16 years at the helm of Peoria government; Outgoing Mayor Jim Ardis says Peoria will be “transformed” in the coming years

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — After 16 years at the top of Peoria government, Mayor Jim Ardis is handing over the reigns to incoming Mayor Dr. Rita Ali.

“16 years from now, there’s no doubt in my mind that Peoria will be transformed,” Ardis said. “With the development of the new Comprehensive Cancer Center. Most likely, I see that happening even sooner. 8-10 years from now.”

But before we talk about what’s next, let’s take a look back.

“He was mayor during the worst financial crisis the world has seen since the Great Depression,” said Third District Councilman Tim Riggenbach. “And then the past year with the Pandemic, criminy!”

“I had the advantage of being on the council 6 years before that. 6 years of being in the community, knowing leaders in the community, fellow councilmembers. I think that definitely helps, making that step into the leadership position of the council,” Ardis said.

Riggenbach worked alongside Mayor Ardis for the last 12 years. He said the outgoing Mayor’s leadership was something to be thankful for.

“Being steady and consistent. Those are the two things that I think will mark the Jim Ardis tenure,” Riggenbach said. “He’s really epitomized what makes Peoria strong.”

Riggenbach’s predecessor Bob Manning said Ardis is Peoria through and through.

“He knows Peoria, he loves Peoria. So he might be stepping away from city hall, but he’s not going to be absent from the community,” Manning said. “Nothing was gonna keep the City down, we would move forward and look forward with what we could do.”

Manning said Ardis’ legacy was steady, which was exactly what the City needed the last 16 years.

“He brought together a very diverse group of individuals, he built that consensus. I think that sort of leadership is going to be sorely missed as he leaves,” Manning said. “He brought a very business-like atmosphere to the council. Council people were actually expected to have read their packets before the meetings. Jim encouraged lively and spirited debate. We had that on the council floor a lot… but it never was personal.”

Ardis said some of the City’s biggest challenges was trying to get passenger rail into Peoria and combining the City and County governments.

“We worked very hard on potentially looking at a Unigov type of system where we’d consolidate over time more government functions with the county, with the ultimate goal of saving taxpayers money and not duplicate efforts. That was very difficult, and we didn’t make much progress, although we have done more things jointly with the county than we used to,” Ardis said. “We spent a lot of time when Congressman Ray LaHood, and then-Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood (was in office), working on trying to get passenger rail back in this city. Which proved to be unbelievably difficult. And that was for the most part of cost, and trying to convince the transportation people at the federal level that there was a big enough market in Peoria to fund it, when they didn’t have any money to fund it anyway.”

Mayor Ardis touted the Warehouse District, OSF Headquarters moving downtown, the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex, and the Peoria Civic Center as some of the major players in what he says makes Peoria great.

“It’s a great city. It’s a great community. Our resources are endless,” Ardis said.

Even one of the City’s more controversial topics, the Hotel Pere Marquette, is one of the decisions Ardis still stands by to this day.

“The Pere has taken a lot of heat because of some of the issues we had with the developer, that’s still gonna be a project that over the years is gonna be a good thing we did it when we did it,” Ardis said because of the high-quality of the hotel and its connection to the Civic Center.

He’s now the Strategic Philanthropy Officer with OSF Healthcare. Ardis said while his time as mayor is over, his time in Peoria is not.

“Our community is much more diverse than it used to be, that’s a good thing. I think that’s kind of washing away a lot of that negativity,” Ardis said.

His hope for Peorians? To give themselves more grace and to realize what we have.

“I guess they think every city the population of 115,000 has one of the best medical facilities in the state, have a civic center, a ballpark, the best park district in the State, a river that runs right through us, the museum, Grand View Drive,” Ardis said. “Then we have people that transfer from outside of the community, and they’re like “man this is unbelievable. That airport is one of the best things going. Its new, in and out quickly.”

But Ardis said our brightest days are ahead of us.

“This time next year there will be probably 1,100-1,200 more people working in Downtown Peoria every day,” Ardis said referring to the OSF Ministry Headquarters.

Ardis said his goal when he entered office was to establish future leaders.

“We had a lot of people that were my age now, that had been serving in the community for a long time that were going to be transitioning into less of a participation role. So it was to get more younger people involved,” Ardis said.

Now that he’s stepping away from public service, he’s confident a new wave of Peorians will take our City into a brighter future.

Currently, Dr. Rita Ali is set to take Mayor Ardis’ spot at the helm of Peoria government.

Her challenger, Jim Montelongo, has officially requested a recount which will take place Tuesday, May 4.

As he’s cleaning out his office, and a new mayor is moving in, Ardis said it’s time for Peoria to rally around Dr. Ali.

“I think Dr. Ali will do a fine job, I think she’ll be a very good mayor. Everybody should be the same way, she’s gonna be our mayor. We want her and our council to be very successful,” Ardis said. “I told her that I would do anything I could to help make the transition or anything she’d ask me to do to help. She’s a smart lady, she knows what the challenges are that we’re facing. She’s only been here two years (on the council) but she is very astute and she knows what we’re facing. But she also has a lot of energy, a lot of vision. She’s making history. The day she steps into that seat she’s making history in this community. She wants that to be a strong history from day one. I think the entire community should get behind her and help her do that.”

Ardis said one of the major players in moving Peoria forward right now is Kim Blickenstaff.

“If I had to name one person right now that’s having the biggest impact, not just financially, but from an attitude perspective, it’d be Kim Blickenstaff,” Ardis said. “Not only is he putting his money into this area.. he’s talking about pride. He could stay out west, but he’s coming back here.”

He said if the State can figure out its budget issues, Illinois has bright days ahead too.

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