A Publication of WTVP

Looking back at 2003 reminds me of a car trip.

New things to see and learn, scenery to admire, and a good companion can make a trip match the enjoyable experience we anticipated.

And then we may come across a car accident and find ourselves morbidly drawn to it. We know we shouldn’t stare or even look. Instead, we sneak a quick peak, turn away cringing-and do it again.

The Cubs, who dramatically snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, probably even top the governor as the state’s car wreck of the year.

Locally, who or what could best the Peoria City Council? Faced with a $2.1 million deficit, it voted to keep an unneeded fire station open, thereby burdening taxpayers and its council successors for years to come. Then, some members took offense when the mayor is so bold as to give his opinion without checking with them first.

Insightful, intelligent, and well-meaning people seem to be operating at their lowest common denominator. Essentially, the whole of the council is less than the sum of its parts. For the sake of the city’s present and future, that must change.

Still, 2003 was a mostly pleasant journey. For 2004, so many things large and small point to a pleasant journey ahead. Retail investment and sales throughout the area are vibrant to say the least. New roads, an improving quality of life, and even the look of the new I-74 bridges in town are among the many highlights worth noting.

A bright spot in Peoria is that the year will start with a full-time city manager. Not the straightest trip ever to get where we are today, but a couple of wrong turns-maybe even wrecks-were avoided in the process. It wasn’t an easy time for the city council, but if lessons learned are applied, we’re all the better for it.

Yet amid the distractions and confusion of the year, the council saw fit to commit $3.3 million to begin the museum on the old Sears block. The council deserves a hearty "well done" (from us and from generations to come) for its decisions to start the project and to set aside property for development in the same block.

It’s difficult to underestimate the impact this museum will have on the whole of central Illinois. Some optimistic projections of the museum’s impact on the area are floating around, and there’s no reason to doubt them. In terms of "quality of life," the impact is immeasurable; 2007 can’t come soon enough.

Still up in the air is ongoing funding. This may be one project that deserves a look at tri-county funding. But be that as it may, there’s no reason to wait one more day to level the block.

A new city manager and a downtown museum are major events of the year that will bear unknown fruit. Ideally, we’ll all look back in years to come and cite 2003 as a key turning point.

Of course, that won’t happen automatically. So many initiatives under way need the nurturing and support of business leaders.

Main Street, the old Caterpillar foundry, Veterans Drive, and other promising areas may not be in your backyard, but what happens there affects you.

At the risk of showing a short memory, one of the best "feel good" items of the year came just two months ago. Hopefully, you saw the story. Whittier Primary School was one of just 26 schools in the state to be named a "Spotlight School." Low-income families supply 63 percent of the school’s students, but 89 percent of the students met or exceeded the state’s minimum requirements for math, and 66 percent met or exceeded the reading requirements.

It’s easy sometimes to get so wrapped up in what we’re doing and planning that we lose sight of the fact that the real future of the area rests with kids like the ones at Whittier.

Hats off to Principal Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat and Superintendent Kay Royster. IBI