Warning Track Power

Peoria has a big complex, err… coming to town. Like most area residents, news that happens in Peoria or around it is done with cannonball into the pool type fashion. You don’t hear it, or see it coming, you just feel the giant splash of water after the fact. Such is the case with the new sports complex that has been unveiled [Big News].

Recent reports indicate a brand spanking new facility that will have state of the art baseball fields and a full-service dome will be built out in the hinterlands near The Shoppes at Grand Prairie. On the surface, this looks like home run and a big win for a city that needs more runs on the board. However, looks can be deceiving from where you sit, and sometimes what looks like a home run often gets caught at the wall on the warning track.

*Disclosure* I played sports growing up, baseball in particular, on a youth traveling team to be even more specific, and have endured my fair share of road trips to towns around the Midwest because of this.

New development, especially that of sports fields in a family-friendly city, is always big news [Read Story]. Development attached with a household name that can lead to 250,000 new visitors to the area per year, possibly fuel more development, and leading to the spending of visitors discretionary income is always seen as a good thing. I can’t argue this myself, but how we build our environment to handle such matters affect those who live here on a full-time basis and subsequently have to foot the bill before, during, and after.

Just a short while ago, we read in pain that Walmart was seeking to take a divot out of the greenspace known as the Peoria Public Stadium [Story]. A parcel of property 82 acres in size, encompassing a football field, track, softball fields, playground, and open space was going to be a new location to buy everyday, low-priced items.

Believe it or not, this didn’t excite the masses [Facebook page]. While this activity centered around the Peoria Public School District, Park District and the evil empire from Arkansas, it brought to the forefront that our environment, recreation and consumerism are often at odds. And of course, I even provided my own take on that then [Middle Ground].

Peoria Public Stadium Sign

Ultimately, there has to be a new approach to development in Peoria. It needs to happen in order to ensure the viability of projects and to ensure the financial sustainability of the City itself for many moons to come. Yet, it seems that we put this out of our minds and move on to the next at bat but forget what we learned from striking out before.

This proposed development, now with the Louisville Slugger name attached has everyone all aflutter. Love the product myself. Love what athletics can do for kids. Don’t love the proposal as much.

Let’s take a look at this from the nose-bleed seats…

complex

Yesterday, the Planning Commission voted in favor to allow the public to be informed before approving the annexation of 34 acres for the proposed development [Story][updated, thanks Nick]. Any approvals the Planning Commission sign off on still have to go before Peoria City Council for final approval. According to the initial story, this comes with a $9.6 million bond (which could get repaid by the proposed hotel revenues) and an increase of local sales taxes from 6% to 9%.

Ok, well how much money is this going to bring in? Around $900,000 of new revenues each year. Not bad. But you have increased taxes and have a big amount in a bond hanging out there which is contingent on the hotel paying it back.

Batter steps out of the box…

But wait, I thought that the County was going to need to increase taxes by 1% on the School Facilities Tax to make repairs to the Peoria Stadium [That Story]? Confusing indeed. That whole ordeal has been getting ironed out behind the scenes. Both of these situations may lead to increases in debt and higher taxes all around.

…Steps back into the box, slider just misses – Ball One 

Back to the complex out by Grand Prairie. The Mayor is excited, apparently he’s known about this for 2 years or so [Watch]. To quote another [Article]:

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say this project is probably going to have the biggest impact on our community since this building was built.”

That statement was in reference to the Civic Center, which has done a great deal to bring events, conferences, and people to downtown, but hasn’t necessarily induced the projected positive development it had touted 30 years ago – it just remains an amenity (see: dead downtown).

…Fouls pitch off deep down the left field line – Strike One

Building by Grand Prairie makes a lot of business sense for the developers of this complex. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, the Top 10 Activities of Domestic Travelers are:

  1. Shopping 31%
  2. Outdoor Recreation 14%
  3. Historical places/museums 13%
  4. Cultural events 9%
  5. Beaches 8%
  6. National/state parks 8%
  7. Nightlife/dancing 8%
  8. Gambling 8%
  9. Theme/amusement parks 6%
  10. Sports events 5%

More fun facts and statistics in this PDF.

Peoria sells its proximity to bigger cities based on the drive time it takes to get there. The map we’ve all seen looks like this:

lets drive

But let’s face it. Those visitors from afar are coming in on a highway to their hotel, dropping their bags, playing 2-3 games per day for 2 days or so, shopping and eating – then leaving. Is this the “real” Peoria experience? Probably not. They might go into town if they are so inspired, but there would have to be real good reason to do.

As urban historian and observer Jane Jacobs put it,

Almost nobody travels willingly from sameness to sameness and repetition to repetition, even if the physical effort required is trivial.

…Curve ball, just outside – Ball two

As we dive deeper into what is located in and around The Shoppes at Grand Prairie – a different story gets told. All of those chain stores, big-box retailers, fast-food restaurants and national hotel chains that are located near where the proposed development is planned aren’t local businesses. Yes, they are situated here locally, but their headquarters (where the money goes at the end of the day) is somewhere else besides Peoria, besides Illinois for that matter…

This is where the same mentality we’ve had for years has led us astray. Reports, studies, and too much information to comprehend, has come out in recent years indicating that our economic formula of modernist style development doesn’t breakeven in the long run. Having just gone through Small Business Saturday we all know this:

Chain restaurants return only 37% of their revenue to the local economy, compared with independent restaurants which return 56% in wages, locally purchased goods and services, profits, and charitable donations

This concept is better known as the Economic Feedback Loop. Those stores and restaurants, while they may offer variety and a service, build a bad economy (read: not just financially, but what they do to the community at-large). One that reduces the amount of money actually kept in YOUR TOWN. So, although I personally don’t prefer them, I may still spend money there BUT creating a sea of visitors in that space will ultimately reduce the total economics in your city by forcing them to shop there.

And on their way out of town they’ll probably stop off in Morton and grab a bite at a fast-food restaurant there before making it out of the region. While this may almost certainly achieve an increase in sales tax revenues, it doesn’t solve our long term situation. That’s why we make PSA’s like this one or hold press conferences like this one.

…Changeup caught the corner – Strike Two

It’s not that I bring attention to past things that were said to call anyone out, quite the opposite. I use these examples to show WE KNOW BETTER, yet we still continue the humdrum and contradictory status quo developments because it looks good and sounds good.

Frankly, it is still good news – great news if we go back up to our bird’s eye view seats and watch the whole game. This interesting at bat with the game on the line has made things more interesting.

Steps back out of the box and looks down to the third base coach… 

Peoria has the opportunity to increase land value, increase the quality of life, attract many visitors, provide jobs, and gain sales tax revenues. Wow, that’s a lot to take in.

Stadium Map

What about that old stadium that will still need renovations or a new idea to bring that space back to life?

It is closer to the downtown you are trying to revitalize, neighborhoods that have stagnated in value, other amenities, and serves a greater population than just visitors. That will still have to be looked at again won’t it? Yep.

…Takes the signal steps back up to the plate

What if instead of raising taxes at both ends, one for renovations to the school/park facility and the other for annexing land… what if instead of allowing a corporate entity to take over what is sacred ground to citizens… and what if instead of creating a brand new facility on the outskirts of town, why don’t we take an altogether different approach to maximize our strength?

There are 82 acres at the site of the Peoria Stadium. This proposed development needs 24, maybe a little more as time goes on. Perfect! The land that currently serves as a recreation space can get a breath of fresh air and updating it needs. It solves District 150′s financial woes and reduces the workload for the parks department. Add in this proposed hotel and you have provided jobs closer to the people who would work there.

Fields

Image via Peoria Journal Star

We want to create better performing space while preserving the integrity of our city right?

As far as preservation goes, it may not keep the football field and softball fields intact as they are today, but they can get the financial boost they need to become economically stable once again. This reduces the burden on taxpayers all around. It is what public/private partnerships could be. While those fields may be busy come game day or tournament time, they sit empty for a majority of the time. This is space that can be open to the public the remainder of the time, not just open for visitors.

The wind up…

Let’s not further the sprawl mindset. This complex is great news. I’ve struggled to put it into words until now. The games I played in, and the comradery formed when we were kids still is talked about in folklore today [Great Movie]. The word about developments like this get fed to us at different times so it’s often hard to tell what the entire meal tastes like.

Peoria can be more than just a spot that is in close proximity for teams from Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin and our own state come to and fully enjoy. Make Peoria a place that they feel has some authenticity and they want to come back to it regardless of if there is a tournament in town. This option laid out now doesn’t do that. It furthers the mentality that has plagued us for decades (see: reason for Focus Forward CI). It incurs costs not only on this development, but future ones, and ones that are currently in the works. All of that AND it puts less $$$ back into the pot at the end of the day.

The pitch…

Are we going to swing for the fences and not have enough power to get it over? Or, are we going to play the game smart enough to still get the winning run in?

…maybe it’s time we get creative.

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4 responses to “Warning Track Power

  1. Peoria needs to think of itself more as a dartboard. Stick a dart inside the target–the existing developed area–you score. Stick the dart outside that target–hey, don’t be surprised by people saying you shouldn’t be putting holes in the wall.

  2. Erik, a point of clarification. The Planning Commission did not consider the baseball/softball complex at its meeting Wednesday. It was deferred to next month. The 34-acre parcel the commission did discuss isn’t related to this project.

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