The Peoria City Council has approved making an offer on bringing an historic warship to the riverfront.
The Council on Tuesday night decided to make a bid on the LST 325, a World War II ship currently docked in Evansville, Indiana. Serious talks on the issue have been delayed for months while city officials gauged public support and researched the project.
It's going to cost the city an estimated $1.5 million to build a dock to support the LST 325, a price tag that had taken aback many Council members and residents. A compromise of sorts was found in a proposal made by Councilman Ryan Spain, who suggested promising the panel that oversees the ship up to $500,000 in city funds for the project, with the rest of the cost to be covered by grants and private donations. If the remaining $1 million could not be raised, the offer is to be taken off the table.
The Council ultimately approved the modified five-year contract 7-4, but not without more than an hour of debate.
Councilman Chuck Grayeb felt the compromise was a "half-hearted" offer. He said the city should throw its full financial support behind the project, or else the LST 325 would be another missed opportunity.
"We need to make a commitment," he said. "A half measure ain't gonna cut it."
But Councilwoman Denise Moore fell on the other end of the spectrum. Moore, who voted "no" on the compromise alongside Councilwoman Beth Akeson and Councilmen Chuck Weaver and Jim Montelongo, said the city has more important things that need to be addressed, like poverty on the South Side and East Bluff, and didn't want to see any city dollars going towards the LST 325.
"Investing in our communities will pay off more in the long run," she said.
Assistant City Manager, who has poured a lot of time and energy into the project, said after the vote was taken that the decision doesn't mean the Council isn't behind the idea.
"I think everybody recognizes how important this opportunity is, but they're also policy makers and have to be good stewards of the city's finances," Setti said.
Another change in the contract is the ship's proposed location. Initially, the plan was to put the LST 325 at the foot of Liberty Street, within walking distance of both the Peoria Riverfront Museum and the Caterpillar Visitors Center. The idea was that putting all three attractions in close proximity would promote tourism in the downtown area. The modified proposal places the LST 325 north of the Murray Baker bridge.
Setti said that change, combined with the financial caveat, might make it a little tougher to sell the project to the LST 325 board. However, he doesn't think it's impossible.
"I think that we can make a compelling case, that Peoria has something really great to offer them. I think we can close that gap," Setti said.
The city will now add the revisions to the project and hand it over to the LST 325 board. A decision by that panel will be made by October 1.