Recently, an interesting article in a local newspaper denoted how the City of Peoria ranked on a number of lists, including best places for business and careers, least expensive places to do business, population growth and crime rate, higher education, and culture and leisure.

While these lists are somewhat subjective and not always fact-based or data-driven, they can provide a general sense of how one city is progressing versus others. In the culture and leisure category, which is based on the number and quality of museums, golf courses, sports teams and other activities, Peoria ranked 144th. The comment in the article suggested that our ranking should not be surprising, as Peoria is being compared to the country’s largest metropolitan areas. However, it is because we have to compete against these metropolitan cities for talent, labor and resources that we have to make sure we are, indeed, providing a cultural and leisurely environment that attracts and retains a qualified workforce and their families.

Peoria must take advantage of the window of opportunity that is presenting itself: the completion of the Peoria Zoo and the timely completion of the process (and subsequent building) of the Museum Square and Peoria Public Library. (I am assuming that zoos and libraries would fall in the culture and leisure category.)

The Peoria Zoo is currently under construction and is anticipating opening in the spring of 2009. Currently, the CEO Roundtable, Peoria Riverfront Museum officials, Caterpillar and others are collaborating to ensure a process that will raise the appropriate public and private funds to reach a successful conclusion in early 2009, with groundbreaking in early 2010. The overwhelming referendum in support of the strategic plan, development and enhancement of the Peoria Public Library will be moving forward to the City Council in the second quarter of 2008.

Being involved in the Museum Square process, it is clearly a “now-or-never” project; I suspect the Peoria Public Library probably is, too. Creating the sense of urgency around these projects cannot be overstated. Throughout the life cycle of a city, for example, there are always windows of opportunity when things must be done, and, if they are not done, many times those opportunities are lost forever. The Museum Square and Peoria Public Library are tremendous opportunities for us to improve Peoria’s cultural and leisure activities; it is now or never.

Our community should find it very interesting that the kickoff for the Hallmark Channel began here in Peoria, with the host asking about the history of “Does It Play in Peoria” and talking about the heartland being community-driven and a great place for families. They certainly could have selected another community in Illinois or the Midwest to tell their initial story.

And we do have a great story to tell. Projects such as the Peoria Zoo, Museum Square and Peoria Public Library allow us to build on that story. IBI