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Residents Voice Objections To Proposed Donovan Park Pavilion

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Joe Deacon
Peoria Park District Executive Director Emily Cahill speaks Tuesday to residents about a proposed public-private 1,500-seat pavilion at Donovan Park.

A proposed 1,500-seat performing arts pavilion at Donovan Park prompted objections from most of the residents attending a Peoria Park District discussion session on Tuesday.

“My concern (is) that I don't understand what kind of value our community is going to get from this project,” said Bridget Burke, who lives just over a mile away from the park. “I only see it as a loss of green space, and no benefit.”

The discussion was part of the park district’s “Talk About It Tuesday” sessions, with executive director Emily Cahill answering questions and hearing concerns about the agency's “Park Possible” initiative. The proposal from the non-profit Pavilion Arts Centre group attracted about 100 attendees concerned about the potential public-private partnership.

“It may be a wonderful idea, and if it is, then I think private enterprise would support putting this someplace else. But I object to using our public land for other folks to make money,” said Burke.

Cahill said no negotiated agreement is in place, and the next step is for a term sheet to be presented to the district’s board of trustees for review at the Sept. 29 meeting. Allowing time for the board to receive public feedback, a vote on accepting the term sheet is targeted for Oct. 27.

“I absolutely take very seriously the concerns raised about how we take care of open green space, and the conversations about being cautious as we enter into public-private partnership. I think those are very, very appropriate responses to a project like this,” said Cahill, who told the audience the goal is to make Donovan Park self-sustaining financially, while stressing the project is not solely about generating revenue.

“I also think that as a park district, in today's economic environment, that we have to figure out how to balance those concerns with making some tough decisions. Sometimes, we have to look at other opportunities and we have to balance those opportunities for financial gain with our mission and our commitment to be good stewards of that public space,” she said.

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Joe Deacon
Residents attend a discussion session Tuesday at Donovan Park about a proposal to build a public-private amphitheater in the park's southeast corner.

The proposal calls for construction of the open-air venue over 18 acres in the southeast corner of the former golf course. Among those speaking against the idea were members of the Peoria Astronomical Society (PAS), who are worried about a possible impact on the 70-year-old Northmoor Observatory.

“I have tried to explain to the park district what light pollution is and what heat pollution is, and both of those things are going to be devastating to that facility down there,” said PAS member Eric Clifton.

Not everyone was entirely against the possible amphitheater. John Brady said his understanding from the discussion is that plans are still preliminary and no decisions have been finalized.

“If that is true, then I congratulate the park district and its trustees for investigating what may be a potential opportunity to increase use of the park, and also perhaps add to the revenue for the park district,” said Brady. “I don't know what the right answer is at this point. But I certainly want them to explore all the options.”

Pamela Marshall said added amenities could make Donovan Park more of an attraction.

“It doesn't take all of the green space to have a playground, to have a splash pad,” said Marshall. “What about for revenue, could we set up near here in the winter an outside ice rink? It could become a destination park that could serve both the entire community and also reinvest right here in central Peoria.”

Other residents said the proposed pavilion and necessary accompanying parking would be intrusive. Some people suggested considering another location for the amphitheater, such as Summer Park, but Cahill said the investors indicated a preference for the Donovan location.

Five board trustees attended the discussion: vice president Joyce Harant, Tim Bertschy, Laurie Covington, Jackie Petty, and Alex Sierra.

“I think all the points that people brought up tonight were more than valid,” said Sierra. “I think the park district is really handling it in the right way, and I think the results of the conversations that came about tonight showed that.”

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