The future of Lakeview Museum has been the subject of much conversation in the past months. The fact that almost everyone has an opinion or suggestion is testimony to Lakeview Museum’s impact on the community. Much study and planning still needs to be done, but tremendous strides have been made toward building the new Lakeview Regional Museum of Art, History, Science and Technology.
These questions always come up when the future museum is discussed:

Let me answer these questions.

Lakeview Museum opened in 1965 as Lakeview Center for the Arts & Sciences. The Galleries consisted of a huge hall-like Discovery Center and the growing Illinois Folk Art Galleries. The Permanent Collection also takes up a sizeable portion of the space. Just 3,000 square feet is left to bring in first-class traveling exhibitions. Everything from Rodin to dinosaurs has filled the galleries, but outstanding exhibitions today require much more room—most now need 4,000 to 6,000 square feet. We routinely let exhibitions pass us by because we simply don’t have the room for them.

Other areas are also bulging. The museum opened with just three employees. Today there are 19 full-time and 19 part-time employees. Offices are doubled, tripled, and quadrupled up. Through the gifts of donors, the Permanent Collection has grown to more than 14,000 items. Vault space is at a premium, and just a small portion of the collection can be exhibited at any one time.

In September, the board of directors of Lakeview Museum accepted the recommendation of E. Verner Johnson, museum planner and architect, and the Museum Site Selection Committee of 14 prominent citizens, to focus development of the new Lakeview regional museum on the riverfront Sears block. Lakeview Museum and the Museum Collaboration Group also was pleased the city-led Duany Plater-Zyberk charrette study recognized the riverfront and the Sears Block as the cultural and entertainment center of downtown.

The decision was the culmination of a two-year process in which the museum and its partners—the Peoria Historical Society, Caterpillar Inc., the Museum Collaboration Group, the African American Hall of Fame, and others—completed five comprehensive studies. The conclusion was a major regional museum is a viable project for downtown Peoria on the Sears block.

Lakeview Museum is considering increasing its size from the current 38,000 square feet to a minimum of 110,000 square feet. This would consume quite a bit of green space in Lakeview Park. Other developments by our neighbors also are impacting the park. The YWCA is building a state-of-the-art pool and expanding their facility; Owens Center could be expanded, as well. The Peoria Public Library Lakeview Branch continues to be its busiest. It’s apparent Lakeview Park would become Lakeview Parking Lot if the museum expanded on site.

Another consideration is the impact on traffic and the surrounding neighborhood. Our current site, when developed in the mid-1960s, was considered the far end of Peoria. Now, it’s right in the center. Lovely neighborhoods and two busy streets—Lake and University—surround us. The additional traffic generated by the more than 230,000 annual visitors would be a challenge to add to these already crowded thoroughfares.

Attractions of this size must draw out-of-town visitors. To do this, it must be visible and in a location visited and passed by thousands every day. The Sears block site provides the opportunity to be seen and also to give Peoria a new look. Imagine crossing the interstate bridge and looking to a vista unfolding around a first-class architectural statement. The lovely wooded acreage of Lakeview Park is both beautiful and a detriment to Lakeview Museum. Often, visitors drive by the park looking for the museum. They’re unaware the two entrances to the park also lead to our front door and to the doors of the YWCA, Lakeview library, and the Girl Scouts offices.

The business impact of the museum is important, too. Often, a not-for-profit isn’t considered a business. But we have a payroll and pay into federal and state taxes for the 38 employees currently working at the museum. We also collect nearly $9,000 in sales taxes, and payroll and taxes paid and collected total more than $1 million.

A new museum will have an estimated 33 full-time and 55 part-time employees and a total payroll and tax payment of more than $2 million—quite a benefit to Peoria.

Other Illinois businesses, institutions, and vendors benefit from Lakeview business, too. Currently, we pay nearly $340,000 annually to these. The new museum would generate more than $1 million to other businesses in Illinois—quite a benefit to Illinois.

The Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates impressive numbers for the tourism impact. About one-quarter of the visitors to the museum would come for overnight stays—or more than 55,000. The net economic impact to the community would be $7,247,500. The new museum would be open almost every day of the year. The possibility of offering a large format IMAX-type theater would draw the nighttime crowds.

Other issues to consider include the increased quality of life, making Peoria attractive to outside visitors. Enhanced educational opportunities, new revenues, and critical customer mass helping to strengthen existing businesses are vital to the area. The work continues as we move toward a new museum. AA!