In my last column, I outlined the importance of the Peoria Zoo, Peoria Public Library and the Caterpillar Visitors’ Center/Peoria Riverfront Museum block to our community. With the approval of funding for the Peoria Public Library, the good news is that two of these three significant projects are in motion.

Now it’s time to get the Caterpillar Visitors’ Center and Peoria Riverfront Museum (PRM) accomplished. The key element here is the Caterpillar Visitors’ Center. The opportunity for this community to partner with Caterpillar to further extend Cat’s roots in the Greater Peoria Area cannot be understated. The company’s recent announcement to renovate their Illinois manufacturing facilities sends a very positive signal of their intention to remain strong in central Illinois.

It has been well communicated by Caterpillar that the Visitors’ Center will not be built on the Sears Block without the Peoria Riverfront Museum being built alongside—the company’s vision is that the combination of these two will be spectacular. To that end, Caterpillar has committed $51 million toward its Visitors’ Center and the Riverfront Museum. Without question, we as a community must do everything possible to match Caterpillar’s commitment.

Funding for the PRM has always been based on a public-private partnership. Including Caterpillar’s commitment, approximately two thirds of the money has been raised to date. The initial attempts were to solicit public funds from both federal and state sources, but unfortunately, those attempts have not been realized for various reasons. Most recently, the Peoria County Board has taken the lead by potentially pursuing a referendum that would make it capable of raising the additional monies needed to complete the public funding. However, the County Board needs legislative action by the State of Illinois to allow a referendum to become the public entity for this project. Unfortunately, conflict between the Governor and Speaker of the House has prevented the appropriate legislation from moving forward at this time.

Despite this setback, there are many people within the community working hard to find ways to complete the Caterpillar Visitors’ Center/Peoria Riverfront Museum project. Legislative leaders, members of the CEO Roundtable, Caterpillar and members of the Museum Collaborative Group have been meeting regularly to outline strategies and next steps to accomplish the public support necessary for the project and continue the final efforts to complete the private funding. We hope in the coming months to be in a position to outline these next steps.

It is important to emphasize again that the window of opportunity for this project will not remain open forever. The Caterpillar Visitors’ Center and Peoria Riverfront Museum block will be the centerpiece of Downtown Peoria—this generation’s equivalent of the Civic Center. We must demonstrate our commitment that the future of Caterpillar should remain in Peoria. We will never get another opportunity to partner with Caterpillar like this again—we cannot afford to lose it! iBi