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Q&A: Peoria city manager Urich gives updates on strategic plan process, riverfront park project

Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich
Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich

Peoria city leaders are working to adopt a new five-year strategic plan by the middle of next month.

A day after green-lighting a $26 million master plan to redevelop the downtown riverfront, city council members participated in a six-hour strategic planning session to shape a community-informed vision for Peoria’s future.

City manager Patrick Urich said the discussion was productive in identifying the council’s goals and priorities. He said the city staff will meet next week to develop action plans to achieve those goals.

In his latest monthly conversation with WCBU’s Joe Deacon, Urich talks about what came out of the council’s strategic planning session.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

City council members recently participated in some strategic planning sessions. How productive are these discussions and what priorities came out of them?

Patrick Urich: It was very productive. We had a planning session with the council on Wednesday after their regularly scheduled city council meeting; they met from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It was really council’s day to focus on not only the city’s mission statement, (but) their vision for the future: what are their strategic goals and priorities, looking at kind of the outcomes they’d like to see in each of those goals. From there, the city staff will be meeting on Aug. 23 as a big group to start to develop some of the action plans around how we’re going to achieve those goals. We hope to have a draft completed of the plan by mid-September, where we will then reconvene with the City Council to let them polish it up and then hopefully we’ll have it adopted by mid-September and it will be in place.

So I’m very excited about the process. We also plan on having a couple of other public meetings back with the community to kind of report back out, because this was really, it was community-informed. With the kickoffs that we had in June, the follow up meetings that we had in July, the social pinpoint app that we’ve used and the website that we’ve dedicated for the strategic planning process, we wanted it to be community-informed; it’s council-driven, and then it’s going to be staff-implemented. So that’s really kind of the way that we’re looking at the strategic plan.

So when you say it’s council-driven, what were some of these action plans or ideas that came up during discussion with the council members?

Urich: The council really, as they started talking through a number of areas, they were looking at: What are their strategic goals and what are some of those areas they wanted to focus on? Obviously, public safety was one. They wanted to focus on infrastructure. They wanted to focus on downtown. They wanted to focus on growth, both population growth and economic growth. They wanted to focus on our quality of life in the community. And then they wanted to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. So there were six areas that came out that they said were important to them and that they wanted to focus on. So we’ll be looking at trying to build some outcomes within each of those areas, and then some implementation strategies that we’ll work through, and then come back to council and let them finalize it. The planning consultants that we’ve been working on are going to kind of take the elements that the council wanted in their mission and vision statements and try and work on those. So we’ll have that draft to the council here by the end of the month.

What kind of differing opinions or was there any controversy raised during the discussions, if any?

Urich: There was great collaboration amongst the city council, it was great to see. They all leaned in, and they were engaged and talking about what was important to them for the future. I think it really comes down to this: I think that the city council members – and I think that staff would probably be aligned with them, too – we all have the same ends in mind. We all want to see a growing community. We all want to see a community that’s vibrant; we all want to see a community that’s thriving.

It’s how we get there is the challenge, and that’s where people may have differences of opinion over the means to the ends, but not necessarily the ends. So I think that’s going to be where we’re going to have some discussion as we go forward with this. But the other big challenge, obviously that we know, is: there are things that we want to do, and then there are the limitations that we have about what we can afford.

Touching on that, how strictly do you expect the city to adhere to the plan for the next five years?

Urich: Well, I think that that’s staff’s role, right? This is the vision that the council is going to lay out; this is where they’re going to say they want to focus those efforts. Then we’re going to try and bring those forward and execute on that vision within the fiscal constraints that we have and that we know that we have. So we’re in a good spot right now financially, and I think that that’s a good place to be.

I think economically, we were a little concerned that we might be heading into a recession and what that might do to us. Now it looks nationally like we may have a soft landing there that’s going to help us to kind of keep this business cycle going, so that’s positive. But we know there’s going to be a downturn, and we know that we have fiscal challenges with public safety pensions continuing to grow. I mean, I anticipate that we’ll see those growing at a clip of $2-3 million a year for the next 18, 19 years.

Turning our focus now to the riverfront plan. At the last meeting, the council unanimously supported the plans for redeveloping the downtown riverfront. Costs are now projected at about $26 million, so that would require the city to come up with about $11 million more on top of the $15 million that’s coming from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). What avenues or methods of funding are possible to raise those additional funds?

Urich: Well, I think there’s a couple of avenues. We’ve already seen, just in our initial roll up, there has been some corporate interest in providing donations to the park. So, one of the elements that I told the council that I wanted to build upon this year is to look at how we can create a development arm to look at raising funds for the riverfront, and working with the private sector and, quite frankly, the philanthropic sector to see if there are people that are willing to donate, to contribute to the park and to elements of the park. So that’s going to be one aspect of it.

Second, we may have to look at different portions of the package and say, “What can we afford and what can we not afford?” The good news is with that estimate, that $26 million estimate, there’s a 20% contingency built into that. So there is some room that maybe it may not be as high as we anticipate. But it may also take some capital dollars of the city to look at how we can fund and close those improvements as well, and that’s something that we’re certainly prepared to do.

If the full $26 million can’t be funded, what is the minimum the city would need? What parts of the proposal might have to be cut or scaled back?

Urich: Well, I think the old saying: “the devil’s in the details,” with that will be, as we start to structure the bid packages, which is the next piece that we would do. Now that we’ve come up with what are called the conceptual design, now we move into detailed design. And when you move into detailed design, just as if you’re building a building, that’s where you might look at it and say, “You know what, this was a nice element but we may need to pull that back.” And there may be elements of that, that we need to take out of the plan or that we need to restrict or just say, “we can’t afford it at this point in time.” So as we work through that process, those are the elements that we’ll start to talk to council about, and then we anticipate that as we work through the detailed design, we’ll bring those design packages back to the council, get the green light from them, and then get those bids out on the street.

Why wasn’t Terra Engineering instructed to develop a concept that stayed around $15 million?

Urich: Well, I think that what we wanted to do with this plan was we wanted to come up with a vision that could be attractive for the entire community. It is our region’s front door, and it was something that we wanted to make sure that the elements could be incorporated in there. In addition, we’re also talking about an environment where we’ve seen a lot of inflation in construction costs over the last several years. So I’m not sure if we had done this plan five years ago when we started it, if it would have been $26 million. I think that we’ve seen some inflation in some of the costs of construction, and that’s been one element that’s caused some of that growth. But I also think that we’re definitely prepared to go out and try and raise some additional funds and go out and see what the city’s going to have to contribute as well.

Is there a deadline for the city to secure the outside private funding?

Urich: No. I think what we’ll do is, we’ll move into detailed design; we’ll start looking at the structure and the package. At the same time, we’ll start working on development to start to raise some additional funds. Then we’ll start looking at how we can stage the package. We’ve talked with majority leader (Jehan) Gordon-Booth about releasing the state funds; they have not been released yet. We have the plan, so that’s something that we have to work on, and hopefully when those funds do get released, we’ll be ready to go.

You mentioned the city may need to put in some capital dollars of its own. What capacity does Peoria have to contribute to this project?

Urich: Well, like I said, we’re in a good fiscal position right now where we are; we’ve got a lot of cash in the bank. So if we need to put some dollars towards this project, we certainly can.

So what’s the goal or the ideal timeline for having the park finished?

Urich: Well, I think it’s going to take us a while to do the detailed design work and to start to structure this. We kind of broke out the riverfront into about five different areas: So there’s the area around the Bob Michel Bridge, the area around Festival Park and the Murray Baker Bridge, and then some of the elements in between. So as we start to build those different areas, we’ll start to look at when it makes sense to kind of roll those out. But I would think that that moving into detailed design, it’s going to take us a good chunk of the next year to go through that process as well.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.