A Publication of WTVP

On August 30, 2000, a group of museum enthusiasts met in Congressman Ray LaHood’s office to begin discussing building one landmark project on Peoria’s riverfront. The group included Lakeview Museum, Caterpillar, the Peoria Historical Society, the African American Hall of Fame, the Peoria Square Dancers, parents interested in a children’s museum and several others. Ten years later, on September 7, 2010, the community broke ground on the $136 million Peoria Riverfront Museum and Caterpillar Experience. Many leadership lessons can be gleaned from this decade-long community project.

Lesson 1: Effective Collaboration
One of former Congressman LaHood’s strongest leadership traits is his ability to bring diverse stakeholders together and convince them to partner on a common purpose. The notion that this project was elitist and was forced on the community from the top down is simply false. Instead, this grass-roots initiative included nine museum groups and hundreds of volunteers, who took six bus trips across the Midwest to learn how public museum projects succeed and fail. Along the many miles, friendships formed amongst the diverse partners. Together, we learned that projects of this magnitude take a very long time to realize—i.e. 15 years in Grand Rapids, Michigan—and that it usually takes 50 percent private and 50 percent public funding. Our legacy Build the Block project is funded 55 percent private and 45 percent public and will be open within two years (12 years total).

Additionally, it was the broad-based collaboration between labor groups, museum collaborators, families and business that helped pass a sales tax referendum during the worst part of our economic recession. And on top of that, the ballot question did not even mention a museum, but rather “public facilities,” which made people wonder whether we were building large restrooms on Peoria’s riverfront. Because of effective collaboration and a lot of hard work on the part of many volunteers, we were one of the only tax referendums to pass statewide in the spring of 2009.

Lesson 2: Bipartisan Leadership
At the federal level, this project had the strong support of not only Congressman LaHood, but also U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Aaron Schock. Our area state legislators also banded together on this endeavor, and special recognition goes to magician State Senator David Koehler, who not only spearheaded getting the referendum bill passed during the usually unproductive November 2008 veto session, but also getting former Governor Blagojevich to sign the bill the week before he got arrested. Now that is truly pulling two rabbits out of a hat!

At the local level, three Peoria mayors and numerous Peoria City Council members supported giving this most valuable piece of riverfront property to the cause. The Peoria County Board voted overwhelmingly to allow Peoria County voters the right to decide via an April 7, 2009 referendum whether to support a sales tax increase providing the critical public funding piece to finally make this dream become a reality.

Lesson 3: Passionate People Make Good Things Happen
Caterpillar CEOs Doug Oberhelman, Jim Owens and Glen Barton all passionately backed this once-in-a-lifetime community project to the tune of $52 million. Mike Everett, president of the West Central Illinois Building Trades, tirelessly raised money and put up signs for the Build the Block campaign, knowing that it would provide 250 local construction jobs for his men and women over 25 months.

Museum Collaboration Group Co-Chair Byron DeHaan visited 20 museums across the country, reporting back to the community on his detailed findings. John Parks and Amy Kelly visited numerous nursing homes in historic costumes touting the importance of passing the referendum. Barb Drake and Mike Bailey wrote at least 15 years worth of editorials in the Journal Star stressing the importance of this legacy project. Bernie Drake and Lakeview CEO Jim Richerson made countless presentations to community groups.

The CEO Roundtable had the wisdom to retain the Simantel Group who creatively marketed the Build the Block campaign. The top-notch professionals at Lakeview Museum persevered through the many twists and turns of this 10-year adventure and hired White Oak Associates, one of the best national museum consultants, to plan and design the Peoria Riverfront Museum. And the list could go on and on…

Through the efforts of so many, the 15-year hole in the heart of Peoria will now be filled with one of the single most important cultural and economic developments in our region’s history. iBi