The turn of the calendar from one year to the next always gets people reflecting on the past and future. Chances are you have put 2008 in your rearview mirror, simply glad it’s over. The national news over this past year was almost exclusively negative. Locally, there was also some unwelcome news, namely significant workforce reductions at employers both large and small.
But sometimes lost in the bad news is the good—and even great—news. We need to remind ourselves that, although we live in difficult times, things really are better here. Let’s reflect a moment on the local successes of 2008.
We saw record-low crime rates—a testament to our outstanding public safety personnel and the dedication of our citizens. The Mayor’s Youth Corps Summer Employment Program hired nearly 60 young people to help improve our neighborhoods. A tremendous group of public sector entities collaborated to create the Glen Oak School-Neighborhood Impact Zone. While most economic news was dreary, in Peoria we continue to see expansions and renovations at Methodist Medical Center, OSF Saint Francis and Bradley University. Great companies like eServ, Maui Jim and RLI continue to grow and make Peoria’s economy resilient. Caterpillar remains the anchor of our community. Together, we are all well positioned for the future.
As successful as 2008 was, I am even more excited by 2009. One success is the perfect segue into the new year because it is a story that keeps getting better. Last August, thanks to Peoria Promise, the first class of 245 students started tuition-free classes at Illinois Central College. At this time last year, Peoria Promise was an ambitious dream. Now it is a reality. We have hired a talented, energetic and dedicated executive director in Tara Gerstner, but the real work now begins. The need doubles this year as another high school class graduates.While our outstanding corporate and individual partners have pledged support that equals 50 percent of the need, the program needs another $500,000 in donations in order to serve all qualified students.
By the end of the year, we should see the beginnings of a massive upgrade to downtown Peoria—the construction of the Marriott Pere Marquette Hotel. This $100M-plus public-private partnership took a great deal of sacrifice, cooperation and courage on the part of all investors and will serve to enhance Peoria as a convention and tourist destination for decades to come. As old buildings come down, new ones go up, and when the beautiful Pere Marquette is preserved and renovated, we will all benefit from the transformation.
I think you’ll also continue to hear the words green and sustainable in Peoria—a theme explored by this magazine in September 2008. In early January, the City released a set of recommendations from its Energy Efficiency Task Force. Understanding the volatility of energy prices and its impact on our own budget, a group of staff members looked at ways not only to save money but to set an example for Peoria. On a larger scale, Bradley’s Dr. Amir Al-Khafaji continues his work as chair of the Commission on Sustainable Development and Green Technology. One energetic vision of the group is to build a center for sustainability right here in Peoria. Companies like Firefly, Globe Energy and Ecothermics continue to demonstrate that this business sector is ripe for success.
Finally, we will see some changes in our political landscape. In addition to a new president, Peoria is represented by new faces in Congress and in the State House. I am quite proud that Ray LaHood has been chosen to serve our country as Secretary of Transportation, leadership which will be important as the government looks to provide stimulus funding for infrastructure projects. Your City government has been proactive in its approach to drafting a list of needs that any future funding can help fulfill. Locally, upcoming municipal elections will change the makeup of our City Council. Bob Manning and Patrick Nichting, who have both served Peoria so well, are stepping aside to pursue other avenues.
Whatever the new composition of the City Council, however, I am confident that we will continue to build a better Peoria. The year ahead will have many challenges, but more opportunities. We will continue to transform our budget process, building on the sense of cooperation, openness and transparency that started in the past year. Also of great consequence will be the adoption of the City’s Comprehensive Plan. The incredible outreach done by our Planning Commission, council members and the Planning and Growth Management staff in 2008 will culminate in a document that will help shape the future of our community. Finally, our entire city is the beneficiary of the management savvy and leadership of our Interim City Manager Henry Holling. He has developed a sense of teamwork that I’m not sure City Hall has ever experienced.
Together, City leadership, staff, businesses and citizens will ensure that 2009 lives up to the promise that it is better here. iBi