble students need to be removed to ensure a quality atmosphere to be taught.

Another major problem is massive mismanagement of the school board over the past several years. And it only seems to get worse. Past District 150 School Superintendent Kay Royster was very controversial and performed most inadequately. She was eventually let go, but still retained her six-digit salary while leaving the district with a large budget deficit. This summer she has filed suit against current and former board members that it was racism that led to her firing.

The mismanagement of the District 150 school board continues. Today, the board is vehemently and hellbent on pursuing the construction of a *new* Glen Oak School adjacent to the Glen Oak Park. They also mandate that it needs at least 10 acres of land to house what appears to be a suburban type of facility (they actually wanted 15 acres). Discussion with the community regarding this new school has almost been non-existent. And any forums of any kind allowed little opportunity for parents and citizens to voice opinions. To make matters even worse, the school board, behind closed doors and in secret, has already purchased eight homes in the East Bluff to the tune of nearly $900,000 to make way for this new school. There was not one referendum regarding these purchases; the city council was uninformed; the taxpayers knew nothing and these decisions and actions are being made by a small few. Instead, the current Glen Oak School could be razed and a new school constructed for less money and the education quality would be the same.

And when you didn't think it couldn't get any worse, the Peoria Journal Star reported in its August 1, 2006 edition that the estimated price tag for the two new schools the school board wishes to build could cost $10 - $13 million more, reaching a total $21.6 million. Where the additional funds will come from is unclear, though it would undoubtedly be borrowed money. The other new school is planned for South Peoria where Harrison Homes is currently located (which I hear this school is to be furnished with laundry facilities for the community; I know, WTF!?).

Is it any wonder why parents are taking their children out of District 150 schools? Who would want their children to get their education in this mess?

To Be Continued

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Rise & Fall Of Peoria, Illinois

Peoria, Illinois. This is my home. I was born and raised here.

Peoria has a unique history and heritage. It is most noted as a rough and tough rivertown. The popular phrase “Will it play in Peoria,” came about during the vaudeville days. If your act survived playing in Peoria, your act was deemed to play *anywhere*. If not, you had to revamp your act or cancel it.

And being a rough and tough rivertown, Peoria had its colorful characters, most notably, the Shelton Gang, who in the 20’s ran bootlegging operations from the southern US as well as interests in gambling.

In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Peoria’s government became very corrupt. It wasn’t until the likes of former Mayor Bob Lehnhausen and Merle Yontz who worked to convert the city government to the current council-manager form of government which is used today.

Peoria, like other cities, has had its fair share of problems to overcome over the years. And with good leadership and active citizens, these problems were overcome. However, it somewhat scares me about the problems we are encountering this day and age that will leave our great city into either a massive ghetto or ghost town. Let’s examine some of the things that are sending Peoria into decline.

Of course, if there are some mistakes or if I have some of the fact wrong, please fee free to correct me. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not always right.

Peoria Civic Center
The Peoria Civic Center could almost be considered Peoria’s foremost boondoggle. And I write this with mixed emotions because I’ve attended scores of events over the past 24 years at the Civic Center. I believe the first concert I went to there was Cheap Trick in ’82. I’ve seen a number of hockey games, basketball games, football games, been to auto shows, Area Business Connections, receptions, and seen acts from Sam Kinison to Jerry Seinfeld to Alice Cooper. I’ve had a lot of fun and truly enjoyed myself at the Civic Center.

But was the Civic Center vital to the growth and well being of Peoria? Probably not.

And Peoria is not the only municipality to fall into this trap; many other towns and small cities think that they need a facility to bring events to their town in order to generate out of town revenue and offer cultural diversity to its citizens. Sure, it probably does bring in some revenues, but not nearly enough to offset the added expenses to run a facility like that of our Civic Center.

When the Civic Center was first being planned, the city of Peoria would need to initiate a new tax, the Hotel, Restaurant and Amusement Tax, or HRA Tax to support the Civic Center and pay off its debts. It was theorized that after roughly 20 years, the Civic Center debt would be retired and able to pay for itself. The HRA tax would then be rescinded and any revenues made off of the Civic Center would help to lower other taxes.

Sounds like a great plan. Too bad it didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, the Civic Center has been a financial burden on the city; creating deficits that the city must fill, leaving less money for other needed expenditures.

Other Development Debacles
There have been many other development projects that have become boondoggles themselves over the past 10 years.

Peoria’s Riverfront, which was hoped to spur additional interest and attract regional visitors to downtown Peoria has been something of a disappointment. The architecture, style and design of what was built on the Riverfront are exceptional. It has truly improved the ascetics of the area; a far cry from what a dump it used to look like. But it seems various restaurants and whatever retail shops are unable to stay in business.

And the city council and various others have made things more difficult from time to time. If you remember back in the late 90’s when Hooters wanted to move into the Riverfront Village area, there was opposition with Hooter’s even coming to town. The opposition claimed it was the exploitation of women, though you could see more scantily clad women at any public swimming pool. The argument that was used to discourage Hooter’s from coming to Peoria was that Riverfront Village was designed to only house 2 restaurants, with the remainder being retail shops. Damon’s and Joe’s Crab Shack were the 2 existing restaurants at the time. It was known that the then-current Mayor Bud Grieves’ wife was devoutly religious and obvious that she opposed a Hooter’s opening in Peoria. Mayor Grieves on the other hand, a relatively successful businessman, knew that Hooter’s would bring in strong sales tax revenues for the city. It’s my belief that the Mayor had a balancing act between Peoria, family and religion. Eventually a compromise was struck which placed Hooter’s further south on Constitution St, now known as Water St. Eventually, Old Chicago established business in Riverfront Village where Hooter’s wanted to set up; so then there were three (3) restaurants located there. What happened to the argument that Riverfront Village could only accommodate two restaurants (just as well, Damon’s eventually closed up shop as well as the only existing retail store)? And Hooter’s, well I haven’t seen any numbers, but I would guess it’s probably one of the most successful restaurants in downtown, if not *the* most successful.

To augment the Riverfront, the Gateway building was established to offer a place for receptions and banquets. Again, a very nice facility, but still a non-essential luxury. To date, it has yet to see a profit; instead it has only hemorrhaged money for the city of Peoria.

The hemorrhaging of money holds true for the Peoria Park District’s RiverPlex (originally known as the RecPlex). A great state-of-the-art facility for well-being, but another boondoggle. The real tragedy of this is private fitness centers must support this money-draining project with property tax dollars so it may compete against them. One of the arguments used to go ahead with the building of the RiverPlex was that those who work downtown would want to do their workouts where it was close to their employment. I would guess 90% of these people live on the north end of town. Couldn’t they just go home and use a fitness center already closer to home. The powers that be also claimed that low income earners and the disadvantaged would have a place to go for quality fitness. Unfortunately, the only hours these people could use the RiverPlex were during off hours when it was unlikely for them to use the place at all. To date, the RiverPlex continues to lose money for the park district and the city.

Other developmental projects in Peoria over the past 10 years have misused, or abused, tax increment financing (TIF) policies and eminent domain. This would include the Campustown project at University and Main Streets, the Midtown Plaza on Knoxville and O’Brien Field. The use of TIFs and eminent domain should only be used for municipal purposes, i.e. a new highway needs to be build or a school needs to expand. Instead, private commercial development has been receiving these things when instead the free market should have dictated how these developments should have been crafted. This resulted in homeowners becoming displaced and receiving, at best, fair value for their home. It also resulted in commercial developers and property managers not having to pay property tax, or discounted property tax for a specified period of time. The construction of Midtown Plaza was the beginning of the end for the East Bluff neighborhood.

All of these developments have placed undue stress on the city’s operating budget, which has shortchanged several essential services for the city and its citizens; the most noted being Fire Station 11 which was closed around 3 years ago.

To Be Continued.