STATEMENT of FRIENDS of RIVERFRONT PARK
The news that Caterpillar, Inc. is cancelling its downtown Peoria expansion raises new concerns about the proposed River Trail Apartments in Riverfront Park.
Friends of Riverfront Park believe that local taxpayers are facing new financial risks if those apartments are built.
Friends of Riverfront Park again calls on the Peoria City Council to withdraw the application to the National Park Service to swap this lovely parkland for other land.
Meanwhile the group is holding a fund-raiser Sunday, February 12th from 3 to 5 p.m. at the GAR Hall, 116 Hamilton, at the corner of Hamilton and Madison Streets in Peoria. The event will raise money for a possible lawsuit if needed to stop this project. If not, the funds will go to protect and preserve the park.
Noted history re-enactor Brian Fox Ellis will become Captain Henry Detweiller to tell of his adventures guiding riverboats for the Union soldiers during the Civil War.
Barry Cloyd, popular singer and composer, will add river songs and music. Refreshments and a silent auction with art, antiques, collectibles and other items will take place. Donations will be accepted to save Riverfront Park. More information is on Facebook at Friends of Riverfront Park.
The park is in jeopardy. Plans call for over $4 million in City bonds to be sold for building new infrastructure for the proposed luxury apartments, including a dead-end street to the apartments cutting through the existing park from the RiverPlex parking lot. The City is also paying for the parking lot and landscaping for the apartments because they are all considered part of the “site remediation” for the land.
The City and local taxpayers are also responsible for paying extra costs the developer would encounter with the building pilings and other aspects of construction due to previous contamination of the land and unknown underground conditions at the site from when it was a railroad maintenance area. It is considered a hazardous waste site that must be remediated.
These costs could well exceed the City bonded amount and the amount the apartments can pay back for the bond via a TIF district. The City is liable for paying any shortages on the TIF funding, just as in the Knoxville Avenue grocery store complex that failed and now will cost the City and taxpayers more than $1 million.
The project was sold to city officials when Caterpillar Inc. was expected to employ millennial generation workers with incomes enabling them to afford the apartments. But now the city would do well to focus on the Warehouse District where the investment in infrastructure is already in place.
The National Park Service has not approved the City’s application for replacing the public open space at Riverfront Park. The park land proposed for sale was purchased in the 1980’s with federal public dollars from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Dorothy Sinclair, a City Council member at the time, led the effort to obtain this riverfront land for a park. She and others intended the area to remain a public park.
The land is on a shelf above the river and does not flood, and it is near important archaeological sites, including the first French Fort at Peoria and known Native American encampments.
The area the City is proposing for replacement of the current park floods, and also contains hazardous waste that must be remediated.
Construction of the apartments are to be done in the park area off of Morton Street at the riverfront, ruining the park now used by families and neighbor residents for soccer games and other recreation. The existing park includes a historic railroad turntable, a last reminder of the train service yards that covered the location for over 100 years. It also contains a prairie, trees, and is a habitat for Monarch butterflies and many birds, mammals and insects. All will be displaced if the apartments are built.
The National Park Service has asked the public to once again comment on the environmental assessment the city filed on this project. The document can be found on the city’s website at http://www.peoriagov.org/riverfrontpark/. The deadline for comments is Feb. 20.