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Peoria Park District board decides the fate of the Donovan Park pavilion proposal tonight

Pavilion in the Park / CORE Construction

The Peoria Park District's board of trustees decides tonight on the fate of the controversial Donovan Park performing arts pavilion concept.

The not-for-profit group Pavilion in the Park wants to build an indoor-outdoor arts venue seating about 2,000 on an acre of land in the southeastern corner of Donovan Park. The total project area encompasses 18 acres.

Sarah Connor-James is president of the group advocating for the pavilion. She said the group pulled back the proposalafter it received an icy reception at a park board meeting last year.

"We pulled the terms of the lease agreement off the table when we realized that the community needed to hear more of the facts about it, and for us to engage with more groups than just the board," she said.

Connor-James said the pavilion group has spent the past year meeting with homeowner groups, organizations, and public officials to make their case.

She said an estimate projects the pavilion would have an annual impact of $13 million. She touts not only the economic impact of the project, but also the cultural and educational pluses.

That all sounds good to many opponents. The problem for them comes down to location.

"Our core principle about this project is that we're not against the concept of the pavilion. This may be a fantastic opportunity to bring a new concert venue to the area," said Bridget Burke, a member of the Friends of Open Space group. "Our beef with this project is that it doesn't belong at Donovan Park."

Connor-James said the group is willing to look at other places, but Donovan's central location and easy accessibility to bus routes, restaurants, and shopping make the site unique.

Burke said Donovan Park is something special, and the group wants to keep the open space as it is now.

"I just feel it would be asking too much of the park and the area to expect the environmental damage that would be brought by creating this concert venue, and that there are multiple other places around the community that might be welcoming of such a project," Burke said.

Connor-James disagrees. She described the current space as "forlorn." She said the Illinois Central College horticulture department would add new native trees to the park, and grass would grow over recycled plastic parking lot pavers, essentially creating the appearance of a golf fairway rather than an asphalt parking lot. That also has the added benefit of cutting down on water runoff, she said.

"We're going to be beautifying the park; we're not going to be destroying it. Somehow there's a perception we're destroying the park," Connor-James said.

Connor-James said she doesn't want to rush the Donovan Park pavilion project. She said she wants to continue meeting with stakeholders and make sure the project is done right.

"This has too much going for Peoria to have to do this in a rushed manner, and not to do it right. It has to be done in the right way. Because the legacy this will leave for Peoria is lifelong," she said.

But for Burke, she's hoping for the park board to "resoundingly decline" the opportunity to move forward with the project in its current form.

"I feel like Donovan and our park district generally are a great thing for recruiting folks to come here," she said. "And people move because of job opportunities and to be near family. They aren't going to move to a community to attend concerts. So I just feel like there's been way too much emphasis on the possibility that this pavilion be built at Donovan."

The Peoria Park District Board of Trustees meets Wednesday night at 6 p.m. at the Bonnie Noble Center to decide how, or if, to proceed with any future discussions of the pavilion project at Donovan Park. The public is invited to attend and weigh in with their thoughts.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.