It was certainly a close vote, but in the end, the residents of Peoria County said yes to a sales tax referendum to Build The Block. The Riverfront Museum project has been many years in the making, and now the green light is shining brightly. I fully believe, like many others, this project will increase tourism and create another reason for people to come to central Illinois.
The museum collaboration group and Lakeview Museum are finalizing the first phase of construction, which is the parking deck. We are bringing everyone together (including the newest partner, Peoria County) to create a construction timeline and project outline. Work on the parking deck should begin later this year and finish in 2010. You will start to see the building project come out of the ground in 2010, and a ribbon cutting and opening ceremony are expected in 2012.
When you couple the Riverfront Museum with the Caterpillar Experience, the recently-expanded Civic Center, a proposed name-brand hotel and the prospective Warehouse District, you can see how this generation has incredible potential to change the face of downtown for decades to come.
This project created a lot of talk from both sides of the aisle and received media coverage from all around the state. People are talking about our plans and taking note of the collaboration it took to get this ball rolling. Some media reports praised the county for being able to pass this issue in a recession; I believe that the down economy is what has created such momentum for the project.
There are several momentum builders that I think are easy to see. Look at our skilled tradesmen—they are ready and eager to get to work. This project will allow that. There is stimulus money and additional funding available for the project, making the timing right. Families are taking more car trips these days in hopes of saving money, and we expect this trend will stick around for several years. Many people are looking for shorter trips, trying to stay closer to home and scale down their vacations a bit. This is creating a market for regional attractions like our Riverfront Museum.
When I look around the country, I can see we are on the right path. We recently visited Louisville, Kentucky. Ironically, they had a large hole in their downtown that is eerily similar to what we have in ours right now. Unfortunately for them, their plans for a downtown museum and retail project on that 10+ acre site aren’t moving ahead like ours. It’s a similar situation in Lexington, Kentucky, where there is a five-acre site downtown fenced-in and filled with dirt while that community waits for funding. We are steps ahead of them because of our collaborative efforts, and this is the time to keep moving forward! iBi