“Daylight is good at arriving at the right time.”
As true as it was when George Harrison recorded it in 1969, all things must pass. I, too, must be on my way. In the case of this blog and my company, it won’t necessarily end, but it has grown beyond the keyboard.
Last week, I was offered a position with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) here in Peoria. LISC is a nationally recognized organization known for their work in transforming and revitalizing communities. I had read many things about LISC prior to when I saw they would be opening an office in Peoria a year and a half ago, so I knew this could be just what the city needed.
After being on the outside looking in for several months and now having been offered this opportunity, I will say that the job itself is much more than just that. I have spent the last 10 years searching for my own passion, my own voice, my own something I could make a career of.
When my wife, Danielle and I moved to the Peoria area, it was, in part, for the same reasons other people choose to move. Her family lives here. While Dallas gave us a bigger pool of jobs, better restaurants, shops, cultural amenities etc… it still didn’t have that. I moved because I love her, but I also saw a city that needs fixing. While I had made plenty of trips from Geneva to Peoria dating back to 2001 (when she and I first met), it was never on my radar to think of things like that. However, when we were living in Dallas and considering the possibility, I looked at the inner workings with a more curious eye.
I perused real estate listings and saw that you could buy homes for less than $10k. Moreover, I read through studies, articles, blogs, and got the itch that so many others across the country have gotten – the one that told me I could make an impact. As I’ve mentioned here before, things that were happening at the same time in Dallas like the Better Block Project played a significant part in me thinking and believing this. Meeting people like me but totally unlike me triggered a series of thoughts and events confirming my decision to move.
It’s certainly easier to think you can make an impact and talk about it than to actually make it happen. Fortunately, immediately upon arrival many opportunities to get involved presented themselves. It was a combination of me looking in the right places while also saying “yes” when someone asked.
The first of many things to come was getting some hands-on experience with Pekin Main Street. With the mission to preserve, restore, and revitalize Pekin’s downtown, it offered a glimpse into the reality of the situation of a downtown that had seen better days. As I documented long ago in a blog post, there is a lot of work to be done. Back in the summer of 2012, I even tried my hand at a block project (click picture for results).
As more time passed, I said “yes” to more things. Being appointed to the City Zoning Board of Appeals, then to the City Planning Commission, even becoming a board member of Pekin Main Street. At the same time, I created my own ideas of what the city could do to move into the new century. Everything from completing a profile of the state of downtown to a conceptual plan including preservation and complete streets to a business incubator.
Many of these thoughts capture the raw ideals of what I believe could be done but seeing them through their execution is an altogether laborious process. A process in which I am not involved and which proved that no one, not even the Mayor, was ready for. Attending two years of City Council meetings even tempted me to consider a run for an elected position. I received some great advice from a certain someone that changed my mind – this particular battle wasn’t my mine to fight.
At a moment when I felt all was lost, I started looking elsewhere. Maybe it was time to move on. There’s no harm or shame in that. During what was an emotional tug of war, I bought a house in Peoria at auction in December of 2012. Reader Area Development, Inc. is in fact, after all, the company I had started to buy, rehab, sell and/or rent houses. Although, my intentions were to be more than just another “Flip This House” bottom-line minded company. This is probably why I’m not wildly rich as we speak! I digress…
I was tired of just talking about things, and I wanted to see a visible change from all of that talking. In planning my budget and renovation strategy, I decided to take a new approach. Inspired by what others had done on Kickstarter, I wanted to see if I could create a “movement” around renovating a house. I thought…maybe I could launch a campaign to get more people like me doing these types of things. That, and much more, went into my GO URBAN campaign which I launched in March.
Taking this house
And giving it a breath of fresh air
Was the plan all along. More than money, my efforts here got me closer to people who give a shit. Or, as I like to say, people who are, “like me“. In the midst of that, a few other things sprung up which would grow my involvements.
Focus Forward CI, an initiative brought to town by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, aimed to improve on the stagnate economic outlook that faces the region. The long and short of it is that Peoria has been lacking ways to transition itself into the new economy. As part of the generation that faces the brunt of negative repercussions if things don’t change, I signed up to be a part of the GeNext Committee which represents the 25-44-year-olds in the area. While various meetings took place, a couple of interesting things came from it including another block project!
One of these meetings led to me meeting a group of people who would go on to create Bike Peoria. Great! This was exactly the type of thing that was missing here, and I thought I could hop on and help. Bike Peoria would be the missing hub connecting the spokes of other organizations, events, and could lead the charge towards advocating for the fundamental changes that need to happen to get more of Peoria pedaling. Things such as more education and safety training, better streets with visible bike lanes, improved signage, and a place to secure your ride at the end.
Membership is open to all types of riders. From casual once-a-year folks to mountain bikers to daily commuters to those looking for more intense training and racing – everyone is welcome. It’s as simple as “liking” Bike Peoria on Facebook or following on Twitter @BikePeoria. The goal is to get more people involved and bring out the best in biking while creating a better city in which to do that.
An image I have never been able to get out of my head which still serves as the header of this website, is the downtown of Leeuwarden. A Dutch city of around 96,000, Leeuwarden taught me the freedom of mobility from a young age (I studied there during my last semester of college). Sure, people bike there and it is aesthetically appealing, but the town is built in such a way that anyone can get around. Bikes just happen to be a really inexpensive and efficient way of doing that.
I have seen what good and bad towns look like. It is more than meets the eye. Beneath the surface of it all has to be that culture of people who have the tenacity to own and operate their own business. As someone with my fair share of ideas, the creative and entrepreneurial spirit is constantly at odds with the “just having a job” mentality. While I’ve tried my hand at it, you really never know where to look for help sometimes. Even if your idea is the best thing you’ve ever come up with, surely someone else can help you take it even further.
In order for Peoria to reach its fullest potential, it needs to have more people carrying out their dreams and passions. Taking risks, not being afraid to fail, and sometimes falling short is all part of the experience. Being involved in so many endeavors gave me the opportunity to be on a team of people who understood this same concept. We drafted the HUB Feasibility Study to find out if it would be possible to create a co-working, business incubator space dedicated to social impact in Peoria.
Impact HUB Peoria was re-purposing an old school on Peoria’s southside into just that. After two months of research and analysis, we submitted the study for approval and were granted entry into the global network of HUBs. Indeed, we were one of a kind. Most locations are in the typical places where you’d expect innovation and progressive ideas to flow freely. A small city in the Midwest isn’t usually at the forefront, but we were eager to change those perceptions. Included in that effort was our own Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign Love Your City.
Unfortunately, even the most sincerest of efforts was not enough for this vision to become a reality. Just a few weeks ago, those of us on the leadership team learned (along with others), that the HUB would not be able to open after all said and done. Tough news to take, but still another learning lesson on this long entrepreneurial road.
But, with some doors closing, others opened shortly thereafter…
As one chapter came to an end, a new one began. Recently, I was asked to serve on the Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation (CILF) Board of Directors. CILF sets out to identify, preserve, and restore the treasures of Peoria’s past. So many buildings have met the fate of the wrecking ball too soon. Others remain in despair. With experience serving on the board of directors with Pekin Main Street and having recently renovated a home built in 1900, I hope to be able to bring a new approach to the table.
In Pekin, we have seen the senseless destruction of civic structures and buildings that hold the keys to the vitality of urban life. In Peoria, the story is much the same but on an even larger scale. Creating a still-frame of the past isn’t my intention when it comes to preservation. Rather, protecting the pieces of what makes a place unique, authentic, and economically sustainable is the true foundation. Nostalgia only goes so far. It doesn’t matter where you are on a map, if you don’t understand the importance of your heritage, the culture it creates, and the impact of your built environment – you stand to lose more than you gain.
For better or for worse, we tend to have our eyes on the future. Technology has the ability to change the way things are done. Technology itself is not a cure-all, and in some instances, it can lead to destruction under the guise of progress. The innovative spirit behind new technology captures that entrepreneurial spirit that Peoria so desperately needs.
Startup Peoria has emerged to fill that void. SUP exists to develop, encourage and promote the tech startup community in the Central Illinois region. Having seen this vision start to materialize simultaneously with many other of my involvements, it is my pleasure to help the founders realize the potential of this movement. For the next month, I will be spending many hours to help get this off the ground and functioning.
As you can probably tell, I’ve managed to stay busy over the past two and a half plus years. And, since January of 2012, I have shared ideas, inspirations, and experiences here on this blog. More than anything, I used this as a forum to organize my mind and seek validation of my thoughts. Having never written anything more serious than assignments for school, this was completely uncharted waters for me.
Initially, I questioned what I’d write about, who would read it (anyone?), and what would they think about it. Admittedly, I started this blog because my wife thought it would be a good idea. I also thought it’d help me gain some (very basic) website design and social media experience. After all, I had gone through stages of unemployment, under-employment, more unemployment, and more under-employment. I thought this might help land me one of those marketing gigs I thought I would get years ago… it didn’t.
However, what it did do is put me in the very weird position of having people read, share, and enjoy what I write which has been a thrill unfamiliar to me. I’m also to the point where I write because I need to. It feels good. The past year was the first in 15 years where I haven’t been to the gym on a regular weekly basis. I gave something else a workout instead – something that I had neglected training for a long time – my brain.
Although I will be resigning as the Creative Director and Editor-in-Chief here, I have put all of those new-found connections and organizations to good use. Instead of being a part of this, that, and the other thing – here, there, and everywhere all over Peoria – I am trying to connect the dots that haven’t previously been connected. Inspired by other websites like The Atlantic Cities, Fast Company, GOOD, the Sustainable Cities Collective, and many more that have a socially minded purpose and the ability to craft a new way of communicating – I brought a few of my friends together to create The Whiskey City Collaborative.
The Whiskey City is not another organization, but rather a collaboration of a lot of what is already going on. My mission is to strengthen what’s here, build upon it, and create a culture that is missing. We’re not in it for money, but to actively create ideas, inspirations and host events to produce visible results. Read more at TheWhiskeyCity.com
End Of The Line
I don’t consider this an end of a chapter but the completion of a book. Like all good books, the pages come to an end. Some leave you wanting more. However, I am happy to see an end to this particular book. And, it is just one of the many books I hope to write in this life.
Reader Area Development, the company, will quietly continue as I have rented out the house in Peoria I wrapped up in October. More projects may pop-up someday in the future. I tell one helluva good story, so feel free to book me for speaking engagements. While I provide a lot of free consulting, it is still with the precision of a paid professional. As an interesting side note, Jake’s Place Barbershop, one of the “pop-up” shops in my better block experiment in Pekin in June 2012, is permanently relocating his shop to that very building I staged for him for that event. He’ll be there come January 2014.
It’s been a turbulent ride to say the least. There have been a lot of early mornings, late nights, and days I wish to forget. I wish I could say, “It’s been so lucrative and here’s how you duplicate my success.” It hasn’t. Most of the time it has felt like a rusty shiv of anxiety has been stabbing me over and over again. But persistence pays off. On the pursuit to happyness you may get only small moments to remind you of all you have accomplished.
I’m not trying to be modest. I’m serious when I say I haven’t accomplished anything. I’ve set goals for myself and have been on a mission to prove I can do it. I can show you a long list of companies who haven’t hired me and people who have passed me over. Don’t worry, I won’t be forgetting about them anytime soon.
To those who have supported me, I must give thanks. Thank you to my wife, Danielle, for putting up with my shenanigans for the past couple years as I “tried to figure it out.” Also, for (sometimes) editing my hellacious grammar. A very special thanks to everyone who somehow stumbled across this site and read what I’ve rambled on about. Additional thanks go out to those who have supported me along the way – the cups of coffee and lunches have all been well worth the chance of meeting interesting, like-minded people.
My story is only one of the thousands around here. Others are certainly more interesting than mine. I just wanted to get the conversation started. A group of people is more powerful than one person which is why I’m searching for others in hopes of bringing them along for the ride. If you have found any of this interesting and would like to somehow get involved, contact me here.