Peoria an All-America City finalist

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If the energy and enthusiasm of the Young Professionals of Greater Peoria group is an indication, there is little wonder Peoria fared well in the early rounds of the All-America City competition.

And now that Peoria is a finalist for the 2013 award, an honor in and of itself, city leaders feel good about the chances it will bring home its fourth All-America City Award in June.

"How can you not listen to this and see the energy and not be excited about this effort? I like our chances," said Mayor Jim Ardis during a news conference Wednesday at City Hall, called to announce that Peoria was one of 20 cities to be named finalists for the 10 awards that will be presented by the National Civic League.

Ardis spoke after Dr. Tim Cundiff, the boisterous and energetic chairman of the Young Professionals group that spearheaded this year's All-America City effort, and other members of the group that included City Councilman Ryan Spears.

(Photo by Paul Gordon) Dr. Tim Cundiff, front, who is chairman of the Young Professionals of Greater Peoria, discusses the group's campaign to get Peoria named an All-America City for 2013. Behind him are other members of the Young Professionals group that participated in the initiative. Peoria is a finalist for the annual award, which will be presented in June."I can't really express how important this effort is for such a prestigious award. And this is the group that is going to be taking our community into the future. I'm confident our future is in good hands," Ardis said.

Peoria has been named an All-America three times before, in 1953, 1966 and in 1989. Whereas the last time it happened was a needed shot in the arm as the city was coming out of perhaps its bleakest economic period, the feeling was different this time, Cundiff said.

"It's just been too long since Peoria had this and we have too much good going on to not do this now," he said. "When people ask me where I am from I always say I am from Peoria, Illinois, the geographic center of the universe. It's true."

It was his pride in his hometown that caused Cundiff, an optometrist, to propose the All-America City campaign to the YPGP, then take the idea to the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and the city for their support. "This effort truly shows the power of collaboration. The spirit of cooperation truly plays in Peoria," Cundiff said.

However, said Emily Weeks, vice chairman of YPGP, "there is still a lot of work ahead before we take our story to the All-America City jury in Denver." That Denver event, where all 20 finalists will make a presentation to a National Civic League jury that will decide the winners, will be June 14-16.

One item is to garner as much public support as possible, including asking people to go on the Facebook and liking the initiative on the Peoria AAC page, and raising funds to send a delegation to Denver. The group wants to raise up to $50,000 for the effort.

To that end the Community Foundation of Central Illinois has established the Peoria All-America City Fund for those who want to help sponsor the project or contribute toward it. Spain said already OSF Health Care and UnityPoint Methodist have stepped up and the city hopes other businesses will do the same. "We need the help, the resources to make this happen," he said.

Spain said the benefits of being named an All-America City including being able to brag a little. "We are constantly competing to attract the very best businesses and people to Peoria and this is something we can tell them about. The status of All-America City carries a considerable amount of weight," he said.

That's because to earn the status a city has to demonstrate it is doing all it can to make it a good place to live and do business. The three pillars in the Peoria package, Cundiff said, are three community-driven intitiatives: the downtown Museum Block that led to the new Riverfront Museum and Caterpillar Visitors Center, education/youth workfroce development initiative and the strength of health care industry.

"There is just so much going on here it was very tough to narrow it all down to the three pillars. But the jury will look at the programs that were community driven to meet challenges facing it," he said. The group, he added, looked at how Peoria plans for the future, how it faces adversity and embraces diversity.

According to the National Civic League, it uses a tool called the Civic Index to assess a community's strengths and weaknesses. Applicant cities are required to describe their capacities for civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation.

This is the 64th year for the award. Other finalists are Birmingham, Ala.; Downey, Calif.; Brush, Colo.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Montrose, Colo.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Miami Lakes, Fla.; Sarasota County, Fla.; Dubuque, Iowa, Owensboro, Ky., Natchitches, La.; Canton, N.Y.; Dunn, N.C.; Garner, N.C.; Thomasville, N.C.; Folly Beach, S.C.; The Colony, Texas; Norfolk, Va., and Platteville, Wis.

"All-America cities set an example and a standard of excellence for local problem-solvers throughout the country," said Gloria Rubio-Cortes, president of the National Civic League. "This is an award that gives us hope, ideas and inspiration as we look for ways to address the difficult challenges we face as communities and as a nation."

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).