Westminster Theological Seminary’s bookstore almost went out of business last Christmas, largely because they have a hard time competing with Amazon.com’s prices, which are so low that even Amazon itself can’t make a profit. In a recent email to their customers, they lamented:
Our great challenge is that we continue to exist in an environment where Amazon — the industry leader — is allowed by Wall Street to function without regard for their short-term profitability. Some of you may be aware that Amazon recently reported a $7 million loss on $15.7 billion of revenue. Next quarter, they are forecasting a loss of between $65 and $440 million. Despite this, their stock is up about 20% this year, indicating investor willingness to sustain Amazon’s loss-leading business model. As I ponder economic history, I can’t name another 21-year old company with which Wall Street has been this patient.
Amazon’s results show that, despite their buying power, technology, management skill, and income from non-book products and services, they are unable to post a profit given their current pricing model. This reality is made all the more striking given that competitive forces like Borders and independent bookstores have gone out of business while Barnes & Noble and other retailers struggle to carve out an existence.
Small bookstores and online commerce rivals aren’t the only ones puzzled by Wall Street. Recent articles in Forbes and The Guardian also show surprise that investors continue to have seemingly unwavering faith in Jeff Bezos, despite little or no explanation from him for the losses. Will this bubble ever burst? Whether it does or doesn’t, what will the long-term effect be on consumers?
On Thursday, the City of Peoria held a public meeting to discuss ways to redesign the intersection of Main and University. A hundred-year-old water main recently broke there, and while patching has been done, there need to be more extensive repairs made that requires the whole intersection be rebuilt. Since it’s being redone anyway, this seems like the right time to talk about ways it can be improved — to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.
One of the suggestions made at the meeting was to construct a pedestrian bridge. The Journal Star reported it this way:
But to the pleasant surprise of [Public Works Director Mike] Rogers, some forum attendees advocated pedestrian overpasses, perhaps positioned away from the intersection, as a way to improve traffic flow.
“Nobody has to stop driving — just go over the bridge across the street,” said Jose Lozano, a Bradley professor and area resident. “It’s safer for drivers and pedestrians, and a lot cheaper.”
With all due respect, this is a terrible idea. Here’s why:
- Motorists still have to stop driving. The contention that “nobody has to stop driving” is a real puzzler. For traffic not to stop, it would take more than a pedestrian bridge — it would take a vehicular bridge that separates the grade of Main and University, allowing Main street traffic to travel over or under University, in order to allow traffic to flow unimpeded. Short of that, there’s still going to be an intersection, and it’s still going to be signalized. And providing for safe navigation of that intersection will still need to be done.
- It doesn’t make the street safer for pedestrians. First of all, we have to think of the street and not merely the intersection in isolation. Building a pedestrian bridge and giving traffic the idea that “nobody has to stop driving” will put pedestrians who don’t use the pedestrian bridge at risk, such as those who cross Main at Maplewood or cross University at Bradley Avenue. They’re not going to walk all the way to Main and University to take the pedestrian bridge. They will continue to cross at grade, and encouraging faster traffic will put their safety at risk. And, let’s face it, many college students (or professors) are not going to go out of their way to use a pedestrian bridge when the street is only sixty feet wide, and especially where there’s a walk signal.
- It doesn’t make the street safer for bicyclists. The intersection needs to be redesigned not only to make things safer for pedestrians, but to make things safer for all users. That includes bicyclists, which would not benefit at all from a pedestrian bridge no matter where it is placed. Encouraging faster traffic where there are already narrow lanes and even narrower sidewalks will put their safety at risk.
- It doesn’t make the street safer for the disabled. You can’t ride your wheelchair up the stairs to a pedestrian bridge and back down the other side. Unless they’re going to make the pedestrian bridge handicapped-accessible, which seems like it would be a challenge given the space constraints in that area (ramps? elevator?), the street will be made even more hostile to the disabled who try to traverse it.
- It doesn’t make the street safer for cars. There are no small number of vehicular accidents at this intersection. Even if all pedestrians used the proposed bridge, it would not make the intersection safer for vehicles which would arguably pass through the intersection even faster if there were no pedestrians to worry about. Also, if the pedestrian bridge were not enclosed, it would give delinquent children an easy place to drop objects onto cars that pass beneath.
- It perpetuates the myth that the public right of way is for cars only. The impetus for this forum was a presentation on “complete streets” that was given to the City Council a couple of meetings ago. The whole idea behind “complete streets” is that streets are a public right-of-way, and as such they are for everyone, not just motorists. According to the National Complete Streets Coalition website:
Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work….
Creating Complete Streets means transportation agencies must change their approach to community roads. By adopting a Complete Streets policy, communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation. This means that every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists – making your town a better place to live.
A pedestrian bridge completely misses the mark of this vision. It perpetuates the idea that the right-of-way is primarily, if not solely, the domain of automobiles, which are presumed to have a natural right to unimpeded travel, and all other users of the roadway are intruders. This kind of thinking needs to stop.
The right-of-way is public land and pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and the disabled have just as much right of access to it as motorists, and we need to learn how to share the right-of-way as equals. That’s the kind of vision this intersection reconstruction should be striving for.
A better alternative that was presented at the meeting is the idea of a raised table. In this scenario, the whole intersection is raised, which will require cars to slow down in order to enter and exit the intersection. This makes the intersection safer for everyone, and also makes the street safer. When the light turns yellow at an intersection, there are always those motorists (I’ve even done it myself, I admit) who speed up to make the light rather than slow down. A raised intersection would virtually eliminate that. Cars approaching the intersection would always have to slow down regardless of what color the light is.
Whatever solution is found for the intersection, it should balance the needs of all users and take the entire context of that intersection into consideration. A pedestrian bridge fails on all counts. It should be eliminated from consideration.
After listening to President Obama’s speech this afternoon regarding Syria, I read an article in the newspaper. I imagine the national pundits have already made note of the contradiction I discovered, but I don’t listen to a lot of talk radio, so it struck me as a profound about-face.
Here’s what Candidate Obama told the Boston Globe in December 2007 (which was quoted in an AP story I read in the Journal Star this morning):
The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
But today, President Obama had something different to say (emphasis mine):
Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. [...] Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective.
So Candidate Obama believed the President does not have the power to authorize military action unilaterally, but President Obama does believe the President has the authority to take military action unilaterally. What has changed since 2007? Well, obviously, Obama is now President! It appears that the power of the Presidency has changed Obama’s mind.
The Journal Star reports:
Attendance was lower and the red ink was deeper than expected during the Peoria Riverfront Museum’s first year. …Board leaders pointed to a growing realization that the original White Oaks consultant study done prior to construction of the museum didn’t offer realistic projections.
It wasn’t lower and deeper than expected by this publication. The Peoria Chronicle analyzed museum attendance projections back in January 2009 and concluded they were wildly optimistic. This site predicted the actual attendance figures would be at least 22% lower than the numbers touted by museum officials. In a report given to the Peoria County Board, museum officials disclosed that attendance is actually 24.3% below projections.
The non-IMAX theater attendance is 45.8% below expectations. That’s significant because much of the hoped-for profitability of the museum was tied to projected revenues from the theater. When museum officials decided to go with a generic “Giant Screen Theater” instead of a promised IMAX-brand theater, this publication also predicted that that decision would result in lower theater attendance and be a bigger blow to museum revenues than lower attendance to the exhibits. Indeed, overall earned revenue is 46.8% below expectations.
Well, the good news for museum folks is that no one will be held accountable for these gross miscalculations, and the county will continue to receive your tax money to pay off the bonds used to build this white (gray?) elephant.
I considered throwing my name in the running for Gary Sandberg’s seat. However, after talking it over with my family, I decided this just isn’t the right time (not that I had any illusions of actually being chosen, but I believe you shouldn’t apply for something unless you really are willing to serve).
There is no shortage of other applicants, however. Here are the 31 people who submitted their resumes:
- Denene Ricks
- Ken Goldin
- Randy Ray
- Thomas Stevens
- Conrad Stinnett III
- Harry Block
- Alma Brown
- Jody Hoerr
- John D. Marter, Jr.
- Patrick Williams
- Kyie Hess
- Robert J. Rivoli III
- Jeff Stauthammer
- Gloria Cassel-Fitzgerald
- Monty Spivey
- Joseph B. VanFleet
- Brad Douglas
- Martha Ross
- Amy Eckardt
- Martin Deters
- Brett Kolditz
- Katherine Coyle
- Clyde E. Gulley, Jr.
- Todd A. Dennhardt
- Patti Sterling-Polk
- Tara Gerstner
- Elizabeth Jensen
- Thomas Angelo
- Franklin L. Renner
- Andre Williams
- Bill Spears
Interesting list. Notable applicants: A couple of former council members who didn’t run for reelection the last time (Gulley, Spears); a current District 150 school board member (Ross); former city attorney (Ray); recent council also-rans (Sterling-Polk, Williams); former City of Peoria Communications Manager Alma Brown; and neighborhood advocate and “Friend Of Peoria Chronicle” Conrad Stinnett.
Notable omission: Patrick Sullivan didn’t throw his hat in the ring.
You can read the resumes of the applicants on the City’s website by clicking here. The council has 60 days to choose a successor. Any wagers on who will get the nod?
Peoria’s newspaper of record, the Journal Star, continues its death spiral as it announces today that it is cutting still more content from the paper. Executive Editor Dennis Anderson writes in a “Note to Readers” in Monday’s edition:
The format of the Monday Journal Star is changing starting today.
The newspaper will have two sections on Mondays. The A section continues to house national and world news. Added to the expanded A section is Local & State, which appears on Page 3. The A section also contains the TV page, obituaries, police and courts news, matters of record, the Leisure & Advice page and weather, located on the back page of this section, and other features. The Comics page also is in A section today.
Sports is at the front of the B section today. Also inside the B section are classifieds.
The Opinion page will no longer be published on Mondays. It returns on Tuesday.
The editor apparently didn’t feel any need to explain the reason for this reduction in content to his readers who are not, of course, getting any commensurate cut in their subscription rate. But then, the Journal Star stopped caring about its readers a long time ago. The removal of the Forum section today (part of the Opinion page) illustrates the paper’s complete disregard for its bread and butter.
Given the staffing cuts (and attrition) and the resulting, inexorable reduction in content, it won’t be long until the Journal Star is nothing more than an ad circular.
It’s too bad you missed the All-Star Game Tuesday night. You would have loved it. The American League won, and Mariano Rivera got a standing ovation. It would have brought tears to your eyes. You know, despite being an obnoxious Yankees fan, I always appreciated the fact that you were, above all, a baseball fan. There are so few of us around these days. Everyone (and especially ESPN) is into football and basketball. You’d think with 30 teams playing 162 games each year that there would be plenty of baseball to talk about on sports shows, but baseball always seems to get short shrift. You always enjoyed watching a game no matter who was playing (even the Cubs — it was always fun to see them lose), and I’m the same way. I’ll miss meeting you at Whiteys to watch a game over pizza.
I’m glad you got to see the Yankees one more time — and even make the highlight reel! That was pretty cool seeing the home run ball bounce just a few seats to the right of you in Yankee stadium. Too bad it wasn’t the Yankees who hit the home run. Ha ha. Hey, you can’t win them all.
Remember last year when you found out I was going to the Heart of Illinois Fair and you asked me to pick up some salt water taffy for you from the guy who sets up near the front gate? I remembered that this year, and I picked some up for you again. I even drove by your place Thursday night to drop it off as a surprise, but all the lights were off. It looked like no one was home, so I drove on. I was hoping you were there because my wife and son were in the car, and I wanted them to see the work you had been doing on your apartment. My son especially would have loved the fire pole you were putting in.
I thought it was strange that you hadn’t responded to my texts and appeared not to be home, but you’ve taken unplanned trips before, so I wasn’t too worried. I figured you’d get back to me soon with tales of how your phone was lost or broken, or how you were out riding on Route 66 and didn’t hear the phone ring. You always had a great story to tell.
The story my wife thought was so funny was the one you told when we met you at the Garden Street Cafe for breakfast. You know, the one about mailing that package to Colt in Macau, and all the different ways you had to repack it and compress it until it met the size restrictions? And how exorbitant the cost was? You really had us in stitches by the end of that one; it was almost too ridiculous to believe.
The cars that you had were a real hoot, too. My favorites were the Austin-Healey Sprites you would drive in the summer when you weren’t on your motorcycle. They are impossibly small; I still can’t believe you could fit into them. And they were so low to the ground! I remember you saying you really noticed the city’s lack of infrastructure maintenance in that car because you could feel every bump and see every deteriorating curb. Your ability to get them running and keep them running was pretty ingenious. You were the last of the shade-tree mechanics.
Everyone knows you as the guy who (supposedly) always votes “no” on the City Council, and always stands up for the citizens when it seems like the rest of the council only stands up for the developers and the movers and shakers of the community. I always appreciated you holding everyone’s feet to the fire, even if you were the lone voice crying the wilderness. It was nice to know someone at City Hall was listening and fighting for the little guy. That’s what made you a hero to many. I always tried to encourage you to keep up the good fight, not that you needed the encouragement. I wonder who will stand up for the citizens of Peoria now.
I wonder a lot of things. Right now, I wonder why you insisted on working in that building without air conditioning in the kind of heat we’ve had — especially after you just had heart surgery not that long ago. You’re smarter than that. What was it? You just like living on the edge? Like riding your motorcycle without a helmet? Or walking to the Election Commission just seconds before they closed to turn in your nominating petitions?
We didn’t agree on everything. We rooted for different baseball teams. We differed on gun control. We were poles apart on religion. But we were friends. You were always very encouraging to me and very kind to my family. You were always genuine. No one ever had to wonder where they stood with you. You let them know in no uncertain terms. I always appreciated that kind of honesty, even though you probably took it a bit too far sometimes.
I guess there’s nothing left to say except farewell, and I’ll miss you. And the Yankees are in fourth place, but the Cardinals are in first.
I was dumbfounded to read this in the “watchdog” press this morning (emphasis added):
City Manager Patrick Urich confirmed Friday afternoon that the City Council ordered funding for Officer Jeff Wilson’s legal fees withdrawn as part of the marathon executive session Tuesday night….
The city decided to continue funding Wilson’s legal fees in June when Nicholson filed for an extension of the no stalking order. That decision apparently was overturned by the council on Tuesday during the executive session.
What’s wrong with this picture? If it’s being accurately reported, it’s a blatant violation of the Open Meetings Act, which requires any final action by a public body to be made in open session. Executive session is for discussion purposes. If the City Council is taking a vote or making any kind of decision (i.e., final action) as a public body on anything — including matters of legal funding or non-funding — it must take such vote in open session at a properly-noticed meeting.
There are legal ramifications to this that can impact the City. According to the Open Meetings Act: “No final action may be taken at a closed meeting. Final action shall be preceded by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and other information that will inform the public of the business being conducted” (5 ILCS 120/2e). If the City were sued over this violation, the court could “declar[e] null and void any final action taken at a closed meeting in violation of this Act” (5 ILCS 120/3c). All of this adds up to more legal fees for the City, which means more taxpayer money being spent.
That the City would play fast and loose with the Open Meetings Act is, alas, no surprise. But I can’t believe this is being reported by the “watchdog” press so matter-of-factly, completely without question, as if this is standard operating procedure. The Open Meetings Act is often skirted via legal loopholes, and the Journal Star turns a blind eye to such shenanigans, even though such skirting is clearly not in the public’s interest. Yet here is not a legal loophole, but an obvious, blatant, and admitted violation.
Did this not raise any red flags at 1 News Plaza?
Artist’s rendering of Northwoods Mall from 1971 promotional material
It opened on August 16, 1973 — 40 years ago next month.
Northwoods Mall was Peoria’s first indoor shopping center, and it was a long time in the making. It was conceived by Carson, Pirie, Scott, & Co., longtime downtown department store anchor and successor to Block & Kuhl. In 1961, they acquired the land bounded by I-74, US-150 (War Memorial Dr.), and Sterling Avenue. Back then, this was the very northwest edge of town. There was no Westlake Shopping Center (that would come shortly after Northwoods was built), let alone Glen Hollow. The land and roads were rural.
Soon, Carson’s partnered with two other downtown stores to become equal partners in the venture: Montgomery Ward and JC Penney. In 1965, a coalition of downtown merchants and some merchants from Sheridan Village raised objections to the rezoning and filed suit against Carson’s. By 1970, the lawsuits were settled out of court, and in February 1970, the Peoria City Council gave final zoning approval.
Construction of the interior of the mall, 1973
Groundbreaking took place on October 26, 1971. It would have retail space of over 700,000 square feet in the middle of 56 acres of land and cost $25 million to build. That’s roughly equivalent to $144 million today. There was space for over 100 stores in addition to the three anchors. Almost 3,700 parking spaces were provided for shoppers. When it opened, it was the largest indoor mall between Chicago and St. Louis.
The mall was designed by Chicago architects Sidney H. Morris & Associates. Original tenants (in addition to the three anchors) included Seno & Sons Formal Wear, Campus Music Shop, Moore Jewelry, Stride Rite Shoes, Susies Casual, Baker Shoes, Jeans West, B. Dalton Book Sellers, Kay Howard Shop, Petrie Stores, Brooks, Byerly Music, Browns Spoting Goods, O’Connell’s Restaurants, Kinney Shoes, Thom McAn, Foxmoor Casuals, Konee’s Restaurant, Fannie May, Tie Hut, Fact Foto, Florsheim, Aladdin’s Castle amusement center, Musicland, Evenson’s Card Shop, Just Pants, Claire’s Boutique, Dutch Mill, Burton’s Shoes, Fab-N-Trim, Page Jewelry, Honey Bear Farm cheese and gourmet food store, Gallenkamp shoes, National Shirt Shops, Paul Harris Stores, Helzberg Jewelers, Orange Bowl fast food store, Regal, General Nutrition, Singer, and Savings Center Enterprises (development corporation owned by First Federal Savings & Loan Assoc.). [See complete list of tenants c. 1984 by clicking here]
The mall was managed by Harold Carlson Associates of Chicago from its opening in 1973 until November 1983. In May 1983, Carson’s sold its one-third share in the mall to Cleveland’s Jacobs-Visconsi-Jacobs mall management firm, and in October, Wards sold their share to Melvin Simon and Associates (now Simon Property Group) of Indianapolis. Simon was chosen to manage the mall in November 1983, and it now fully owns and manages Northwoods. The change in management wasn’t without its critics. Several store owners at the time told the newspaper that Simon was more interested in getting national chains than supporting local stores. Simon countered that they felt they were providing the right mix of chain and local shops to serve the needs of the community.
Original Northwoods logo
The original center court included a 40-foot-tall wood sculpture and a large, four-faced clock tower. There were also sunken seating areas throughout the mall where weary shoppers could rest. These have all been removed in subsequent renovations. The most recent renovation was in 2005. JC Penney is the only remaining original anchor. Carson’s closed in 1983 and was replaced with Famous Barr in October 1985. Famous Barr was later acquired by and changed over to a Macy’s store. Montgomery Ward went out of business in 1997; Sears moved from downtown to Northwoods in 1998.
Perhaps the most famous tenant of Northwoods Mall was the Skewer Inn. In October 1983, 28 people who dined at the Skewer Inn contracted botulism from tainted onions served sauteed on patty melt sandwiches. The sickened restaurant guests survived (well, one person died months later, possibly in part due to complications from the illness), but the restaurant didn’t. Although they tried to reopen, they never could rescue their reputation.
One restaurant that didn’t make lists of tenants was The Nordic House. It was located inside Carson’s on the lower level and had a Scandinavian theme. According to the newspaper, the restaurant “face[d] an outside garden area on two sides, with sculpture and plantings enclosed by a wall attractively blended into the architecture of the building. The restaurant will offer buffet and waitress service for lunch Monday thru Saturday, dinner Monday thru Friday, and will be open for buffet service only on Sunday.” It received good reviews for food and service in later newspaper accounts.
It didn’t take long for Northwoods’ impact to be felt downtown. Just a year after it opened, a study was released that showed sales were down in the old central business district. Downtown retailers tried to stay positive, but within a decade, most of them had closed their downtown stores and either moved to the suburbs (“if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”) or disappeared for good. Today, the central business district is predominantly parking, offices, and civic buildings.
I called Northwoods to see if they have any plans for a fortieth anniversary celebration. They said their plans were not finalized and they were not ready to announce anything at this time, but they’d let me know. If I find out anything, I’ll post the update here.
Share your memories of Northwoods in the comments section below.
1978 postcard advertising Northwoods Mall
PEORIA — Attorneys for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., have notified the City of Peoria, the Peoria Park District, and Peoria Public Schools (District 150) that their client wants to purchase “a portion of Peoria Stadium on War Memorial Drive … for the construction and operation of a Walmart Super Center.”
The letter states that they have read the recent Peoria Journal Star articles on public reaction to selling the stadium site, and that they are “committed to working with each of the public bodies to arrive at a mutually beneficial development.”
Wal-Mart proposes that the school district sell the entire 76-acre site to the City of Peoria. The City would then sell a portion of the site, adjacent to War Memorial Drive and New York Avenue, to Wal-Mart for them to construct their Super Center. Another portion of the land, “within the Stadium Site closer to Lake Street,” would be leased to the Park District to satisfy terms of the Park District’s grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Any remaining parcels would be sold.
Wal-Mart also proposes that the City of Peoria create a business district for the entire stadium site. A business district is an economic development/incentive program under state law. Incentives include reimbursing a business a portion of the cost of redeveloping land within the district, rebating occupation taxes, and even levying taxes within the business district for the purposes of redevelopment. The City currently has such a district downtown called the Hospitality Improvement Zone Business Development District; an extra 1% tax is collected in the HIZ BDD to help pay for the Pere Marquette redevelopment and Courtyard by Marriott construction.
Walmart-Peoria-Stadium Letter (PDF)