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Council brings Wonderful Development back to life, for two weeks at least

It’s alive.

The agreement was cancelled. The developer didn’t perform. The letter had been sent. All the Council needed to do was ratify the action. They could have definitively ended the hotel deal last night. They should have supported the City Manager driven the final stake into the heart of the Wonderful Development.

But they didn’t. They voted to defer the cancellation of the agreement for two weeks. During that time, the City will meet with developer Gary Matthews and try to work out their differences so the project can move forward. If they can’t, then supposedly the Council will end the deal at their next meeting on September 27. (But who can believe that, really? It’s more likely they’ll just defer it again if Matthews misses yet another deadline.)

One must seriously question what difference two more weeks can make considering he’s already nine months past the deadline. But they think they can work things out and allow this project to proceed. They want to bring it back to life.

And who made the motion to keep this project alive? One of the newest council members, Beth Akeson, who ran on a basic services platform in April’s at-large election. Given the opportunity to vote down this expensive white elephant, she led the way in keeping it alive. So it appears it only took five months for her to be assimilated into the Council’s dysfunctional culture of spending gobs of tax money on foolish projects.

On a positive note, though, the other new council member, Chuck Weaver, voted against the deferral, preferring to cancel the project. He can recognize a bad deal when he sees one.

I shouldn’t be surprised by all of this, but I really thought there was a good chance the deal would really die because the Mayor and the City Manager were in favor of killing it. But last night, even the Mayor did an about face and voted for the deferral, speaking in favor of keeping the project alive after all.

Just when there was hope that the City had finally come to its senses, it’s back to business as usual for the Peoria City Council. And the roads continue to crumble. And the police department continues to be stretched thin. But we’ll jump through hoops to give a millionaire developer $37 million of our tax money as a gift.

44 comments to Council brings Wonderful Development back to life, for two weeks at least

  • cttsp5

    What does Matthews have on some of the city council members as he must be black mailing them in order to keep this project alive? Surely no one is that stupid to keep it alive unless something else is truly going on. What a slap in the face to the City Manager! How can they expect anyone else to have respect for Urich when they, themselves, undermine his decisions as they hired him to make correct budget decisions. No wonder they can’t keep City Managers, they like to micro manage.

  • Ptowntrainwreck

    cttsp5: what does matthews have on council?
    A lawsuit. Trust me, they all caved because of the threat of going to court.

    Interesting how Urich was the hit man to send the letter to Matthews and how newcomer Beth Akeson was the sacrificial lamb to make the motion. Ardis, Spain (probably share same toothbrush) are well protected – even though it has been there mission to jamb this and the warehouse district down the throats of the taxpayers.

  • Itchy Brother

    Why did the City Manager send out such a letter BEFORE he had a Council vote behind him? Right now, I can’t think of a single thing more stupid than that action. And, cttsp5, this decision should NOT have been Urich’s to begin with. He is not hired to create and vote for the policy. That’s what the Council is for.

    This hotel thing was approved by the Council, it should be voted down by the Council, NOT via a letter from the recently hired City Manager! I’m just flabbergasted that this Golden Child from the County could have done such an ignorant act as putting this out in such a public forum, without having the final Council vote made FIRST. What a joke. It makes everyone look like the disjointed public body that they’re always accused of being.

    If Urich was acting on Ardis’s orders, then shame on Ardis AND Urich. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

  • ProgressNow

    CJ the money is not a “gift” from the tax payers. Stop adding to the misunderstand that the city has this money just sitting around. It’s a bond that will be repaid from the project. (And I know what you’re going to say, the taxpayers will repay this IF the project fails, but stop assuming failure. You think Marriott International would sign on for 30 years if they think this will fail?) Not only will the bonds be repaid but it was reported that this will create approximately $3 million per year in revenue to the city….which yes can then go to fixing your roads and hiring your police officers. How do you propose improving basic services if we don’t have the money to do so and we are also turning down opportunities to make more money.

  • Ptowntrainwreck

    “If Urich was acting on Ardis’s orders, then shame on Ardis AND Urich”…

    Seriously, WHO is really really running this city? The Mayor or the City Manager?

  • ProgressNow

    @Itchy Brother – I completely agree! Whether you are for this hotel project or not you have to agree that the city manager and mayor are handling this horribly! I think they deferred last night because they realized they F’ed with the letter and now they are back pedaling.

  • motorman

    You should have seen the council members flock to Matthews office last week and I’m sure it will be the same stream of ants marching over there until the next council meeting. Corruption in local politics-imagine that.

  • Paul O'Donnell

    CJ, it’s a wrong that you have the head of the monster representing the project bolted on; you should have used screws.

  • papagrizzly

    Two weeks is enough time to bring New York money by the truckload into Peoria. It’s only 900 miles.

  • Martin Palmer

    This was not a supprise. But Beth was. The letter from State Senator David Koehler plus the unions plus whatever backroom arm twisting happened the Mayor and city manager were thrown under the bus for now. I look to see the can to be kicked down the road even more.
    I for one would like to hear Beth’s side of this.

  • roguemonkey

    Had the news of the Pere being foreclosed upon not been released during the time from the letter being sent and the council meeting this probably would have been squashed last night. Its made people real wishy washy over the entire future of the site with or without development.

    Right now Peoria reeks of desperation (not the usual scent from the plants). Any developer/site selector knows to ask for huge amounts of money to bring their business here. The city has set a bad precedent. On the other hand, I too would require large amounts in a developer fee to deal with the ongoing BS of people that can’t make informed decisions on their own.

    I think we all want to see development and progress within the downtown area, but we’d like to see it done without such chaos.

  • papagrizzly

    This new york consultant sounds fishy to me.

  • meet the real Beth Akeson

    she ran for office on this blog just like the real Eyebrows McGee. Boy can you guys pick em’

  • UnclePugsly

    Mr Cummings, very well put. Every special interest seems to be represented at the Pia Council Mtg, except the abused and worn out taxpayers. What a disgusting way to govern this city.

    Get out of the COP and D150 if you can…

  • ProgressNow: I quote from the redevelopment agreement between the City of Peoria and EM Properties, section 5.1:

    5.1 Project Grant. The City agrees, subject to the disbursement procedures set forth in Article VI below, to make available to Redeveloper a grant for the Project in the amount of Thirty Seven Million and 00/100 Dollars (the “Project Grant”).

    A “grant” is not a loan or something that has to be paid back. It is money that is given for something of (ostensibly) commensurate value. The bonds will (hopefully) be paid back out of the property tax increment (TIF funds) and sales taxes. Guess what that is? Taxpayer money. It is a gift (or “grant,” if you want to get technical) from the taxpayers, no matter how you look at it. And where in the world do you get $3 million in revenue to the City?

  • conrad stinnett

    Kudos to CJ for discussing the somewhat shady history of the so-called “wonderful development” on WCBU last night. I know Tanya was killing time, but I think listeners may have learned a lot about the various under-handed things that have gone on with this project. Also, I appreciated Sandburg, Irving and Weaver stepping up and doing the right thing- voting to pull the plug on a bad deal. The others need to grow some spine.

  • How can you blame Beth? She is a Republican or Conservative through and through. What did you expect? Of course she is going to vote for the money and screw the taxpayers. That is what the GOP does.

  • Anti-Emtronics

    Emtronics you blind partisan fool. Akeson has donated financially to liberal Democrats and to Republicans so she seems to be all over the ideological map. Weaver and Irving are solid Republicans. So your ridiculous point doesn’t hold a drop of water.

    You wrote: “Of course she is going to vote for the money and screw the taxpayer. That is what the GOP does.” Really, you mean Chuck Weaver who hosted President George W. Bush at his home, just defied your stereotype?

  • checking for details

    CJ, wasn’t there a discussion at the last council meeting (or two ago) about pulling money from the Central buisness TIF to be used to fund items in the warehouse district? Gary asked specifically about funding the bonds and it was ignored.

  • Weaver smelled a bad deal. Akeson didn’t. She voted party lines. aka Ardis (who originally wanted out of the deal) Spain, and Christmas Gulley. Whether or not she has donated to the saving of the squid makes no difference. She voted right down the line and she should have been a NO vote on this issue as this issue has been a real cluster f#@k. Don’t shoot the messenger. Instead, let’s ask her why she voted the way she did.

  • “You think Marriott International would sign on for 30 years if they think this will fail?”

    And how many millions of dollars is Marriott spending to build this thing? Maybe I’ve missed it, but I don’t think I’ve seen a number. Money talks.

    “Not only will the bonds be repaid but it was reported that this will create approximately $3 million per year in revenue to the city….”

    And we’ve seen this dog and pony show before. Civic Center loses money with additional taxpayer money. Midtown loses money. Ballpark loses money. Gateway Building loses money. We’re always being fed that some new taxpayer funded development is going to be the financial saving grace for our roads, police and general infrastructure. After awhile taxpayers are tired of hearing “Wolf”.

  • devils_advocate

    ProgressNow: I don’t think marriot owns hotels or will have any stake in this hotel. Private companies own the hotels and license the brand for tens of thousands of dollars every month to attract customers and benefit from the callcenters/websites/marketing that come with the brand. As a condition of the brand the hotel must keep to various standards like pillow top beds in every room, flat screen tvs, on site copy centers, and so forth to provide that level of expected experience. My guess would be that Marriot themselves is extremely supportive of this because “Hey we’re going to get 20K a month for the next 30 years of licensing from this deal”. This is the underlying reason you sometimes see hotels change brand names, what whas an XXXX hotel becomes a YYYY hotel because they either want to raise their standards, or they can no longer keep to the brand’s required standards.

  • devils_advocate

    Along the lines of my last post – it is likely much easier to meet the brand’s standards of being a Marriot Courtyard rather than a full fledged Marriot as was the original vision shared with the city. A full fledged Marriot I’m sure has a lot more requirements for ammenities, room standards, and probably costs more for licensing. Comparing a Marriot courtyard to a full fledged Marriot is comparing apples to oranges, so in my eyes this was another bait & switch pulled on the public.

  • Marriott would gladly sign on for a hundred years to something as long as the initial outlay doesn’t come out of their pockets. I am certain they have carefully weighed their options, and have determined that a failure here would offset enough success to be considered an amortized tax write off for some of their more successful projects.

    The New York consultant, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, seems like he is a qualified professional in the hotel industry. Wouldn’t be so quick to write him off.

    And Chef Kevin is with me at the heart of the matter. Build hotels, restaurants, museums, what have you. If there is nothing to attract visitors to Peoria, they will all sit empty and fall into ruin, as will Peoria. The people who have to be held to task are the people who are in charge of creating viable attractions to our fair town: SMG! Spectracor Management Group is failing to provide the conventions, shows, and other attractions which would bring the masses to Peoria. We either need to impose sanctions on their failures, or get a new management group to come in who can perform.

  • Gary Sandberg

    ProgressiveNow, Cub Foods signed a multiyear lease with Developer of MidTown Plaza and still is paying rent to the Developer……. If in fact you live in Peoria, you are NOW paying the BONDS off out of money that could/should be paying for police, fire and the repair of our streets. The “fact” that Marriot “may” have signed a 30 agreement in compliance with the Redevelopment Agreement, as amended (and I dont believe that is the current situation) should NOT offer any comfort or security to the expectation of success. You also state that this “Wonderful Development” is also going to create a $3,000,000 revenue stream for the City. For the record, the DEBT SERVICE on $37 Million BONDS for 20 plus years will be in the neighborhood of $3,700,000 per year. The estimate of revenue based on 70% occupancy rate at $160/night plus restaurant/banquet revenues inflated to astronomical levels that NO RESTAURANTS IN PEORIA CURRENT COME CLOSE TO barely yields the money for debt service IF THEY MEET THE ASSUMPTIONS. Where is the extra $3,000,000 or are you just drinking the “Mayor’s koolade” also? Peoria taxpayers are currently paying “most” of the debt service on MidTown Plaza ($375,000 per year out of $425,000 debt service) It is NOT to PROGRESSIVE to think the taxpayers can afford the risk of TEN TIMES THAT in the $3,750,000.

    The Deal is a great deal for the developer and a horrific risk to the taxpayers. A risk after 35 years of Public Financing of and subsidization of projects, parking decks, CivicCenters, etc in the Downtown. A risk that AFTER all that earlier investment SHOULD NOT BE BORNE by THE TAXPAYERS.

    If you prime a pump properly at the begining and want some water, the water runs without continued priming…………… I know that may NOT be a progressive thought, but it is a practical one.

  • SD

    What contract, be it loan, mortgage, contract to build or any other contract can be ignored for 9 months past the due date and still be in good standing? No one I know anywhere in the country can get away with that except right here in Peoria. You can do anything you want. Sign any contract and then ignore it for as long as you please and when you are reminded about it throw out the threst to sue the reminder and they let it go and let you hang in there for more time. I just don’t undertand the basic reasoning behind what the city council chooses to do and how they choose to do it with no thought of what it is doing to the citizens of this community. This is totally ridiculous. Wipe the slate clean of these people and get a totally new council. Enough is enough.

  • Ptowntrainwreck

    Mr. Sandberg,
    Could you please share with us laymen what happened in the 2 hour plus executive session?

  • motorman

    What about all the current Pere employees who will lose their jobs when the hotel is undergoing renovations, or when Marriott takes over and hires their own staff. Has anyone heard anything from current employees? Marriott may keep a few of the employees but they will bring in many of their own. Some jobs may be created but many will be lost. If the project goes through and construction starts next year, don’t plan on them honoring your wedding or anniversary reservations either!

  • charlie

    Crack open a cold one and have a good laugh. The crooks are gonna get their money, the people are gonna get screwed, and life will go on…

    I am getting to the point where tilting at windmills is no longer fun or entertaining.

  • UnclePugsly

    How many fat chickens can sit on the taxpayer buildt fence in Peoria before the fence collapses? I think a chicken fry in Peoria is WAY overdue.

  • Dennis in Peoria

    Motorman, I’d ask that question to Sheraton Four Points. They took over the Holiday Inn City Centre, and they remodeled. Do you think they brought in their own people?

    Most of the time, I’ve seen hotels get remodeled in phases, so they can
    stay open, keep employees working, still have guests stay.

    However, if the Pere needs extensive work, it may require temporary closing. But I’m also sure current employees would have 1st crack at the jobs if Marriott requires them to reapply.

  • mazr

    I’m waiting for ProgressNow’s answer to Sandberg’s response.

  • Anti-Emtronics

    Councilman Sandberg, as a conservative Republican I thank you for your service and tenacity on behalf of the taxpayers on this hotel deal especially.

    Council members Irving and Weaver showed backbone and working brains when they joined you in resisting pressure go along, drink the Kool-Aid and get along.

    We ALL need to vociferously speak out personally to each of the other basic math-challenged councl members. We need to tell them to REPRESENT the will of those they represent, and fulfill their fiduciary responsibility by not proceeding with a project that is mathematically impossible to pay off because it is based on fantastical assumptions.

    Plus there is a $34 million taxpayer funded gift involved here for COMMERCIAL infrastructure plus an infamous $9 million sweetheart deal for the developer to cash in before the project sinks or swims. A developer who donated $10,000 to Governor Quinn and then got a big state tax break on this project AFTER the city council already signed off and the deal was supposed to happen without that extra windfall. What a shameful saga. The cheerleaders for this project are corrupt or blind or both.

  • Anti-Emtronics


    Political AMNESTY in the next election for any of the other council members who see the light and vote the right way against this deal on September 29th. Will three more of you please step forward?

    If you don’t, you will smother this city in spiraling out of control debt. Save the taxpayer and save yourselves.

  • District 150 Observer

    What are the predictions as to what the council will do in two weeks?

  • SD

    District 150 Observer, Sameo, sameo. Nothing is going to change. They are going to let this guy get away with it because they are scardy cats that they might get sued. Well its US that are going to be sued. Not a dime comes out of their pockets. I keep thinking and thinking until I get a headache trying to figure out what kind of reasoning are they using. Can’t they just get up enough backbone to say “NO” we are not going to extend you anymore time. Its over! Tell the guy he is fired and get on with life in Peoria. I’m sure you will find another project to waste money on.

  • merle widmer

    I appeared and spoke before the city council to try to appeal to the council’s common sense and stop this bad deal. For at least 75% of the comunity. Even the unioons who badly need jobs, should see that for the long run, this is not in their best interests.

    A friend of mine stood up and said 30,000 seniors were in favor of this deal?????

    Expect Riggenback to vote yes. Tim, a friend of mine, has never seen a taxpayer dollar spent that he didn’t like. I still like the guy. Maybe a little pressure from some of his constituents would help him see that this is another bad deal, especially for the property tax payers.

    And to Beth, this is not what it might appear to be.

  • conrad stinnett

    I had the pleasure of speaking to the Council that night, as well. While I support the restoration of the Pere, I don’t think the City of Peoria has any business providing a gift of taxpayer dollars to the developer. I encourage readers of this blog to reach out to their district rep and to the at-large reps and tell them to put the kibosh on this dubious project ASAP. If Mayor Ardis, and those who carry his water, wish to support the development, I think moral support and encouragement are more than enough. If they want to do more, it should come out their own pockets, not ours.

  • aaron

    my continuing concern is for infrastructure. And I do not mean ring roads or sidewalks in fancy subdivisions. Water. A very basic necessity. Our sewers, water treatments, run-off, etc. are under-maintained. Not just in Peoria, but in most cities existant pre-WWII. Those crows are coming home to roost. Sewer cave-ins, run-off pollution, water treatment facilities below flood plains. see eg, Springfield for cave ins and Jacksonville for water treatment.

    This will supersede even police and fire requirements (which have been reduced to less than optimal in most cities). We are rotting from within and I hope it is addressed.

  • anonymous

    First of all, let me say Gary Mathews is one hell of a nice man, personal attacks are out of place. You can bet they will come back with an agreemnent where the developers feef will be subsantially less that what originally agreed upon.
    Don’t let this stay of execution fool you!

  • District 150 observer

    CJ, are you blogging the council meeting tonight?

    I predict another long exec session and another deferral of action.

  • District 150 observer

    Well, another 2 weeks has passed. Anything new on the Marriott?

  • anonymous

    if they got all that money why raise the garage fees so high, can’t get a second job layoff some firemen or issue so more peoria bonds

    133% increase is unfair to older people they can’t get jobs

    issue more bonds like this
    bond like this PEORIA COUNTY ILLINOIS – 712855HM0



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