Exclusive: Stadium deal nixed by District 150

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Thanks to a conscientious former Peoria County board member and neighborhood leader, the famed Peoria Stadium was close to placing a sold sign on its property on War Memorial Drive. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but credit Bill O’Brien with trying. Knowing the school district needs money and had sought to sell it, O’Brien, a good Catholic, also was aware that Notre Dame was pursuing big plans for a sports complex on Allen Road. “Why not see if those two goals would be compatible,” O’Brien reasoned. So he went to work.

O’Brien spent hours on the phone trying to set up a meeting with interested stakeholders. His calls went to Mayor Jim Ardis; Tim Cassidy, president of the Park District; District 150 board president Rick Cloyd, David Kinney, controller for the district; and Notre Dame board president Sharon Weiss.

“I was delighted at the initial response,” O’Brien said. “Obviously, there were no commitments, but everyone was willing to sit down and talk about the stadium and its future.” O’Brien, who lost by only 28 votes for a seat on the school board several years ago, said he was excited by the cooperation that characterized the meeting that was designed to explore the feasibility of the sale of the stadium to Notre Dame. “It was a healthy discussion by all of the participants that eventually included the new controller for the school district, Mark Wilcockson, who replaced the retiring Kinney, but both men attended the meeting,” O’Brien said.

The feasibility of the purchase of the stadium property by Notre Dame came down to price. In essence, it started and ended over the price tag quoted by school officials. “I think everyone was stunned when the district people said the asking price was $200,000 per acre,” the former county board member said.

“The Peoria Stadium property covers 82 acres so District 150 was seeking over $16 million. I know I was shocked when I heard the price. I looked around the room and could see others were surprised as well.” School officials were subsequently challenged about how they arrived at the high figure. They cited an Internet real estate source and what they claimed were prices at comparable locations in Peoria such as property at War Memorial and University. Notre Dame president Weiss said she would consult with her board and administration and get back with a response.

O’Brien thanked everyone for attending the meeting and said he would be in contact with the principal parties, namely Notre Dame and the school district. A few days later Ms. Weiss contacted O’Brien and said Notre Dame was no longer interested. O’Brien said he then called Wilcockson with the Notre Dame answer and asked if 150 would consider lowering the price. “We’ll talk about it and get back to you, Bill.” And so they did with a drop to $128,000 per acre. “Notre Dame was no longer interested,” said O’Brien.

“I thought about the possibilities that would be beneficial for all parties,” O’Brien said. “Disappointed how it ended, yes,” he said, “but perhaps for the first time, at least in my memory, we had key people in the community sit down and talk about the future of the stadium and the beautiful grounds around it. I was glad to be a catalyst for those discussions even though an agreement was not reached.” We commend O’Brien for his community leadership.

MEDIA EXCLUSIVES

After a five year battle with WPEO, Larry Nelson, owner of WOAM, is the apparent winner. Both stations were vying to receive the FCC license for FM 107.5. This is a translator frequency that would’ve allowed WPEO, a daytime only station, to continue at night on the FM dial. WOAM needs the FM signal to augment its marketability. It was a long,  competitive, and expensive legal struggle for both broadcast companies. Our sources tell us WPEO decided to withdraw giving Nelson unfettered legal access. Meanwhile, WPEO has applied for another FM translator frequency located outside Peoria. The FCC ruled in favor of Nelson, September 2.

This column was the first to announce that NBC’s Dateline was in Peoria video-taping the Nathan Leuthold trial. It aired from 8-10 pm, Friday evening, September 12th on Channel 25. What was shocking was the lack of promotion by WEEK before, during and after the two hour show. The 10 pm newscast made no mention of the NBC program that had just aired. Were the local newscast people watching Channel 31 that night? If I had been news director I would’ve led the 10 pm news with that show. Meanwhile, sources tell me that money intended for use for the Leuthold children was allegedly “raided” to pay for Nathan’s alleged girlfriend’s legal services. By the way, was she “cool” under fire on the witness stand? It was amazing how she was able to speak fluent English by the end of her testimony after struggling with our language at the beginning.

May the media pigeons dump on the local media for failure to recognize the city council’s decision to honor former District 150 superintendent Harry Whitaker by naming a portion of North Street as Harry Whitaker Way. Harry Whitaker Way includes Peoria High School where the popular educator was teacher, coach, and principal. Congratulations to councilman Chuck Grayeb who initiated the recognition and to Harry for his usual unique and articulate appreciation remarks before a standing room only crowd in the Peoria County Courthouse board room. Harry left after the ceremony for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. We wish him speedy recovery and good health.

REMEMBERING

Believing it’s never too late to remember a friend who has passed, I want to say how sad I was to learn that Delores Klein had died. Delores and I had been telephone friends for decades. Worlds apart politically, we never let that interfere with our friendship that began when I was a disc jockey at WPEO. It was a rock and roll station and #1 in the local radio market, thanks to the Morning Mayor, Harry Harrison. Delores would call during my show, give me thoughts about her views on a subject, request a song, and close with a friendly, “Thanks much.” Those calls to where I worked in radio  continued for years after, and frequently included concerns for my wife’s health. She was politically committed and a compassionate woman. She is missed.

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“Flexible people never get bent out of shape.”

NEXT MONTH

Is AM radio dying?

Roger Monroe



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