Tim Cassidy, a life-long Peoria resident, attended Peoria’s Bergan High School and receiveed a bachelor of science degree with a major in accounting from Regis College in Denver, Colo. Following a stint as a certified public accountant, he enrolled at St. Louis University and earned his law degree in 1983. He is a partner with the law firm of Cassidy and Mueller in Peoria.
Cassidy was elected to his first term as trustee of the Peoria Park District in 1987 with re-election to that post in 1991. In 1992, he was elected by his fellow trustees to fill the vacated office of president by the citizens of the PPD, a 57 square mile district.
In 1996, he was awarded the Charles C. Schlink Good Government Award by the Peoria Jaycees. During his presidency, Cassidy led the PPD in its sucessful quest for a second National Gold Medal Award.
In 1998 he was honored by Peoria City Beautiful with the Rhodell E. Owen Award in recognition of his long-term commitment to the beautification of the community.
Under his leadership, the PPD has grown in many ways including: acquisition and renovation of both the Franciscan Recreation Complex and Camp Wokanda, which focuses on environmental and interpretive nature programs and events; renovation of an existing swimming pool at the new Family Aquatics Center at John H. Gwynn, Jr. Park; construction of state-of-the-art golf learning center; redevelopment of Logan Park and Center located on Peoria’s far southside; and redevelopment and enhancement of the Glen Oak Zoo in conjunction with the Peoria Zoological Society.
Considering the magnitude of these projects, the PPD taxpayers have seen a decrease in their tax rate of more than 21 percent during Cassidy’s term in office.
Appointed by the mayor of the City of Peoria as a member of the Riverfront Business District Commission, he has been a strong vocal force suppporting the redevelopment of Peoria’s Illinois Riverfront. Acting in the dual capacity of president of the PPD and vice chairman of the RIverfront Business District Commission, he has led the way in the planning for a state-of-the-art multi-purpose indoor/outdoor recreation complex, including a fitness center, a wellness center, and an indoor family aquatics center.
As the father of a child with a disability, Cassidy was elected in 1988 as the first president of the Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association, and continues to serve that agency on its board of directors. HISRA, a joint operation between the PPD and Morton Park District, provides for the recreational and leisure needs of the physically and developmentally challenger individuals.
Cassidy shares his interest in, concern for, and support of parks and recreation through service on the local, state, and national levels. Vice president of the Illinois Association of Park Districts from 1992 to 1997, Cassidy currently serves as a member of the IAPD board of directors. From 1993 until this year, he was a co-chairman of the Illinois Association of Park Districts and Illinois Park and Recreation Association Joint Legislative Committee.
With a background as a certified public accountant and an attorney, in what areas of law do you specialize?
I am a partner in the law firm of Cassidy & Mueller. The firm’s primary area of concentration, as well as mine, is in civil and workers compensation defense, as well as business law and commercial litigation. My background as a CPA, and the experience I had practicing with a large public accounting firm, has proved quite helpful in dealing with legal issues that commonly arise in the practice areas of business law and, especially, commercial litigation.
How do you balance your career responsibilities with your volunteer responsibilities? How do they compliment each other?
I am fortunate to be involved in the practice of law with partners and associates who have a sense of community responsibility. During those times when my volunteer responsibilities conflict with my responsibilities at work, my partners are both understanding and willing to cover my job responsibilities for me. I do the same for them. Because of the people I am associated with on a professional basis, I am able to evenly balance my professional career with community activities.
My profession as an attorney does compliment community volunteer service. The legal profession, as a whole, has always felt a sense of community responsibility on a number of levels and this often extends to those in the legal profession being quite active in volunteering time and talent to community or public service.
You’ve been a very active volunteer. President of the Peoria Park District, past president of the Illinois Association of Park Districts and current member of the board of directors, a member of the Riverfront Business District Commission, and the Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association to name a few. What is your philosophy of volunteerism? How does volunteering help improve the community’s image? Local business?
Every citizen has a responsibility to contribute to his or her community to the extent that one’s talents and time will allow. Depending on one’s particular circumstances, this responsibility can be met by as little as simply exercising the right to vote to as much as volunteering countless hours to community projects.
People volunteering not only helps improve a community’s image, but it often becomes the community’s image. A community that has a citizenry unwilling to volunteer time or talents develops a negative image. A community with a strong volunteer base will have a positive image. Peoria is fortunate to have a strong volunteer base, and this without question converts to a positive image. For example, the entire Peoria community sponsors the IHSA state high school basketball tournament and March Madness Experience with hundreds of dedicated volunteers. This contributes to a very positive image to the city as well as its local businesses.
There are scores of other examples throughout our community of events or projects that depend on volunteers. Peoria’s riverfront development success in recent years has been dependent on citizens volunteering their time, not only on the Peoria City Council and Riverfront Business District Commission, but also the Riverfront Program Advisory Committee which helps coordinate activities and special events that occur at the riverfront. Numerous volunteers are the reason thousands of people now enjoy programs and special events at Riverfront Festival Park. Without volunteerism our community would not be as strong.
How does the Peoria area stack up against other cities in park acreage? Does this help attract new business, or professional employees, to our city? How so?
Thanks to the vision of community leaders, volunteers, and philanthropists of the past, the Peoria Park District ranks near the top in Illinois, on a per capita basis, in ownership of park land in public stewardship. The Park District owns or controls almost 9,000 acres of land, the vast majority of which is open.
There is little question the large amount of park acreage and open space in our community has a positive impact on Peoria’s business environment and is a significant factor in attracting new business and young professionals to our area.
The direct impact on new business and employee recruitment is difficult to quantify, but there is no question it exists. The existence of parks and open space is a significant quality of life issue to people.
In the most recent election, the voters in the collar counties around Chicago approved separate referendums authorizing a total of $195 million in bonds for the purpose of expanding and improving their forest preserves. Up to 66 percent of the voters in this area approved the spending of public dollars to acquire and improve public open space. This illustrates the growing importance of open space to a community’s quality of life. Fortunately, those before us had the commitment to acquire and maintain public open space. That commitment remains today.
Currently, the Peoria Park District is involved in at least two major developments and fund raising efforts: the Rec Plex and Glen Oak Zoo. Please explain the vision and status of these two projects. How will each help to define and enhance Peoria’s image?
The development efforts, with respect to both the recreation complex and the Glen Oak Zoo, illustrate how public-private partnerships can and should be done to provide facilities to serve this area in an affordable manner.
The RecPlex project involves a public-private partnership with the Park District, City of Peoria, Bielfeldt Foundation and OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.
The City of Peoria provided the land where the RecPlex is to be built and will provide needed infrastructure, which needs to be done anyway because of ongoing riverfront development. The Bielfeldt Foundation gifted $5 million to the Park District towards development, and OSF is contributing $4 million as a joint venture partner with the Park District. OSF’s participation will enhance wellness and preventative health care services to the community.
There is an unmet demand in the Peoria area for recreational and leisure services. The Park District is rich with land held in public stewardship, but is poor in recreational facilities to serve ongoing recreational and leisure programming needs. The district has two neighborhood facilities that are not adequate to serve the entire community’s needs. It also has Owens Center, but its use is limited to programs and activities that focus on ice.
The RecPlex will further the Park District’s mission of providing quality recreational services to all.
The status of the project is that bid specifications are complete and will be disseminated to the public as soon as all state regulatory issues are met, which should be soon.
With respect to the Glen Oak Zoo, the Park District is fortunate to have a group of private citizens come forward and form a not-for-profit zoological society with the view of providing significant input to the decision-making process of capital improvements at the zoo, and raising monies throughout the community to implement those projects.
Several years ago a task force of private citizens appointed by the Park District board studied the feasibility of the zoo and found it was a needed facility, but recommended there be capital improvements and some expansion. Substantial private donations have already been made to help fund a zoo capital improvement master plan and feasibility study. That process is almost complete and, hopefully, in the near future its implementation will move forward.
The success of these, and virtually all Peoria Park District projects, depends heavily on corporate and private support in addition to public monies. How responsive has the Peoria business community been to the Park District? Why do you think that is?
There is no question the Peoria Park District is recognition as a national gold medal district is in large part due to the corporate and private support it receives not only financially, but also by a willingness to volunteer substantial time and talent. The Peoria business community, for the most part, has been helpful in this regard. I think that is because employers place a high priority on employee recruitment and recognize the quality of life of a community is important to bring a quality work force to our area. Certainly, the Peoria Park District contributes to that quality of life, and the private support is there.
What misconceptions, if any, does the business community and/or the public at large have regarding these projects? Do they have any valid points in their opposition to the projects, and if so, what steps will be taken to alleviate those issues?
The only misconceptions I have seen with respect to any Peoria Park District projects relate to the RecPlex. I really do not believe there are any misconceptions or a lack of support from the business community. Most of the misconceptions are with some parts of the public at large. I think the primary misconception has to do with the mission and purpose of the RecPlex. Some who have voiced objection see the project as nothing but a large health club that will compete with the private sector. That’s just not true. As I eluded to earlier, the Park District needs a year-round indoor facility to provide ongoing recreation and leisure programs and services. Presently, the Park District is unable or has great difficulty in providing structured recreational and athletic programs such as youth and adult basketball, volleyball, indoor soccer, and aerobic and health classes. The RecPlex will enable the Park District to provide these, and other services as well as providing an indoor, year-round, family aquatic center. Additionally, there will be no direct competition with the private sector. There are thousands of citizens in our community who either don’t have the means or the desire to belong to a private health club. The RecPlex, as a public facility, will be open to everyone at an affordable cost.
To say that this project competes with the private sector would be like saying the Park District should close its public golf courses and swimming pools because similar type facilities are provided by the private sector. If this is the case, the result would be thousands of citizens in our community who would have no access to golf or swimming. Clearly not a desirable result.
Are there valid points in opposition to this project? Certainly. Any capital project of this size has both its benefits and risks. There are concerns that it should not be built on the riverfront and that it may carry too high of a public cost. The riverfront location has been and remains part of the overall riverfront development plan. It was recognized early on that there was a need for a year-round family entertainment or recreation center on the riverfront, so riverfront use would not be limited to seasonal activities. Both the Park District and the Riverfront Commission are very sensitive to open space issues, and they are being addressed throughout the entire riverfront development as well as throughout the community.
With respect to addressing the concerns of a potential large public cost, the Park District has been fortunate to have $9 million in private funding towards the project, as well as a private joint venture partner with respect to operations to reduce any such risk. Further, professional marketing and financial studies have been done that show the public financial risk is at a minimal.
In deciding to move forward with the RecPlex project, the Park District weighed the benefits against the risk and concluded that the benefits far outweighed any risk.
From your position as member of the board of directors of Parc Foundation and the Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association, how well does the Peoria business community support the needs of physically and developmentally challenged individuals? What could be improved?
I think the Peoria business community provides good support to the needs of the physically and developmentally disabled. Whenever the community is asked, it usually steps forward both financially and through volunteerism in helping serve those with special needs. With respect to improvement of community support, I think the focus needs to be on awareness and communication. Often times, as we go through the daily routines of our lives, the need for community support to challenged individuals is not readily apparent. I’m certain if the awareness of a need for this support is there, the Peoria business community will step forward. From our view, every time a project or event has been made aware to the business community, it has stepped forward for the most part.
As a member of the Illinois Association of Park District board of directors, how important are our parks and recreational facilities to the overall economic welfare of our community and state?
Park and recreational services and facilities are very important to our economy. In 1991, the Illinois Conservation, Park and Recreation Foundation released the findings of a study conducted by Western Illinois University that revealed that Illinois park, forest preserves and conservation districts have significant impact on the state’s economy. The study indicated these agencies purchase commodities, and create jobs, both directly and indirectly beyond agency employment. More than 7,000 additional jobs are created in the private sector by Illinois Park District activities. The study showed the economic impact of these activities represents a contribution to the Illinois economy of more than $3.1 billion.
Similar studies polled Illinois residents, and a vast majority indicate strong satisfaction with Park District services, and there is a belief that Park Districts both enhance the quality of lives and have a positive economic impact.
Locally, the Peoria Park District employs 155 full-time employees, and up to 1,200 seasonal employees. Our district not only has a direct positive influence on the overall economic wealth of our community, but an indirect affect is also significant.
In your history of public service, what issues have received the most attention from the business community? The community at large?
More recently, the issue that seems to have received the most attention from the business community from my perspective is the development of our riverfront. The attention has been positive. This is a project that impacts the business community both directly and indirectly. Businesses or developers may have a direct interest in a project or projects at the riverfront and, obviously, are quite interested in the overall progress of the development. Businesses not directly involved in riverfront projects continue to have an interest due to quality of life and tourism issues impacted by riverfront development. Additionally, the riverfront is highly programmed with entertainment and special events, and the entire community, as well as the business sector, continues to have an interest from that aspect.
From the perspective of the community at large, issues relating to property taxes, open space, and large capital developments receive the most attention.
The property tax rate is a sensitive issue and people, rightfully, pay close attention to be sure units of local government act responsibly. The Park District’s real estate tax rate is at its lowest level in 12 years, and decreased almost 22 percent over the last seven years. The reduction in the tax rate is due to the Park Board’s listening to the concerns of its constituents.
There is also increasing tension from the community at large to open space issues. From time to time the Park District receives requests or inquiries regarding the potential sale of public lands. When these matters go public, a great deal of interest is expressed by the public indicating, to me, the growing trend to preserve open space and keep land in public stewardship.
Obviously, the RecPlex development has received a great deal of attention, both positive and negative. The Park District recently completed development of a golf learning center and a family aquatic center at John Gwynn Park. Both of these projects received much public input, mostly positive.
Aside from the projects mentioned, are there any other projects on your “wish list” over the next 10 to 15 years?
There are really no new projects on any “wish list” I would have. I would very much like to see a timely completion of the bike trail by the abandonment of the Keller Branch Rail Line, so its use can be converted from rail to a trail. We are continuing to work with the city on this project and I believe it is very important to our community. There is a growing interest on the Park Board to expand after school program activities and strengthen the partnership with the school district to not only accomplish this, but share in facility use. Other than that, the Park District, as I see it over the next few years, will concentrate on maintaining its current facilities and insuring quality recreation and leisure programming for our community in a financially responsible manner. IBI