A Publication of WTVP

The votes have been cast, and the people have spoken. We can now move forward and indeed “Build the Block.” Peoria will have a world-class museum complex and be the home of Caterpillar’s Global Visitor Center. It is not an exaggeration to say that history will show this decision of the electorate to be the most critical in modern times impacting Peoria’s future. And they endorsed this project in a time of significant economic transition.

It is incredible. There will be an investment of at least $136 million in one of the area’s prime pieces of real estate. The construction will create over 250 jobs, with a monthly labor payroll of $1.8 million. The museum and Caterpillar Visitor Center campus will transform a 6+ acre hole into an inviting urban landscape and attraction playing host to at least 1,000 visitors a day.

Imagine what Main Street will look like in 2012. Starting at Bradley, you’ll see the brand-new field house and other capital projects. Driving past the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center and a host of thriving Renaissance Park businesses and neighborhoods, you’ll see the new Methodist buildings and an expanded OSF Saint Francis Medical Center across I-74. After passing the brand new Marriott Pere Marquette Hotel, you’ll finally arrive at the Peoria Riverfront Museum and Caterpillar Visitor Center.

A great number of dedicated people have been the driving force behind “Build the Block” long before the slogan was adopted in 2008. And it is always dangerous ground to mention names for fear of forgetting someone. But consider that this project idea goes back almost a decade. While the decision to focus on the Sears Block was made as recently as five years ago, there has been remarkable persistence, vision, courage and leadership to make it happen.

Our former congressman and now Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, convened a Museum Collaboration Group nine years ago to bring all the many ideas and concepts together into an integrated overall plan. Consisting of people from Caterpillar, Lakeview Museum, Peoria Historical Society, African American Hall of Fame Museum, the Illinois High School Association and the Peoria Regional Museum Society, the group hung in there through financial and funding challenges, political uncertainty and community debate to bring the project home.

A huge expression of gratitude goes to Team Caterpillar, led by Chairman and CEO Jim Owens, for all of their support over the past 10 years. I don’t know of a better role model for corporate generosity and community partnership than this great company. Our hats are also off to Peoria County for the gutsy willingness to serve as the pivotal public revenue stream if the voters concurred. Deep appreciation goes out to State Senator Dave Koehler and Representative David Leitch for guiding the enabling legislation through Springfield. The perseverance of Lakeview Museum leadership and volunteers, of course, was instrumental. Of special note is the incredible role of Peoria’s building trades and union leadership. It is certainly in order for Dan Silverthorn and Mike Everett to take a bow.

I am proud that the City Council saw the wisdom and potential of this project. The City’s investment approaches $14 million, including the value of the land and pledges towards infrastructure development. The Council approved not only the original development agreement, but three revisions over a four-year period to bring the project to fruition. We worked with Caterpillar on parking and other issues to accommodate the many complex requirements involved in a development of this size. Mark Johnson, Caterpillar’s project manager for their Visitor Center, became a “City Hall regular” and did an outstanding job communicating the company’s vision and commitment.

I am so privileged to serve as mayor during the period that the project will move forward and break ground. But I want to close with recognition that the first rumblings of a museum development concept occurred during Bud Grieves’ term, and Dave Ransburg kept the City focused on a development of this extraordinary potential.

Finally, thank you, voters of Peoria County, for once again demonstrating belief in yourselves, your community and those of us in whom you’ve placed your public trust. iBi