News Column

Journal Star, Peoria, Ill., Word on the Street column

February 3, 2014

By Chris Kaergard and Nick Vlahos, Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.

Feb. 03 --File this under reasons governments shouldn't act in haste. Two-and-a-half years ago, Peoria County Board members were asked to approve an $88,500 loan to open the Hick'ry Stick restaurant in Elmwood , a community then recovering from a tornado. To say the loan application had holes in it, that there were unanswered questions and that there was a great deal of uncertainty would be understating things. Board members wanted to delay to get those doubts assuaged but were told by local businessman Andre Williams -- who helped push the project -- that "another delay would present a hardship for the company." In essence, they were told a failure to act would kill the deal, and the persuasion boiled down to one thing: Trust us. The board voted 10-7 to move forward. Longtime readers see what's coming next: The Elmwood barbecue joint is closing. That is to happen Feb. 15 , "due to under performing banquet hall rental and catering sales," the business states online. They still plan to keep the catering operation open, as well as a mobile kitchen for food cart service. But the thing government put up your money to start? That's going to be gone. Oh, by the way, they're late on paying their loan and still owe $52,477 to taxpayer coffers. To be fair, county staff is in the process of working out a payment plan to get the cash back. We have no reason right now to believe the county won't be successful. It's also worth noting this was one of the straws that helped break the camel's back. As this loan was being debated in June 2011 , board members demanded better preparation of the requests and more answers to questions before they ever came to a committee hearing, let alone the board floor. And current economic development chief Mark Rothert has professionalized matters far more than under his predecessor. "We've added more processes since then" to enhance due diligence, Rothert told your shorter columnist Thursday. The county has a review panel -- including outside-of-government experts -- for loans, and better spells out standards in advance for companies. Still, ask anyone in the field and they'll tell you restaurants are risky start-ups. That in itself should have been a warning sign. But a bigger one, in flashing neon letters 10 feet tall, was the rushed approach. Stop buying into the nonsense argument that action without proper vetting is critical. It almost never is. (C.K.) Stepping to the plate This week figures to be important regarding the future of the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex . The Peoria Planning and Zoning commissions are to scrutinize the proposed youth baseball and softball facility. First up is the Planning Commission , scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall . At 1 p.m. the following day in the same location, the Zoning Commission is to have its say. - The Planning Commission meeting is a special one. During its regular meeting last month, the commission was to consider land-use issues regarding the proposed complex in Northwest Peoria . But incomplete information prompted a deferral. The complex along Orange Prairie Road north of War Memorial Drive includes a 125,000-square-foot dome and 10 bat-and-ball diamonds. Although nearby residents have praised the concept, some of them aren't in favor of it being realized in their neighborhood. "A lot of people are mad they didn't have any say or were notified about it," said Perry Cale Jr ., who resides in the Timberbrook subdivision, located next door to the proposed complex. "Being in the construction industry, I know how politics work," he said. "I told my neighbors, 'I know how it works, and it's a done deal.' I hope I'm wrong." Statements last week by Mayor Jim Ardis appear to fulfill Cale's hope. "We said it from the beginning, 'It's not a done deal until the (City) Council votes on it,'" Ardis said about a decision expected Feb. 11 . "But I have very strong feelings that the developers are and will continue to make modifications to neighbors in that area to try to compensate for some of their fears." A possible scuttling of this project is something Ardis equated to Peoria losing the Par-A-Dice riverboat casino two decades ago, albeit not as severe. "I don't think that's going to happen," the mayor said. "I'm very confident that the project is going to happen." (N.V.) Main-University modification The plans for intersection reconstruction at Main and University streets in Peoria involve a lot of civil engineering. They also involve a bit of social engineering. The intersection redesign has multiple purposes. Part of the goal is to make the Main-University area more pedestrian friendly. That's a nod to the plethora of pedestrians fueled by Bradley University next door. It also fits with the city's aim to create "complete streets" -- thoroughfares with wide sidewalks and narrow traffic lanes. Additional safety, business activity and community involvement is said to spring from the concept. Planners also want to reduce the number of vehicles in the area, mostly by discouraging drivers from cutting through that part of the West Bluff to head back and forth from Downtown. Changing habits ingrained for decades isn't easy, 2nd District Councilman Chuck Grayeb admitted. But he also admits he had a decision to make last year, when the Main-University junction became compromised structurally because of a water-main break. "When the pipes ruptured, the city manager called me and said, 'Councilman Grayeb, you can put it back the way it is, or this could be a historic opportunity to reconfigure this,'" he said. "I don't see it becoming any less busy as time passes, so we're seizing the moment to make it better." - Time will tell if that's true. So will West Bluff residents and Peoria commuters -- with their voices and, no doubt, with their feet. (N.V.) ___ Chris Kaergard (C.K.) covers politics and Peoria County government for the Journal Star . He can be reached at 686-3135 or ckaergard@pjstar.com . Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard. Nick Vlahos (N.V.) covers Peoria City Hall . He can be reached at 686-3285 or nvlahos@pjstar.com . Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick. Read their blog online at www.pjstar.com/blogs/wordonweb . ___ (c)2014 Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) Visit the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) at www.PJStar.com Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Journal Star (Peoria, IL)


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