"We participate in a whole bunch of disagreements of the moment – of which there's never a shortage. But we also recognize them for what they are, short-term verbal feuds that eventually produce good things."
That's the way we ended last month's comments. And ironically, Peoria finds itself knee deep in a bunch of "short – term verbal feuds" -many centered around the ill-fated Promenade.
We were prepared to predict good things would eventually grow out of the Promenade. But now it won't happen.
I know you're asking yourself: "Why is a small, entrepreneurial business coming down on the side of a larger developer with an even bigger out-of-town partner?"
The answer lies in the question: What's best for Peoria in the long-term? It's so disapointing that, in the absence of an easy solution, decision-makers and opponents have embraced a "just say no" approach to the Promenade. This isn't just a message and a signal to central Illinois – it's a message to the world that Peoria is not a place that welcomes development and growth.
Peoria has had a bad reputation for years – poor union/management relations. Too many labor conflicts and strikes. That's not gone away entirely. We're now sending new signals to the world that Peoria is anti-development and anti-growth. At the risk of jumping on the economic incentive bandwagon, we've told the world to, essentially, "just go away."
Would Peoria have suffered in the short term? There would have been lots of construction jobs – the infrastructure in the northwest part of the city would have been strengthened – shopping would have been grand. Not much suffering there. About 10 years down the road, we have a very good feling that absolutely no one would have been sorry about a council decision that would have allowed the Promenade to be built.
A key question asked by opponents was, "Will this be a regional shopping experience for residents from all over the state, maybe from other states?" They wondered why a Promenade had not attracted a Neiman-Marcus, a Lord & Taylor, Marshall Field's, or Saks. Our answer before the defeat, and espically after, was that Peoria is not yet a "draw" for this kind of upscale, retail outlet. As in sports, the arts, or any other form of community development, no community leaps into the major leagues without first building steam and paying its dues. In other words, a community has to show that it cares and that there's a demand.
Long term, I would have thought we'd all benefit. Yes, the Promenade would have become a regional shopping experience for residents from all over the state, maybe from other states. We don't currently have the sort of upscale stores that would come to a mall like this. That would have changed. And the folks who come from miles away to shop here would have spent money in other places – other stores, hotels and resturants – most of them in Peoria. (That's what out-of towners do when they fo to another city to shop. It's part of the regional mall shopping experience.)
Bottom line – there are some who want things to stay the way they are now. But that won't happen. If we fail to move forward as a city by blocking this and other developments, then the community will slowly begin to shrivel. Shoppers will increasingly go to other cities – tourists will visit other places – our tax base will diminish. And we will have sacrifices long-term prosperity for short-term benefit.
We said in 1996 "over the past three decades, the United States has been evolving into a society where the good of the whole is threatened by overzealous efforts to protect the parts. Those attempts to artificially level the playing field economically and socially usually end up discouraging personall initiative and encouraging mediocrity. Competition is healthy and productive, and contributes to human progress." We're very guilty of overzelous efforts to protect the parts–existing businesses in Peoria who argued for an artificially leveled playing field–District 150 who could not see what an economic spark this mall would have been –and City Council members who couldn't see the longterm benefit a project like this would have provided.
We have a vision of a vibrant, economically thriving Peoria in 10 or 20 years–and a regional mall would have helped make that happen. There have been those in city government who have stuck their necks out and done what many opposed at the time–only to be cheered years later. Had that happened this time–the cheers would have come soon enough. Now we'll never know. IBI