It’s difficult to remember any concept, any idea, any project that can boast the broad support and endorsement as much as the Museum Square in downtown Peoria. Caterpillar, of course, leads the way with its donation and desire to build a $30-plus million worldwide visitors’ center. And the museum itself is proposed to be a $65 million facility almost triple the size of the existing Lakeview Museum. Then there’s the unique Mayor’s Circle, a group of current Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis and seven former mayors who are lending their actions—not just their names—to the project. The list of public and private supporters and contributors is staggering, both in terms of numbers and effort.
All of this is deserving. There’s the financial benefit visitors will bring (estimated at some $14 million a year), but there’s also a quality-of-life issue here that transcends definition. One just can’t put numbers on what the square would mean in terms of attracting and retaining quality employees, and of its impact on future generations.
Fundraising is just getting under way. The goal this year is to add another $16 million to the already promised $21 million. That’s a lot, especially when you consider the myriad of worthwhile groups who also are raising funds.
I find it difficult to look at any of these, including the museum, in isolation. They’re all interconnected: the Peoria Civic Center, the new museum, the Caterpillar Heritage Park in East Peoria, and so on. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how someone in town for a meeting at the Civic Center would want to visit the museum or Cat’s visitors’ center, then see other attractions while in the riverfront neighborhood. And visitors even have a choice of two convenient bridges for crossing the river.
And as long as we’re imagining, just think what the long-term impact could be on riverfront development for both sides of the river. The Peoria area, sitting in the easy-drive crosshairs of large cities in all four directions, could easily become a weekend destination for families. It’s encouraging to see the term interactive used when describing the museum and the visitors’ center; when I look at the list of what will be included, the word inspiring also comes to mind. There’s a giant-screen theater with educational and documentary films during the day and first-run theater films in the evening. There’s an “Imaginarium/Planetarium,” an African-American Wall of Fame, an IHSA Hall of Fame and Replay Theater, an Illinois River Encounter, and more.
It’s hard to imagine taking it all in with just one visit, or how many visits a year it will take to keep up with the ever-changing pieces. It will be a destination, both for us who live here and for those who will want to visit central Illinois.
Supporters often point to the success of the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, which draws 200,000 to 300,000 visitors a year. While that’s in the neighborhood of the Quad Cities’ civic center equivalent, there’s no nearby attraction like the museum. It’s easy to agree with former mayor Dave Ransberg who, like others, sees Museum Square surpassing those numbers.
To be sure, support has come from outside the city. East Peoria is a public partner and we hope other area mayors join the Mayor’s Circle. Yet so much more needs to be done. It wouldn’t even hurt to involve schoolchildren by building their anticipation, or even finding a way to make the construction effort itself an educational endeavor.
Museum Square truly will be a regional jewel. It deserves public and private support beyond Peoria city boundaries. IBI