Peoria will host regional neighborhood conference

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Peoria will be the focal point for 22 Midwestern cities and more than 400 of their representatives in September when it hosts the 2013 Regional Neighborhood Network Conference.

The conference, which represents a coalition of big and small cities such as Cincinnati, Indianapolis and last year's host Ft. Wayne, Ind., will be Sept. 19-21 at Four Points Sheraton in downtown Peoria. It will be the first time Peoria will host the conference since 2001, said Paul Masick, president of the Peoria Neighborhood Alliance, but he added that the city is represented at the conference each year regardless of location.

"This really is one of the most important organizations that Peoria is part of, in my opinion, because the cities represented all help each other find ways to improve their neighborhoods," Masick said after a news conference Friday at Peoria City Hall. The conference, which enabled city officials to announce the RNNC event, was attended by representatives of 11 of the member cities.

"The conference is a terrific opportunity for a city to showcase itself and show others what it does for its neighborhoods to keep them strong," said Tiffany Harding of Cincinnati. "Everybody will be coming in and sharing ideas and talking about their best practices, helping each other find ways to improve their neighborhoods."

The theme of the 2012 conference is "Driving Positive Change in Our Neighborhoods."

Peoria's participation in the group shows that the city "truly believes in its neighborhoods. We are anxious to show how important they are to the hundreds from throughout the Midwest that will be here," said Peoria City Councilman Eric Turner. He and Councilman Ryan Spain are being credited for spearheading Peoria's work to host the conference this year.

"It is an honor and pleasure to have an opportunity to showcase our wonderful city with all its amenities, including our dedicated neighborhood advocates. The city understands that an event of this magnitude will need strong community partnership with Peoria's key stakeholders to be successful," Turner said.

Spain said through the 27 years the RNNC has been around Peoria has learned much to help its own neighborhoods but also has shared ideas that have helped other cities. A couple he noted were training for landlords and improvements and strengthening of various ordinances that focus on neighborhoods. "It's a great way for all of us to take advantage of learning about and even using the best practices from other cities," he said.

Spain one thing that makes the Regional Neighborhood Network a success is that it includes representatives of neighborhood organizations as well as civic and political leaders from the cities. Also involved are business leaders, including Caterpillar Inc., Illinois-American Water Co. and CEFCU, he said.

Mayor Jim Ardis was a little late for the news conference because he'd been attending the funeral of retired Peoria Fire Chief Ernie Russell, who died earlier in the week. He mentioned the funeral, he said, "because I remember that Ernie, who lived so many years in the East Bluff, was a very strong advocate of good neighborhoods and serving the neighborhoods. He believed that in all the things we do here in city government, nothing is more important than getting people working in our neighborhoods to keep them strong."

Doing that, Ardis said, "is also the best way to keep the core of our cities strong. It's starts with the neighborhoods."

Rusty Dunn, the former mayor of Pekin, attended the news conference as a representative of Caterpillar and said the company recognizes the importance of conferences such as the RNNC "because a conference like this will create pathways to success for our residents. Caterpillar wants to make a positive difference in the cities and towns where our employees live and work and this is the type of effort we can be part of that will do that."

Karla Teasley of Illinois-American Water, the corporate sponsor of the event, said her company knows first-hand the value of private-public collaboration between business and community leaders and municipalities.

"That kind of collaboration is important not only to the neighborhoods but frankly, to the entire state because it can lead to some very meaningful private-public partnerships," Teasley said.

The Regional Neighborhood Network consists of cities from five different Midwestern and southern states — Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

CAPTION: Peoria City Councilman Eric Turner, foreground, is flanked by representatives of other cities that are members of the Regional Neighborhood Network at a news conference in Peoria's City Hall to announce the network's 2013 annual conference will be in Peoria in September.

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).