Spring. Fresh cut grass, short sleeves, refreshing breezes. A time when the golf clubs get dusted off and a brisk stroll around the neighborhood is just the right release after a stressful work day. Midwesterners love the change of seasons. So many of us seem to treat them as if they were part of the quarterly business cycle. Each change offering a chance to re-focus, re-energize and re-commit to whatever tasks are at hand.

And have we ever needed a change of pace, especially after a trying and emotional end to last year. As always, the new season seems to bring with it some promise for the future. The recession, which accelerated in the wake of September 11, appears to be all but over (depending on which economist you listen to). Business investment, severely curtailed at the end of 2001, is bouncing back as well. Oddly, consumer confidence, the benchmark indicator of the health of the economy, only recently showed any signs that there ever was a recession. It, too, is expected to rebound.

So it is Spring again in Peoria. Time to play. As chronicled in Peoria Progress magazine—our recruitment and image-building publication (which is being well received in the regional business community)—new projects, new ideas and new leadership plans have yielded a tangible sense of momentum in the community. Among our growing and diversified economic sectors, one in particular contributes to a growing image of a "world class city," boosts civic pride, adds to our quality of life, and generates a few economic benefits along the way. So roll down the car windows and take a drive around the Peoria area with us as we look at a few ways progress really is "playing" here.

Can you smell the hot dogs? Something beautiful and exciting is taking shape in downtown Peoria. The finishing touches are being put on O’Brien Field, the new home of the Peoria Chiefs, and if first impressions are everything, this one is an absolute jewel. Opening this month, the 7,500 seat ballpark is a throwback to the stadiums on which baseball legends like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park were built. It is important to again applaud the Vonachens, their investors and the City of Peoria for making this new venue a reality. Like the Civic Center two decades ago, the decision to build this stadium is a decision that we predict will enable current city leaders to claim a positive legacy.

On the heels of another wildly successful edition of IHSA March Madness, the new stadium will most assuredly reaffirm the region’s reputation as a first class place to play. And changes are afoot on the Hilltop as well. With the hiring of Jim Les, a palpable feeling of pride and confidence has washed over the legions of Bradley basketball fans who long to follow a team that can make some noise now and then at the national level.

Bradley University men’s basketball was 50th in the nation in attendance last year. Support for the Braves, while shaky at times, never truly ebbed. That’s why President David Broski and his staff are to be commended for this somewhat risky yet astute decision to bring in a coach who knows first-hand that Bradley can and should compete at a higher level and that on-going success is not out of reach.

In much the way our community has embraced athletic events as a way to build an identity on a regional and national level, Dr. Broski recognizes the important contributions strong teams, programs and athletic facilities can have in generating exposure for the university. Exposure that will not only help attract better student athletes, but help boost fundraising, TV revenues, and update the perception that the university is "in the game" and competitive with other strong academic institutions and mid-major athletic programs.

The downtown Stadium, and the changes with Bradley athletics, are just the latest in a string of events that show how progress plays here. IBI