A Publication of WTVP

The City Council recently heard a presentation from Caterpillar’s Mark Flannery and his Six Sigma team about results from their study regarding the need for more hotel rooms in downtown Peoria. This column was submitted several weeks before the presentation took place, and the next steps will be discussed soon. Thanks to Caterpillar for underwriting this study and to Mr. Flannery and his team for expediting their findings.

While the council and I are eager for the results and the ensuing discussion, it is important for the business community and the entire community at large to know that the mayors of our surrounding communities and I have been meeting for over a year to discuss opportunities for us to work together to enhance central Illinois.

These informal meetings came about during the transition of new leadership at the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Board Member Dan Cunningham coordinated the initial meetings along with PACVB President Brent Lonteen. East Peoria Mayor Chuck Dobbelaire (and now Mayor David Mingus), Pekin Mayor Frank Mackaman (and now Mayor David Tebben), Morton Mayor Norm Durflinger, Washington Mayor Gary Manier and I have met at least quarterly, engaging in some very interesting discussions.

While many view our communities as very parochial, I have found that this group of mayors has the ability to focus on the big picture of how we are most likely to grow and prosper together versus the old way of thinking where it’s “everyone for themselves.” All of our communities have in common a desire to bring more people into our cities, both temporarily through tourism and permanently as residents, if they like what they see. Each city has different qualities and amenities which make them unique, and through the PACVB, we have come together to identify ways we can all cooperate and expand the region.

The $55-million-dollar expansion of the Peoria Civic Center and the new Embassy Suites and Convention Center in East Peoria are undoubtedly going to draw more visitors to the region. The EastSide sports complex has been a huge draw for sports teams from across the country, and all of our communities have benefited greatly by the thousands of visitors who come here to participate. IssuesOur restaurants and hotels are the major beneficiaries when those tournaments come to town. Washington’s new community center will provide additional new visitors to our area as well. When visitors come to town, we need to capitalize on the opportunity and show off what we have to offer in our beautiful cities by the river.

As we continue to break down the old walls which previously separated our communities and replace them with bridges of teamwork and communication, we will eventually be able to deliberate how we can better partner to market and fund projects that benefit all of us. We’ve been trying to figure out a way for the Tri-County Area to help fund some of the marketing efforts of the Civic Center. There has to be a logical way for us to share the cost of marketing these venues from which we all benefit either directly or indirectly. Now that the Embassy Suites and Convention Center is coming online, perhaps we will be able to put our heads together to ensure we’re marketing our facilities effectively and giving our taxpayers a good return on their investment. Incumbent on our leaders is the need to explain to our own citizens how working together to address these needs is truly a benefit to everyone in the area.

We have a ways to go before we arrive at that destination, but I feel a strong sense of teamwork at play with mayors Mingus, Durflinger, Tebben, Manier and myself. And there’s also Mayor Dillon in West Peoria and Mayor Zurcher in Bartonville, with whom I have talked on many occasions, and who are willing partners in expanding our central Illinois cities as a team. As we all work on finishing our 2008 budgets, I am proud to be a part of this group of mayors and look forward to continuing to work for the business community and our citizens into the future.

I’d like to wish everyone a safe and peaceful Thanksgiving. We have so many, many things to be thankful for and I hope we can all take time to give God our thanks over the holiday. As we enter the Christmas season, may we keep all of our men and women in the armed forces in our thoughts and prayers, as well as their families, who are persevering and sacrificing time with their loved ones for the benefit of the whole nation. May they be safe and return home soon. God bless you all. IBI