Live blogging is not my thing, so I apologize to the readers who have to wait for me to compose my thoughts. I like to take notes and think about what was actually said before writing about it, which is why I blog instead of report.
I got in to the chambers tonight just as they were finishing the Pledge of Allegiance, then took a seat toward the rear of the chamber. All the old faces were there, including John Sharp and Billy Dennis, and surprisingly no Gary Sandberg. Hmmm. At first I thought he might be slouched back in his chair, but when I realized we had gone at least 15 minutes and he hadn't voiced an opinion, I knew he was absent.
So this session was devoted to the budget decisions surrounding the new and improved Marriott project. Mayor Ardis opened the meeting by letting the City Manager Urich present a summary of the current financials. On it's face, the plan looks sound, and it looks like Urich did a great job of carefully planning the finances to allow the city to get a square deal. According to one of his statements, the developer, Matthews, has deferred his fee until the property starts to see a profit. He has also, according to Urich, promised to guarantee the city's investment personally. So does this mean the developer will create an escrow account for $29 million dollars? Hmmm. Would love to see it, wouldn't you?
Anyway, there were a few interesting points made. Part of the plan involves using funds from the Southtown TIF transferred to the Downtown TIF at some point in the project, which Barbara Van Auken was quick to question until the City Manager assured her it was legal. At the end of the summary, Mayor Ardis opened the floor for public comment.
Mr. Matthews, the developer, came up the podium and praised the board for their wisdom and fortitude and support of the project, and pledged his devotion to creating a perfect addition to the city. Next, a Mr. J. Baumgartner from Caterpillar came up to praise the council for their decision to Build the Block and to create a hotel where their international guests would feel they could have a 4 star experience. [guess they are tired of sending their global visitors across the river as well]. I had to throw my two cents in and reminded them that, even if they build the hotel, they need to make sure there are reasons for people to stay in it. I urged them to hold SMG accountable for the lack of events being staged in our Civic Center, for the loss of events that used to bring the revenue and the visitors to Peoria. Finally, Bob Marx of the Peoria Convention and Visitor Bureau got up and gave more praise to the council concerning their pursuit of this project.
On to Item #1 of the agenda, the "Approval of the Design Concepts for the Amended and Restated Redevelopment Agreement by and among the City of Peoria and EM Properties, Ltd. and Pere Marquette Hotel, LLC, and Pere Marquette TIF, Inc." Ryan Spain opened the discussion by questioning the choice of materials being used by the contractors especially on the first floor, the floor adjacent to pedestrian traffic. Now, he was using phrases like how pedestrians would interact with the materials, but the gist of it was his concern about damage and graffiti, and frankly, that is a legitimate concern. Many of the Man Made materials used in cheap construction today are unattractive, to say the least, but some other concerns exist as well. Beth Akeson also voiced her concerns with a show and tell of Brick versus artificial brick, or limestone versus Styrofoam coated with a sprayed on dry concrete material. Her legitimate concern was that the materials used would not stand up to the weather and wear of time. Councilman Gully remarked that while he would prefer Brick and Limestone over lesser materials, the cost of such a project would well exceed the budgeted amounts. Mayor Ardis asked for further comments, and hearing none, called for a vote. The motion passed with Weaver and Akeson voting no.
Item #2 was the ordinance approving the overall project. This means the rehabilitation of the Pere Marquette to a full service Marriott hotel, the construction of a Marriott Courtyard, the construction of a parking deck, and the construction of an elevated connector to the Peoria Civic Center. Councilperson Akeson voiced her concerns that the proposed cost of the projects did not seem sufficient to cover all these items, particularly since the cost of the 466 space parking deck and the cost of the elevated (all weather) connector to the Civic Center would exceed the $6.34 million dollars allotted for them. She cited an unnamed source who advised her the elevated connector would cost between $8,000.00 and $10,000.00 a foot to build. She also restated her concern about the city's ability to govern the way in which the construction was done, and that there was no real scrutiny of the plans, the methods, or even the qualifications of the contractors doing the work. There were some additional comments, Gulley going off topic about the $7 million dollar portion of the loan, Riggenbach praising Urich for getting a higher rate of return on the reinvestment of the city's Post Employment Benefits Obligation Funds (currently drawing 0.6%, under the reinvestment of these funds in the project, they would draw 7%....hey, you don't have to be a banker to see that one, Tim), and Irving taking Urich to task to cover all the bases for the council and the chamber in detail. I have to commend Dan Irving for doing that, although it was certainly a dog and pony show for the constituency, he let all of us know that Urich has his ducks in a row. Mayor Ardis once again called for the vote, and once again it passed with Weaver and Akeson voting no.
Items 3, 4, and 5 (a&b) passed in the same way with very little comment.
So now we come to the blog portion of this little post. I have to say that I am still a bit leery of the whole idea. Yes, it would be nice to have a 4 star facility in Peoria to accommodate Caterpillar's "Global Visitors", and yes, such a facility could be an asset to drawing convention business to the area. But what is going to attract them to Peoria in the first place? The Civic Center has been a losing proposition for many years, and the recent additions to the facility aren't helping to pay for it. We have this great venue for sports events, theater events, and exceptional facilities for expos and lifestyle shows, but we lack the events to fill it. Year after year, we lose business to the cities who acted to get their business rolling, and may I remind you there is no Marriott in Bloomington. Granted there are scores of loyal Bradley Basketball fans, Riverman Fans, and some die hard Peoria Opera and Symphony fans who will attend events in the theater and the arena, but they just aren't enough to justify the expense. Spectacor Management Corporation was hired by the city to fill that facility with events to create revenue and they aren't doing their job, Worse still, we are losing events and sports to Bloomington that ought to be here. Perhaps the city should be in the business of creating revenue, instead of building empires.