Once again, iBi has selected a timely and most appropriate theme for its monthly publication. Tourism is a big deal. Here’s just a teaser: the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex will play host to more than 200,000 visitors a year when it is fully operational. And each overnight guest will spend about $400 a day on average: $100 for lodging and $300 on restaurants, retail, automobile/transportation, etc. This adds up to at least $800,000—just for this one venue.
The articles in this issue highlight the facts and figures, dollars spent by visitors, and other vital issues connected with this important dimension of our overall economic development strategy. Just to be clear, I view the terms “visitors” and “tourists” as sides of the same coin—and that “coin” is economic development. Without an aggressive and effective economic development strategy, Peoria and our neighboring communities would lose out—on jobs, business investment and improved quality of life—to other metropolitan areas.
As mayor of Peoria, it is my responsibility to make sure the city is doing its part—within the constraints of finances and other resources—to be a positive and unifying force in our economic development. It is, of course, a shared responsibility with the private sector; other units of local government, such as Peoria County, the Park District and Airport Authority; District 150; and our partners at Bradley, ICC, University of Illinois College of Medicine and Peoria’s tremendous healthcare community.
From my perspective, we essentially “do our part” through five important activities: promoting development with our administrative and policymaking powers; maximizing the critical physical asset of the Peoria Civic Center; coordinating with the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which receives substantial funding from the “H” (hotel) portion of the HRA tax; participating with other business entities such as the Peoria Chamber, Economic Development Council, CEO Council and Downtown Development Corporation; and representing Peoria at regional, state and national meetings of municipal officials.
Recently, City Manager Patrick Urich realigned economic development initiatives under our assistant city manager, Chris Setti. Basically, this brings a sharper focus to stimulating economic growth, with more seamless work by the community development and planning departments, code enforcement and the legal department. This more robust focus is seeing results in the Warehouse District; identifying development challenges associated with the Madison Theater block, Four Points by Sheraton hotel and riverfront residential efforts; and offering continued support for renewal on the East Bluff, South Side, Bradley area and elsewhere. From a mayor and council perspective, placing overall strategic coordination in the city manager’s office greatly assists in promoting transparency and accountability to our constituents.
The Peoria Civic Center is indeed that—the city’s main physical center—hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors at an array of trade shows, concerts, performances, meetings, athletic competitions, educational conferences, and so on. I commend the Civic Center Authority—under Chairman Bob Manning’s leadership, with support by PCC staff—for the job it is doing to strengthen the Civic Center’s financial position in spite of a sluggish national economic recovery and the closure of Four Points by Sheraton. The loss of this hotel’s 400 rooms seriously complicates Peoria’s ability to compete with Springfield, Illinois, for example, but make no mistake, the Civic Center was key to Peoria once again winning the privilege to host the IHSA men’s basketball state championship for another five years.
And on that note, the third main element of “doing our part” is close coordination with the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). The CVB’s mission is to promote the entire area as a venue/destination for visitors, and they do a good job. Given that the CVB receives a little over a third of the City’s H tax—about $600,000 a year—we have a clear responsibility to work closely with them and assure smooth coordination with the Civic Center and others. I encourage both groups to explore ways to replicate the IHSA success into other areas of mutual interest and attraction to visitors.
The City—through my office, some council members and the city administration—participates on the boards and advisory committees of other vital players in Peoria’s overall economic development challenge and opportunity. The Chamber, EDC, CEO Council and Downtown Development Corporation are important parts of the equation. One challenge is the ongoing communication of who is doing what. My perception is that this is occurring through the leadership—and membership, sometimes overlapping—of these organizations. Successful economic development comes down to trusting personal relationships. The question for all of us involved in these activities is this: Are we doing everything in our power, through our many professional and business affiliations, to attract organizations to conduct meetings, trade shows, conferences and training sessions at the Peoria Civic Center and other venues?
Finally, the Office of Mayor represents Peoria at a diversity of regional, state and nationwide meetings of municipal officials. This presents many opportunities to network and “sell” Peoria. Sure, many of us compete with one another, but we also understand that we share a common goal of furthering our community’s economic health and social vitality. I never tire of these opportunities, and you just never know when you’ll meet someone who says, “Peoria… isn’t that where Caterpillar is located?”
Tourism—attracting and hosting visitors—is all about economic development. The better all the parts of our local strategy work together, the better chance we have of adding to our economic base and increasing employment and the opportunity for a high quality of city living. iBi