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Pro-Wonderful-Development letter-writing campaign continues

Investors, doctors, politicians, and other wealthy and well-connected citizens have been flooding the City Council’s mailboxes with letters of support for Gary Matthews and the downtown hotel project. Many of them are form letters, or at least incorporate boilerplate language such as this:

It is my [or “our”] understanding that EM Properties has worked closely and judiciously with city staff, Civic Center authorities, labor unions, construction companies, lenders, sellers and the well respected hotel group, Marriott, in order to piece together all of the parts of this intricate transaction. All aspects of the project have been vetted, reworked and vetted again to insure its success. It is crucial to the revitalization of our downtown and the future of our city and region that the project moves forward. Job creation and maintenance are vital.

The completion of this project will better position many companies in the area to better market our community and enrich our local economy in order to compete with surrounding areas.

In March of this year, ground was broken for a new Courtyard by Marriott in Newark, New Jersey. It will include 150 rooms and 14,000 square feet of retail space, and is “expected to generate approximately 175 construction jobs, and a total of between 50 and 75 permanent jobs through the hotel and retail operations.” How much money do you think the City of Newark contributed to this boon to their local economy? Answer: a $500,000 loan “to assist the Courtyard by Marriott with gaining site control.”

Meanwhile in Peoria, to get our own new 119-room Courtyard by Marriott, plus a renovation of the Pere Marquette with a gerbil tube to the Civic Center, it will take a gift of $37 million from the taxpayers. Does something seem a little off to you? Perhaps the reason is that our workers are not as efficient. According to a May 23, 2010 Journal Star article, “professor Bob Scott at Bradley University expects 840 construction jobs to be created when EM Properties and Marriott International team up on the $102 million Downtown project.” That’s nearly five times as many construction jobs as are necessary to build a hotel in Newark.

I think the letter writers and supporters of the Wonderful Development are missing the point. They’re all arguing the merits of an upscale downtown hotel in close proximity or connected to the Civic Center. That’s all well and good. But at what price? Should the City take on a third of the risk for this $102 million private development? Should a City taking on said risk continue to trust a developer that has demonstrated a consistent inability to meet deadlines and projections? Would doing so really be in the taxpayers’ best interests? If the developer is unable to meet short-term projections (like when he can start construction), how can we trust him to meet long-term projections (like the future profitability of the venture)?

This project has been approved for two and a half years. It was approved twice. It has been over nine months since the latest deadline was missed. Each time the developer has come to the table, he’s assured the council that he was ready to start. In May 2010, he said he was ready to start “immediately.” Everything was in place. All that was missing was the Council’s approval.

Sixteen months later, nothing has started, and the City Manager cancels the agreement. So now what do we hear? Here’s another sample from a pro-hotel letter to the Council: “All pieces are in place, as outlined in brief above, we just need the nod from the council, and the city to sell the bonds. We can close in 60 days.” Where have we heard that before?

The Wonderful Development must die.

50 comments to Pro-Wonderful-Development letter-writing campaign continues

  • Dee

    Here comes Matthews asking for another extension-mark my words.

  • Kev

    The powers that be will ask the city council to postpone the vote until they can get their “new numbers” together. If this happens, it will be a slam dunk in the face of the taxpayers.

  • conrad stinnett

    I wish Matthews had been as diligent in meeting his deadlines with the City as he is in trying to convince the City Council not to ratify his being dropped.

  • Mahkno

    The Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce strikes back (w/ form letters)?

  • Question

    Wasn’t Matthews behind on payments on a different project just a few months ago?

  • Vonster

    Maybe Gary was depending on a form of institutional inertia to get the Wonderful Development done? Once you get enough cattle running the same direction it’s kinda hard to get them to change course – even if they’re headed to the slaughter.

  • I repeat, we are all missing the point. The Wonderful Development will sit empty and unused if the Civic Center/SMG continues to lose business to the surrounding venues. Unless SMG can step up their game and start putting butts in the seats for events, there is no point in building a Marriott, expanding the restaurants, or anything else for that matter. The Chiefs and the Rivermen are not enough to fill the hotels and restaurants, and the idea that the Museum will draw massive crowds is absurd. Big Al’s will bring in a portion of the funds, but not that much. The only real draw we have is our proximity to the Par-a-dice, and that should have been on our side of the river in the first place. This Cart-before-the-horse thinking is what has gotten us into this mess, and to continue in this direction is the surest way to failure.

  • mazr

    Probably the same group behind the other wonderful development.

    I have a bad feeling the Council (not all of them) will cave on this one.

  • Dennis in Peoria

    EM Properties was behind in payments for the GEM Tower in East Peoria. It was reported about 2 weeks ago that those payments have been caught up.

    My concern now is, if the City Council gives EM Properties a 2nd chance (or is it 3rd ?), then they may come back in a few months and
    cry that construction costs have gone up since the 2010 approval, and instead of needing a $37 M bond issue, they now need $41 M from the City.
    And the developers fee is now $10 million dollars. Again, just a concern.

    I really don’t have any other answers to this predicament. We have an EDC for this area; have they looked or tried to persuade other hotel chains to come and build into that block, with very little public assistance?

  • If these are the same “investors, doctors, politicians, and other wealthy and well-connected citizens” that thought the (still losing money) Civic Center, Mid-town Plaza, Gateway Building, ball park (and probably the museum) were a good idea, the smart city council person would run away. Unfortunately I think few other than Sandberg will bring their track shoes.

  • mazr


    Here we go !!!! Grab your popcorn and your ankles !!! The mighty have spoken and THEIR elected officials will concur.


  • Mahkno

    If the city council votes to give Mathews more time, does this undermine Patrick Urich’s ability to be an effective city manager, ie undermining his authority?

  • checking for details

    how many are meeting…the majority of a quorum? was notice given. If they are meeting to decide the fate of the project. they are in fact conducting business. Is this an execuative session?

  • Karrie E. Alms

    Even if it were an executive session … there has to be public notice that the council was going to be holding an executive session …. perhaps someone should check with the City Clerk … Mary Haynes

    or ask the Week Reporter for more details….

    And Fred … I do not think that some of us are missing the point …. at least several of us have, over the years, given in depth reports about the connection of these puzzle pieces … alas, we are told to go home and stop giving these public announcements that the emperor has no clothes …. and the insanity continues ….

    Vonster …. Amen.

  • District 150 Observer

    Urich should have never sent the letter to Matthews without consulting the Council

  • D150 Observer: Urich did not act alone, as you imply. Urich had the Mayor’s support. Mayor Ardis wrote the cover letter to the Council informing them the letter was being sent. The cover letter further stated that he felt the Council’s consent was not necessary, but was going to bring it to the floor for ratification just to be on the safe side.

  • pdw.

    It’s Urich’s job to run the city. Council’s to appropriate funds and to legislate. That is the city manager form of government that we have. This is a bad deal. Build a hotel in lot next to civic center. Turn Pere into senior housing. both don’t need tax dollar supports for this. save money from an extended skyway. This is one groups project. Still have no answers as to what long term family wage jobs this project creates. only short term construction jobs. Not a good investment into our struggling economy.

  • Karrie E. Alms

    CJ writes … According to a May 23, 2010 Journal Star article, “professor Bob Scott at Bradley University expects 840 construction jobs to be created when EM Properties and Marriott International team up on the $102 million Downtown project.” That’s nearly five times as many construction jobs as are necessary to build a hotel in Newark.

    Professor Scott also expected a lot of construction jobs with the museum project. Any way to figure out if his ‘expections’ have turned into reality?

  • anp

    I believe that the term “create jobs” is an incorrect term to use and wish it had been challenged earlier. The projects will employ a number of people (maybe in the hundreds) but those people will be existing construction/trades people – not new position created for these projects.

    While I have no idea if an extension will be granted, if it is it will be interesting to watch and see how quickly this moves forward, if it all. I can just see it now as the end of the extension period closes in how the news reports from the developer will be how “close” he is and how just a little more time is needed.

  • Martin Palmer

    “Council’s consent was not necessary, but was going to bring it to the floor for ratification just to be on the safe side.”
    With that statement said what if the council turns down the ratification that would put the Mayor and city manager bad spot. Smells funny.

  • Kev

    CAT is investing $$ in the project-of course they will get their way.

  • Peo Proud

    I doubt that the letter was sent without some level of advance discussion / concurrence with the City Council. Probably happened in closed session so they don’t have to admit that it occurred at this point. If Urich did on his own (even with just the Mayor’s support), that’s pretty aggressive and shows a level of independence and foresight we’ve lacked in any City Manager in over a decade. Urich is a smart man and if he’s playing the role of bad guy for the Council (so they can keep hands clean) that’s part of being City Manager….but I doubt that the Council wasn’t informed, on board and in support of his sending the letter.

  • District 150 observer

    CJ, I never said Urich “acted alone”. I said he didn’t act with council consultation. I never mentioned Ardis.

  • Cameron

    Yet another perfect example of the complete disconnect between the middle class, hard working people, and the elitist upper class that pushes their agenda at will.

  • District 150 observer

    Cameron, everybody pushes their agenda. What does the hotel have to do with economic classes of people?

  • Cameron

    For real, D150 observer?

    Who stands to benefit from this? The wealthy business owners with interests in and around the downtown area. Who stands to lose their shirts, again? Every Peoria citizen. Disconnect.

  • UnclePugsly

    Bob Scott is a paid homer for whoever needs their pet project polished up. Kill this project and start over – Peoria deserves MUCH better than this monstrosity, which will be just another very ugly scar on the face of a once prosperous town. Using the Newark, NJ project analogy, the PIA taxpayers should be getting a WHOLE LOT MORE for their $37M than a big box motel.

  • District 150 observer

    Cameron, methinks you are not thinking straight. Economic prosperity for Peoria elevates everybody. Now you can argue that the hotel deal is too expensive for the city, but this isn’t a “class” issue, IMO.

  • Ummm … yes it is. It’s mostly a benefit for the well-to-do people who live outside the city on it’s outskirts. Most of the jobs would be nickle and dime jobs selling refreshments.

    This whole civic center has been about taking nickles and dimes from poor people who buy food and providing a placed for people to go see opera.

  • Vonster

    Karrie: It’s what got the Wreck Plex and the Wonderful Stadium built….

  • District 150 observer

    This is the first time I have ever heard a downtown hotel and the Civic Center combined with the class warfare manifesto. ^^shrugs^^

  • Well, THIS particular downtown hotel was to be physically connected to the Peoria Civic Center. It certainly comes as a shock to me that you think the two are unrelated, considering that every argument for this hotel project hinges on the the need to prop up the PCC (which, BTW, is till losing money more than 20 year later).

  • District 150 observer

    But, Dennis, how does the class warfare thing relate to this? That argument came out of left field.

  • District 150 observer

    sorry, Billy. 🙂

  • Ptowntrainwreck

    Something is verrrry fishy here.
    I am going to go out on a limb and suggest there is another party (developer) secretly involved with Marriott to do this deal sometime in the near future. Perhaps they are waiting for the pre-foreclosure process to continue and then do a short sale… This might be why the mayor is doing an abrupt about face and sent Urich out to be the fall guy. I find it hard to believe that they would let Pere fall into a boarded up ghost building in the center of downtown without a backup plan. If this is the case, they have been working secretly (mayor/urich) with an unknown party since Urich was hired. Marriott isn’t dumb – and Matthews appears to be the duller knife in the drawer with no cash. There is a market for this project, believe or not, just not at the dollar amounts being proposed.

  • Dennis in Peoria

    I guess my next question would be to the Civic Center and/or the Convention & Visitors Bureau:
    How many conventions have you had to turn away, or how many conventions have turned Peoria down because of the lack of hotel space in downtown Peoria?

    Don’t forget we have Staybridge, which is about a half-block away (although not full service), there is the recently remodeled Four Points Sheraton, (who invested all private monies, no public monies); and there is the Mark Twain, whose owners have constantly remodeled and upgraded on their own dime.

    Maybe if someone else took over the Pere, and made it like it was in its heyday, then there would be enough rooms for some of these conventions without the Marriott Courtyard. Just a thought

  • Ptowntrainwreck

    Marriott looking to do a stand alone only and has a different site (??). They wouldn’t be here if this was a total failure (demand). They aren’t in the historic rehab business. Nor is Matthews.

  • Karrie E. Alms

    D150 Observer: Peoria elected officials, perhaps like many cities across the US, continue to pat average citizens on their heads when they offer up any suggestions which do not fit into the plan of the elite — whatever criteria you use for elite based on money, power, connection, affliation, social, economic or political.

    Haves and have nots (and not just restricted to $) class warfare … it has always existed and it continues today and will into the future. Agendas … is what many people call them. As individuals, communities, nations, and as a world … we are operating on an inclusive to exclusive scale or range about every decision that we make. On a need to know basis.

    As for Peoria politics, having lived here for about 18 years, I can name countless projects which are run up the flag pole with very little public input and/or public ablility to change the project. Once the ‘elite’ advance the project …. resistance is futile in most cases. It is an arduous task to turn the helm of the ship to a different course … there have been some successes by citizens and regrettably, they are the exception rather than the rule.

    Who is invited to the table to have input?

    Whose input is seriously considered?

    Whose input is seriously advanced after consideration?

    And now, the latest game in town, which is just a variation on a theme from years past …. invite the public and tell them that their input is ote ts to

  • Karrie E. Alms

    sorry about that …. my post posted and I was not done editing it …

    And now, the latest game in town, which is just a variation on a theme from years past … invite the publc and reassure them that their input is important and help them to feel good about participating and that they really matter.

    Gather their input and then do not follow it.

    No project is so great that it has to be voted on now, now, now or the opportunity is lost. There is documentable evidence regarding projects for the past 18 years at least for many projects being proposed and sold as the latest bullet to get Peoria on the road to prosperity. Hasn’t happened, isn’t going to happen and Peoria will continue to decline until our elected officials sincerely change their behavior and their walk matches their talk to really represent their constituency (not just those constituents who benefit from public largesse.)

    Vonster … I am well aware of the projects you mentioned … having been personally involved in saving the taxpayer millions of dollars on the RecPlex – Riverplex by holding PPD’s feet to the fire. Amen was my way of resoundingly agreeing with all that you wrote. 🙂

  • District 150 observer

    well, Karrie the “average citizen” can vote the bums out any time they want. Recent poll results show the “average citizen” isn’t as frustrated as many here think……

  • That’s pretty naive, isn’t it, D150 Observer? There’s a reason voters are apathetic. It’s not because they’re not frustrated. It has more to do with sustained disempowerment leading to resignation.

  • Karrie E. Alms

    D150 Observer … you are correct … they can be voted out of office.

    You might want to look at the voting statistics … about the locations of citizens voting for the candidates … pathetically, many voters do not vote … and so it continues …

  • District 150 Observer

    CJ, I don’t buy it. This blog is a protrected little space and the few people here tend to think everybody outside of here feels like they do. It just isn’t so. No offense, I like this blog. This just isn’t mainstream.

  • checking for details

    District 150. You are correct. Most people are illinformed and frankly my dear don’t give a damn.

  • D150 Observer — Thanks for being one of the few people visiting my protected little space. No offense taken.

  • checking for details

    150, cite the polls you speak of and I now know who you must be. only a handfull of folks run polls and even fewer have access to them.

  • District 150 Observer

    I mean where you vote–the ultimate poll. The voting booth.

  • District 150 Observer

    Your welcome CJ. 🙂

  • Chase Ingersoll

    I agree with: Ptowntrainwreck.

    Also: the vast majority of voters, vote because they want to pat themselves on the back for doing their civic duty on one day of the year, when the other 355 they have remained willfully ignorant of what is actually going on. This includes those that are voting because they seem to remember one of the Candidates mentioning that they were going to give them [that voter] something for free.

    The voters are getting what they deserve – bondage in the form of taxes and debt.

    Those of you who are not willfully ignorant – put that number to saving yourself. The great unwarshed body politic of ignorant masses is too morbidly corrupt to solve anything by any means other than the smothering of democracy by their collective instant gratification.

  • District 150 Observer

    I hope the Marriott project is voted down tonight. I think it will be…..