A Publication of WTVP

It’s Monday morning once again. You know—the designated day for hindsight—the time to review Sunday’s game. The plays made yesterday are easier to see as good or bad ones. Lessons can be learned. Future mistakes avoided. Let’s roll the tape on a recent Sunday game that played here in Peoria: The Downtown Stadium.

The City Council and City Hall were taken to task for their decision to designate a TIF district, and to invest in the purchase and preparation of land, roads and parking to accommodate construction of a new baseball stadium. The Chiefs and their private backers will shell out nearly $16 million to build a showpiece on ground in a once seedy neighborhood that over time has been populated by hookers, bars and late night brawls. That’s $16 million in private money. A law suit or two. A court room battle. Building facades and a dry cleaner that had some history, and now is history . Hundreds of construction jobs to come and other spin-offs.

The result: an entertainment complex that will draw the populace and thousands of visitors to Peoria’s urban core, to eat, drink, walk, shop, and enjoy. Could the process have worked smoother? Could it have been done better? Of course, almost everything can improve the second time around. Every post-game show focuses on the lessons learned. So should we.

As the Vonachens have repeatedly stated—their words often falling on deaf ears—the debt and maintenance on the stadium will be solely assumed by the Peoria Chiefs organization. The stadium and its operations are 100 percent owned by the private investors. All these conditions are contractually agreed to with the city. What’s right with this picture?

It’s funny how legend defines leadership, and the passage of time sugarcoats reality. For example, the mayor and council of the late 1970s are regarded with near reverence for their deal making and adept political skills. They were of like mind and vote; power brokers that got what they wanted when they wanted it. It wasn’t a quiet process or an easy one. The group, lead by capable Mayor Richard Carver, is rightfully credited for its ambitious urban renewal projects, including investing millions of taxpayer dollars to build the Civic Center—it too against adamant public opposition. The bottom line: our City leaders had a vision. They made it happen.

The view from our Monday morning easy chair is that progressive public policy is doing what is right at the time, balancing the conservative stewardship of our hard-earned taxes with an entrepreneurial aggressiveness to seize opportunity. Today’s City Council should be applauded for making a difficult decision that today may be met with skepticism, but tomorrow may well be viewed as visionary and brilliant—perhaps even a defining moment in Peoria’s history. It is absolutely the role of the public sector to invest in building the infrastructure and sometimes more in order to spur private investment. It is also appropriate to take reasonable risks. Decisions and opportunities do not come without risk. There are several examples of how it has already worked here. Just look at the face of Southtown, now a burgeoning commercial corridor. The City’s growth cells. The Riverfront. Public investment leveraging private development. It’s a formula that many growing communities follow—and the majority of the time it works. Going forward, it won’t be a quiet process or an easy one.

Are there risks with the stadium? Absolutely. We’d be kidding if we said we weren’t just a little nervous about the drawing power of the Chiefs—once the honeymoon years of the new stadium have passed. Minor league baseball is entertainment, and the new stadium should be the backdrop for a new brand of ballpark fun.

What’s different from the past? In the mid-1980s, the Chiefs regularly drew from 4,000 to 6,000 fans per game.

Corporate "sponsorship buyouts" sprinkled free tickets throughout the community like confetti. Back then you could grab a ticket from the envelope of your CILCO bill, take the kids to the park, pick up a free hat, bat or ball, feed the family reasonably and be thoroughly entertained. The economics for making minor league baseball work were rather simple. Corporate sponsorships and ticket buyouts drew the fans; concessions made the team money.

Today, however, the burden for operating minor league clubs falls more squarely on the shoulders of the affiliate as the share of financial support from the parent teams have declined. Costs for things like uniforms and travel, once largely covered by the major leagues, are now the responsibility of the minor league affiliate. Ticket sales are now a critical slice of the revenue pie. Hence, the venue (and better parking of course) is now very critical to the draw.

The Peoria Area has proven itself a top second-tier sports community. From March Madness to the Steamboat Classic; the State Softball tourney to the Bradley Braves. The commitment by the City to build the new stadium reaffirms that the area is willing to invest to do even better, to take it to a new level.

The bottom line on Monday morning: Popular or not, more likely difficult than not, the City has a key role and responsibility to encourage and stimulate growth in blighted areas. Momentum for downtown development will always be easy to lose and difficult to gain. The ball is rolling once again. Let’s keep it moving and in play.

Peoria is a town whose folks don’t toss their discretionary dollars around lightly. And they want a winner each time. We think, like the Chiefs, this project will be a winner. IBI