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Museum’s fate in the taxpayers’ hands

PRM LogoWEEK-TV reports that the Peoria Riverfront Museum is only going to receive four to ten million dollars in New Market Tax Credits — far, far less than the $100 million they were hoping to receive. Now there’s only one place left to get funding: the taxpayer.

So, museum officials appeared before the Peoria County Board tonight and asked for $24 million to plug the funding gap. Just for comparison purposes, the county collected $22.35 million in property taxes in 2006, and the proposed spending plan for 2008 is $122.1 million, according to the Journal Star. It’s a lot of money, and obviously it would have to be raised through municipal bonds.

How much would the repayment of those bonds be per taxpayer? I don’t know, but consider that the library referendum, which asked for bonding $35 million, would raise taxes by $50 per $100,000 equalized assessed valuation (EAV). Using that as a baseline, bonding $24 million could be in the neighborhood of $34 per $100,000 EAV. Granted, it might actually be less, since the library referendum was just for the city, and this request would include the whole county. On the other hand, most of the taxes in the county come from the city of Peoria, so it’s not going to be a whole lot less. [UPDATE: According to the Journal Star, “Museum backers say their preliminary figures indicate that…the cost to the owner of a $100,000 home would be about another $20 a year.”]

And the Museum officials need to know by the end of the year if the County is going to pitch in. That doesn’t give them much time to study or debate the proposal. And it certainly doesn’t give them enough time to have a referendum vote like the library did. The reason for the deadline? They have to have their funding in place by the end of the year in order to get that $4-10 million in New Market Tax Credits.

The Museum officials’ argument is that all museums receive public funding, and they were counting on getting $24 million in federal and state dollars that didn’t materialize. So, now the only public funding sources left are local, and the city council has made it abundantly clear they’re not going to consider any more requests for money from the museum folks. That leaves the County.

So, should the local taxpayers bail out the museum?

Believe it or not, I’m not inherently opposed to some public funding for a Peoria history museum. Further, I’m not inherently opposed to those funds coming from the county either, since I think such funding should be as regional as possible. But the question is, is this museum proposal fiscally responsible and worthy of public funding — specifically, $24 million in public funding?

I don’t think so, mainly for reasons I’ve detailed in this previous post.

Just as a thumbnail sketch, my primary concern is with the interior of the museum — it’s too small for the all the subject matter it wants to cover, even utilizing the vaunted “Delta approach.” There’s not enough storage space for artifacts. In fact, they would largely have to be stored off-site. It is, in part, a replacement of Lakeview Museum, which is unnecessary and unjustifiable.

Second, the exterior is completely objectionable. It is the antithesis of the type of development for that block that has been recommended by every consultant the city has hired from Demetriou to DPZ. The block should be urban in character, dense, and include a mix of uses including retail and residential components to make the block active 24/7. The museum’s plan is suburban in character, it leaves two-thirds of the block as open space, and is single use, making the block active only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In fairness, there is a small retail component on the Water Street side in the plans, but (a) it’s not part of the initial phase, (b) it’s a very small portion of the block, and (c) there’s no residential component which is what would make the block active 24/7.

I have other concerns, but I don’t want to look like I’m piling on. Suffice it to say, I am opposed to using public funds for this museum plan. But I still think we need a Peoria History Museum (not a Peoria Art-Science-History-Achievement-And-A-Partridge-In-A-Pear-Tree Museum), and that the Peoria Historical Society should begin (resume?) working on such a project. It could be built on a portion of the Sears block, or it could be put in a remodeled/reused building somewhere downtown. I think there would be enthusiastic support for such a project if it’s focused, offers sufficient space, and has an attractive, urban design.

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