November 2012
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  • Karrie E. Alms: Amazing insight into the world of politics awaits any reader at pibgorn … from a Demon’s...
  • Tony: Homefield is Dynegy. Dynegy is Ameren. There Charging You twice for the same energy. Do you really thihk $.04...
  • SouthEnder: Also does anyone remember the Velvet Freeze located on Jefferson St, up the street from the Warner Homes....
  • Eric Pollitt: I flew economy class to Hong Kong for Christmas vacation, which is a 14 hour flight. When I got back...
  • Mike: Homefield has been sold to dynery. Google dynegy scandal to see who your new parent is. If this upsets you give...
  • mortified: Fun while it lasted. Godspeed!
  • aaron: your blogging will be missed but i know that your spirit of fairness will remain alive in your other...
  • Jon: CJ, your blog was a revelation and an inspiration. You have a wonderful talent that is an asset to the...
  • Billy Dennis: Of course the Chronicle is done: Screw you. The Chronicle is one of the best researched blogs...
  • Paul Wilkinson: CJ, am sorry you have ended your blog. It was well done. It seems many have given up as we keep...
  • Sharon Crews: Your voice is definitely needed in this community. Thanks for all your insights.
  • emergepeoria: Your blog is great resource to research Peoria issues. I hope you leave it up.
  • BucketHead: I was not suggesting that, I believe the both of you had very strong common sense and that lead to your...
  • C. J. Summers: Without anonymity, there is no courage among my detractors. Take a look back at the wide variety of...
  • Of course the Chronicle is done: Without Sandberg to give stores to the Chronicle there is no Chronicle.

Peoria Riverfront Museum: A Review

The new Peoria Riverfront Museum opened last month, and a generous friend of mine gave me four free passes to encourage me to see it for myself. I took my kids on Saturday, Nov. 10, around 12:15 and we stayed until the museum closed at 5. It was fairly well-attended; I saw perhaps one to two hundred people while we were there.

The Exterior

We parked at Riverfront Village and walked across Water Street to the museum block. There is no entrance from Water Street, so visitors approaching from this side either have to circle the block or do what we did: climb the bare concrete stairs and cross the open space between the museum and the Caterpillar visitor center.

The pedestrian experience on Water Street is truly regrettable. The building is set back from the street over 100 feet. Between the street and the building is a berm, the aforementioned stairs, and the bare concrete air vents for the underground parking garage. Behind that — a half block away — the museum monolith rises above the landscape with its cold, gray, metallic siding.

Once you climb the stairs, there is a welcome surprise: the open space between the museum and Caterpillar visitor center is paved with bricks instead of concrete. Brick pavement provides a permeable membrane; that is, rainwater can pass between the bricks to the ground beneath, reducing runoff into the storm sewers. From the museum’s promotional material, it appears that water runoff is channeled to small gardens/plantings around the site.

The Entrance and the Theater

We entered the museum through the front doors that face Washington Street, through a large lobby, and up to the front desk. There were a lot of workers throughout the museum, and they were all very pleasant and helpful. We handed over our free passes and were each given a wristband that gave us access to all the exhibits and the planetarium, but not the “giant screen” theater. Had we paid for admission, it would have cost us $32.30 ($9.35 for adults, $7.65 for children) because we’re Peoria County residents and would enjoy a 15 percent discount. Normal price is $11 for adults and $9 for children.

I learned that the 15 percent discount for Peoria County residents does not apply to the “giant screen” theater. Everyone must pay full-price, which is $10 for adults and $8 for children. That came to $34 for me and my three children to see a 45-minute movie (“Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure” in 3D), plus the cost of popcorn and drinks. The museum workers really touted the size of the screen before starting the movie, specifically comparing it to the comparatively smaller IMAX theater at Rave Motion Pictures by the Shoppes at Grand Prairie. The museum group originally promised the public an IMAX theater that would show first-run Hollywood films, but then switched to a little-known brand (Global Immersion) showing primarily educational films once taxpayers had approved a referendum to help build the museum.

The screen was indeed very large (70 feet wide by 52 feet high), and the picture quality from the 4K (4096 x 2160 pixels) digital projector was superb. The audio system was designed by Legacy Audio, a manufacturer of high-end audio equipment. In fact, the president and founder of Legacy Audio, Bill Dudleston, actually designed this system specifically for integration with Global Immersion’s theater installations. I’ve heard Legacy speakers before because my uncle is an audiophile and used to sell their speakers. They have a very good reputation, and the sound in the theater was fantastic.

However, without the IMAX brand, and without first-run movies (or any Hollywood films, at present), this state-of-the-art theater is not going to draw many people. It’s a pretty hard sell to bring the family out for a 45-minute educational film at first-run theater prices. Fewer paid admissions means the museum will be hard-pressed to break even, given their pro forma operating budget.

The Exhibits

The museum is billed as “interdisciplinary,” and its mission is “to inspire lifelong learning for all — connecting art, history, science and achievement through collections, exhibitions and programs.” To that end, the museum includes the following exhibits: IHSA Peak Performance (achievement), “The Illinois River Encounter” (science), “The Street” and African American Wall of Fame (history), and International Feature Gallery (art). The planetarium and the aforementioned large-screen theater also add to the science portion (predominantly) of the museum.

We actually went to the theater later in the day. The first thing we did after getting our wristbands was to visit the Illinois High School Association’s Peak Performance gallery. It included a number of interactive displays that my kids thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, they could have spent the whole day in this one area and been content. We visited it about three times altogether. Their favorite displays were the ones where you see how high you can jump, how fast your reaction time is, how well you can balance, and how fast you can throw a baseball.

In the Illinois River Encounter, most of our time was spent in a room with a model of a river channel where you can manipulate sand and water to see how silt and sediment affects the flow of water down the river. The kids really enjoyed this interactive feature. My son also liked the display on the sinking of the Columbia, a steamboat that sank near Creve Coeur in 1918. There were several parts of the displays that were unfinished. For instance, there’s a small aquarium where fish from the Illinois river will be displayed, but it was not up and running yet.

Next, we went to “The Street” and, since I’m interested in Peoria history, I spent the most time here. The kids breezed through the exhibits pretty quickly, but spent most of their time in a side room with interactive displays that appeared to be designed to keep the kids occupied while adults looked at the exhibits. They looked at small objects through a high-powered microscope, put together model cars and raced them down a track, and fit magnetic gears together on a large board and spun them.

“The Street” was smaller than I expected and offered a pretty truncated view of Peoria’s history. As you enter and go to the left, there are four panels that cover Native American history of Peoria, French exploration of the area, the rise of the City, and then modern-day Peoria. About as brief of an overview as you can imagine. Again, there were several displays that were incomplete or not yet open. On the right as you enter there is a large display of Peoria’s distilling history and a display on the mass-production of penicillin at the ag lab. In the middle of the floor was an old Caterpillar engine and some historic bicycles.

Strangely, the really big Peoria history artifacts weren’t even in this area: the Duryea automobile that used to be housed at the Peoria Public Library was tucked away downstairs away from all the other exhibits, and the old courthouse clock was perched above the stairway by the giant screen theater.

Tucked in another side room was an interactive computer display where you can look up information on famous Peorians like Richard Pryor and Betty Friedan. It wasn’t the easiest display to navigate and didn’t offer video or audio–just static images and a lot of text to read. The African American Hall of Fame is located here, too. Not exactly prominently displayed.

I also question some of the history. One display indicated that the “village” of Peoria was incorporated in 1831, then incorporated as a city in 1845. While the latter date is correct, I cannot find any history book that talks about Peoria being incorporated as a “village” and certainly not in 1831. The Town of Peoria was incorporated in 1835; perhaps that’s what they meant. In any case, it made me suspect of some of the other information that was presented.

We next went to the movie, then to the art gallery, which didn’t seem to have any particular theme. I had to laugh at one of the pieces of art — a watercolor painting of the museum. Seriously? There was another entire room that was unfinished; it still had ladders and bare drywall. If I had had to pay full admission, I would have been upset that so much of the museum was not yet complete.

Our final stop of the day was at the planetarium. I had wanted to see Stars of Peoria, but the time it was available was the same time as the giant-screen movie. So we instead saw the “Laser Vinyl” laser light show. The kids thought it was pretty cool overall, although my son fell asleep. They had never seen a laser show before. My oldest daughter even recognized some of the songs.

We checked out the museum store on our way out. Even though the museum was closing to the general public, it was just opening for a special showing to the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, complete with hors d’oeuvres in the lobby.

Final Thoughts

For a building that is so oddly shaped and sited, the inside was surprisingly squared off. The exhibit spaces were in rectangular rooms. It made me wonder why the exterior needed to be so sprawling and inefficiently sited. The displays could easily have been placed in a building that sat on a corner of the old Sears block and rose four or five stories. That would have been cheaper to build and would have opened the rest of the block to other, mixed uses — residential, retail, restaurants. Instead, the block is completely dedicated to the museum and the Cat visitor center, both of which close around 5 p.m., leaving the block empty and the street inactive.

For a building that looks so large from the outside, it felt surprisingly small on the inside. I was especially disappointed with the small amount of space dedicated to Peoria’s history. When talk of a downtown museum first started, it was originally envisioned to be a Peoria history museum. Over the years, it morphed into an “everything” museum, largely at the instigation of former congressman Ray LaHood. Unfortunately, the museum is now the proverbial “jack of all trades, master of none.” It’s like the diner that has every dish you can imagine on the menu, but doesn’t fix any of them particularly well.

21 comments to Peoria Riverfront Museum: A Review

  • Mua

    From CJ, I think this is about the best the Museum could hope for, and I therefore consider this a “passing” grade.

  • soothsayer

    This museum is a waste of money. The public was promised a BWM and got an Edsel instead!

  • Galas Galore

    What a wonderful building for all the fancy galas:

    “Even though the museum was closing to the general public, it was just opening for a special showing to the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, complete with hors d’oeuvres in the lobby.”

  • Sue

    I miss Lakeview!……

  • jack

    I was a big supporter of the museum but I have changed my mind. I know it’s too late but whether I had supported it or not would not have made a difference. I was disappointed in just about all aspects of it. First of all it was a huge waste of space on the block. Like CJ suggested, It could have been built on one corner and the rest of the block could have been made up of private development. The Water St. side is a wasteland. Actually Water St. from the RiverPlex all the way down to the museum is so uninteresting I can hardly stand it. I could go on about the inside of the museum but I won’t.

  • point of order

    Off the subject a little,but not too far, I received my water bill the other day and noticed the garbage “fee” is not being collected anymore. Does anyone know how it is going to be collected from now on?

  • I was told by Councilman Turner at the Council’s Breakfast Nov 1, that they had found another way to bill so it has repercussions. Like with the water bill, if you didn’t pay the $13 Grab age Fee, your water was shut off, so it will be with this new billing only he wouldn’t say what company is going to handle it. So be prepared for a increase in something else, I am thinking CILCO bill.

  • checking for details

    My question :why PDC couldn’t bill for themselves, like any other business. Why are the taxpayers supplimenting PDC’s income by eliminating their cost of doing business?

    answer was: PDC would have to hire additional staff to do that. So, the taxpayers instead have to foot the bill. this was Spain’s buddies who got the contract. very generous campaign doners are PDC owners.

  • I think this was a very fair review, although I’m a little surprised that you could spend nearly five hours in there; granted, I didn’t see a ‘giant screen theatre’ movie or a show at the planetarium.

    A few things… I parked in the same place as you, to avoid paying to park, and entered in through the parking garage and took an elevator up to the main floor.

    The IHSA interactive area was pretty good but their display cases didn’t do much for me.

    The sand water exhibit was interesting but the barge water feature was sort-of lame. I enjoyed the short movie at the entrance to the ‘river encounter’ which spoke of Emiquon and other nearby nature preserves and thought the entire exhibit was quite well done.

    The art gallery had a few interesting things, but nothing I’d pay to go back to see.

    Like you, I was mostly interested to see the history section and was utterly disappointed. It was static and unengaging, glossing over topics, and of course, Richard Pryor was nowhere to be seen unless you searched hard. I was pleasantly surprised to see a small writeup on Octave Chanute, and got a chuckle out of Ransburg’s Nelson Sprinkler which seemed to stick out like a sore thumb.

    What bothered me most was how much was unfinished… I payed full admission for something that was still under construction. Either delay the opening or discount the admission price accordingly.

    Overall I thought it had some nicely presented exhibits, mainly the Illinois River area, but nothing to go bonkers about or to go back for. If they have a good traveling exhibit, I may go back. I’d also pay a premium to see to see the movie “Lincoln” or “Hitchcock” in the theatre, which would seem like a no-brainer grand slam, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen anytime soon.

    aside… my wife visited the Caterpillar museum a few days ago and said it was really cool, so I’m looking forward to checking that out.

  • Ah…those free tickets. I wonder how many other of the 100-200 people there were on a complimentary pass? Not making any money this way.

  • I’ve heard similar reviews from about 15 people saying the exact same thing. Not that they went into it looking to criticize it, they were hopeful, but let down afterwards.

    Offering a sterile view of Peoria’s history is like telling the history of Chicago without the presence of Al Capone – people like that it isn’t perfect. Coming from someone who isn’t from Peoria and pretty new to the area, I have found there is some really fascinating stuff but you have to dig for it (sometimes literally). In order to get the Warehouse District “right” which will embrace Peoria’s past, it must come to grips that gritty can be interesting.

  • MW

    Thank you for your review. I look forward to visiting the museum to see what it has to offer. Will you go back and if so, will you pay admission to support the museum next time? That is not meant in a negative way, just an honest question. I appreciate your detailed review here. Have a good day.

  • Why should CJ pay? I have seen droves of so called people in the know who have scored FREE tickets to the museum. They aren’t handing them out to the taxpayers but if you know someone in the right place, you get FREE tickets. One would think that with the low numbers, FREE tickets would be over.

  • checking for details

    free tickets allow them to boost the attendance numbers, giving the illusion of the place to be.

  • The free tickets were just for the museum, not the movie. So I “supported” the museum with $34 in tickets, plus whatever I spent on concessions (somewhere around $50 total), to see the Giant Screen Theater.

    Plus, I’m paying extra taxes on every purchase I make in Peoria county that goes directly to the museum. Plus, there’s the $1 million in land that the City gave them as a gift from the taxpayers, including me. So I think I’ve given them plenty of “support” without visiting again and paying admission to the museum.

  • Info

    When you upgrade your membership with specific “tracks” they include some guest passes with your membership card. Sorry Emtronics – no conspiracy.

  • MW

    Well thank you again for the review, the good and bad that you pointed out. I enjoyed the read. I didn’t mean my question in a negative way but it seemed to strike a nerve based on your response so I apologize for that. Take care.

  • Thanks for the review. As a Trustee with the Peoria Historical Society, I am concerned about the accuracy of Peoria history at the museum. I am checking a few things right now.

    I toured the museum for free during the Board Preview before it was opened to the public.

  • tifnot1

    Interesting that Peoria is going broke but yet was able to afford giving away such am important piece of land AND take taxpayers money. Maybe they should spend more money on things that will really make Peoria a better city … Something that would benefit the people who live and own homes in Peoria – let’s face it Peoria is NOT a destination city folks. I came back home to visit and thought the museum was an eyesore and didn’t really fit into the downtown area at all. Too bad!

  • merle widmer

    C.J., not $1 million in land for the PRM but closer to the $18 million one deposed City Manager emailed me and the $12 million Mayor Ardis emailed me. Sure, it hadn’t been sold but the right buyer hadn’t come along but eventually would have. Or it could have been turned into more green space with amenities such as an outdoor winter skating park.

    Then there is the $600,000 private donors contributed that could have been contributed to local charities.

  • merle widmer

    The $600+ thousand was to advertise the vote for the referendum that all along was to fund one public facility, the RFM, with some money left over to help fund Headington Oaks, already funded by $3 million of property taxpayers each year.