Greg Edwards was born in Peoria in 1955. A graduate of Richwoods High School, he attended Illinois Central College and the University of Northern Colorado. Greg and his wife Joni have four children.
With over 17 years of hospitality industry experience, Greg began his career right here in Peoria where he worked in restaurant management and sales/marketing at the Continental Regency Hotel. He was later transferred to the Holiday Inn, Waterloo, Iowa, and then went to work for Marriot Hotels & Resorts in Des Moines and Overland Park, Kan.
Greg was with Marriott for seven years and then the Director of Marketing and Interim President for the Overland Park Convention & Visitors Bureau before returning home to Peoria in 1994 as the President of the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (PACVB).
He serves on the board of directors for the Peoria Area Sports Commission, Peoria Area Community Events, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Friends of Benxi, China, Illinois Council of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, Western Illinois Tourism Council and Mi-States College Advisors. He is a member of the Heart of Illinois Hospitality Association, the International Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, American Society of Association Executives, and the Heartland Partnership.
Greg and Steve Kouri were instrumental in bringing the IHSA State Boys Basketball Championships to Peoria. He is a recipient of many awards, from Manager of the Year with Marriott Hotels to receiving recognition as one of the Peoria area “40 Leaders Under Forty” in 1994.
How did you get started in the hospitality business?
When I lived in Colorado in the late 1970s (after attending the University of Northern Colorado) I managed a liquor store in Greeley. I then went to work for a major liquor/wine wholesaler out of Denver and called on restaurants, country clubs, hotels and lounges. I loved this business.
I returned to Peoria in 1980 to “get my feet back on the ground” and was able to secure a job with the Continental Regency Hotel as Assistant Restaurant & Lounge Manager. Wow, what a job.
A slow work week consisted of arriving to work at 10:00 a.m. and closing the “Inner Circle” at 3:00 a.m. Of course, I only had to do this six days a week!
After several months in this positions, I was promoted to Sales Representative and then to Sales Manager. The rest is history, as I help positions of Director of Marketing of the Holiday Inn Civic Center in Waterloo; Sales Manager of the Des Moines Marriott, Director of Sales for the Overland Park Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Returning to Peoria in January 1994, it was great to be back home.
How do you think the Peoria area has changed since the time you grew up here, and then returned to head the PACVB?
The Peoria area has changed significantly from the 60s into the 90s. When I left here in 1982, the area’s economy was at a substantial low. Since that time, many great things have happened. Caterpillar, Inc. continues to be the largest employer and is now breaking sales and profit records and putting a lot of money back into this community. The community as a whole has really diversified. There are more new service companies here, like CDC, RLI, and of course a very stable medical community. Bradley University and Illinois Central College continue to be strong players in our community, as well.
The most significant change that I have experienced is the growth of tourism. With the Par-A-Dice Riverboat Casino opening in the early 90s, to the expansion of the Peoria Civic Center, this industry will continue to prosper for many years to come. People are now realizing what a viable industry tourism is for future economic stability. Many exciting things continue to happen to further expand this fastest growing industry in the nation.
Lakeview Museum of Arts & Sciences leads all downstate museums with their creative style of attracting international exhibits, as well as staying proactive with current permanent exhibits and programs. Bill Rutherford and his staff at Wildlife Prairie Park have done an incredible job of keeping Central Illinois in the national news with such a premier wildlife part in this state. East Peoria’s Festival of Lights has grown into a giant economic generator and the new Eastside Sports Complex will prove to be another area winner.
There are so many great things to mention…so many wonderful people leading this community, it’s hard to give credit to everyone. Groups like the Peoria Historical Society, the Sister Cities Commission, all area chambers of commerce, the Economic Development Council, Fulton and Stark counties’ Spoon River Drive, and the Peoria Area Sports Commission all have made significant progress in this decade.
How would you rate Peoria’s successes in attracting visitors and conventions in comparison with “peer” cities and your previous experience in Overland Park?
The Peoria area should be very proud of the many accomplishments over the past several years. Our convention bookings are up over 3.6 percent from last year and up over 78.9 percent for the past 5 years. Group tour bookings (bus tours) are up 27.5 percent over last year and 154 percent for the past five years.
Our Peoria Civic Center facilities are the best in downstate Illinois, both in size and versatility of space. The many attractions we offer in our six-county area are also some of the top attendance achievers in the state.
We continue to be extremely aggressive in our total sales approach. All area hotels/motels along with our major attractions work closely within the bureau to ensure we are aggressively selling our communities. I think if you asked some of our competitive cities – Springfield, Champaign, Decatur, Quad Cities, Rockford and even Des Moines and the collar Chicago cities – how they think we are doing, they would tell you that we have pursued and, eventually, earned some of their major pieces of convention business.
On the individual tourism market, we also continue to be very aggressive. We are beginning to spread the word that the Peoria area is a great place for family get-aways. It is a fact that more people are traveling close to home and taking shorter vacations. We are marketing this area to a radius of about 250 miles and our individual visitor inquiries continue to grow.
What are the area’s strongest assets in terms of attracting visitors?
Our strongest asset is the TEAM approach that the visitor industry has taken in this area. We have a substantial number of strong sales and marketing efforts being implemented. Hotels/motels, major attractions, shopping centers and some local restaurants have put together strong sales teams, along with the PACVB, that solicit organizations to visit and enjoy our great area.
Once here, visitors enjoy the superb hospitality that we central Illinoisans offer. Many comments come back to us on how friendly and hospitable people in this area are.
We also offer a wealth of great attractions, including our local museums, Glen Oak Zoo and Wildlife Prairie Park, gaming, natural resources, shopping and an array of hotels/motels. The Peoria area is recognized as “very affordable” to national and regional meeting planners. That is another key to success.
Where do you think we could do a better job as a community?
The Peoria area has to be one of the most generous communities around. I have lived in several other cities and I have never experienced more volunteerism and charitable giving in any other area. The people of this community are our number one asset.
I think the community as a whole is very much on track. There is a wealth of good leadership, as many of our young leaders are now getting involved and “making it happen.”
With tourism being such a strong force for future growth, I would only urge new elders of our community to look long range at how we can make further improvements to attract tourists/conventioneers. After all, this results in new dollars to our area.
The PACVB is supported through membership fees, tax revenues and a state grant (Illinois Bureau of Tourism). The largest block of funding is the “HRA” tax. How does it work?
H, R & A are three separate taxes: hotel/motel, restaurant and amusement. These are City of Peoria taxes.
Currently the hotel/motel (“H”) tax is 5.5 percent. This tax generates approximately $1.4 million. The PACVB receives 40 percent, or approximately $560,000 from the H tax. The Peoria Civic Center receives 51 percent of the H tax. The remaining nine percent goes into a reserve fund that is allocated for grants to spur future convention/tourism growth. This fund is allocated by a board made up of two PACVB Board of Directors, two Peoria Civic Center Authority members, and two City Council members.
One hundred percent of the Restaurant Tax and 100 percent of the Amusement Tax goes to the Peoria Civic Center to par for the debt service and any operating deficits. A portion of the growth of the H, R & A taxes also goes to the Tourism Reserve Fund.
The Peoria Civic Center is an important element in the PACVB’s success in attracting conventions and visitors. How does the PACVB work with the Civic Center?
We have an excellent working relationship with the Peoria Civic Center. General Manager Don Welch and I talk on a daily basis as do our sales and marketing teams. I am also a non-voting member of the Peoria Civic Center Authority. Don is a non-voting member of the PACVB Board of Directors.
Based on your experience and knowledge of other cities, is our Civic Center the right size?
Because of the expansion the Civic Center completed in the early 90s, we are a very strong player for state, regional and some national conventions. There are times when yes, we could use more space. However, look at some of the “mega” centers across the country and you will find a lot of “open” dates.
I think we always should have a strategic plan in place which addresses needs for future expansion. This should be a priority (as the Civic Center Authority has done). This may be way down the road, say five to 10 years out. We currently do a good job in selling our center. There are some groups that would love to see an expansion take place; however, it is my opinion, that for the time being, we are positioned appropriately for our size community.
There are not many centers across the country that offer the versatility of the Peoria Civic Center. With the Arena, Exhibit Hall and Theater all under one roof, we have a superior selling point.
How well does the area work together in attracting visitors?
This is a very important ingredient to our successes in future tourism expansion. We currently represent six counties in central Illinois: Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, Fulton, Marshall and Stark. We have so much to offer visitors. Whether it be an urban or more rural environment, yes, we have it all
It is very important that we communicate effectively with all of our constituents. We have established many vehicles to accomplish this through membership mailings, news letters, press releases, visitor guides, membership directories, and calendar of events. If we don’t know about an event or attraction, we can’t properly market it.
Fragmentation continues to be an issue. To have effective efforts increase, tourism cannot be fragmented. Many successful areas of our country have effectively reaped the rewards of tourism by joining forces regionally and working together. We must continue to “tear down the walls” that separate our communities, to succeed in this vibrant industry.
What are the top priorities of the PACVB and how do you plan to approach them?
The number one priority is summed up in our mission statement: “To promote and sell the attractions, retail businesses and meeting facilities in the Peoria Area to the convention and tourism industry; thereby, contributing to the economic growth of the community and establishing the Peoria Area as a destination location.”
Other top priorities for 1997 include increasing:
- Our exposure through cooperative advertising with PACVB members;
- Convention room night booking by 6 percent over 1996 actuals;
- Tourism room night sales by 12 percent over 1996 actuals;
- Number of group leads to our members by 30 percent over 1996 actuals;
- Marketing efforts for new developments; i.e.: Riverfront, Eastside Sports Complex, French Heritage Corridor;
- Awareness and productivity of the Peoria Area Sports Commission.
We will achieve these priorities as outlined in our 1997 marketing plan. We have established an aggressive team at the PACVB and each staff member is goal-oriented. Under the direction of our Board of Directors, we can and will accomplish these goals.
Overall, what observations would you offer native Peorians who have an opportunity to return to this area to raise a family, pursue a career, and again call central Illinois “home?”
There are a lot of great cities and places in the United States to work and play, but none are better than central Illinois. My advice: live here, work here, raise your family here, play here.
My wife Joni and I have had no regrets in locating back (for me) to Peoria. As a Des Moines native, Joni has really joined this community. She serves in many capacities including Junior League, Board of Education member, St. Vincent de Paul School Board of Education member, St. Vincent Women’s Guild, as well as being a “Household Engineer” and mother of six active children.
The Peoria area is once again a young, vibrant, progressive community. We need to keep our young leaders here to continue economic development.
To those young people who say, “There’s nothing to do here…” give me a call!
Finally, what is your view of the full field of candidates for Mayor of Peoria?
Now, I’ve just said what a great place this is in which to live and play. Do you want me to jeopardize my future and career by commenting? NOT! IBI