A Publication of WTVP

So now the cat is out of the bag—Peoria is looking to build a brand new hotel affiliated with a national chain and connected via skywalk to the Peoria Civic Center. The project also includes renovation of the historic Hotel Pere Marquette, relocating Big Al’s nightclub, razing an entire city block and constructing a new parking deck. This is by far the most ambitious project in downtown Peoria since the Janssen and Becker buildings were constructed.

Proponents say this addresses all kinds of issues. First, it creates more quality hotel room inventory for the recently renovated and expanded Peoria Civic Center, which has doubled its meeting space. Therefore, we can now hold larger conventions than we could have before. Second, connectivity to the Civic Center is huge. We are a cold-weather state, and the value of convention-goers never having to set foot outside in the bitter cold, snow or rain is priceless. This, too, will open us up to PMclients who would not otherwise give us a passing glance. Third, a large new building creates a much more attractive Main Street and downtown cityscape. Fourth, it provides a sorely needed new parking deck, which will be open to the public, to replace the aging, small structure we have in place now. Finally, it relocates Big Al’s and other establishments that have created headaches for the Hotel Pere Marquette in the past, mainly noise complaints from guests.

But critics will say it also creates a host of problems. More hotel inventory isn’t necessarily a good thing if there’s not enough business to go around. Therefore, this new hotel may put existing properties at risk by “stealing” their business. Those hotels, however, may benefit from larger conventions and events that are unable to house all of their attendees at one property. Also, not everyone will want to pay the higher room rates this property will command, leading some to look elsewhere.

Others argue against a skywalk, saying it stifles commerce by putting visitors above street level. I disagree. The skywalk will cross Fulton Street at a place where there is little retail, and therefore, little need for commerce, unless Sacred Heart Church suddenly becomes a hot spot to shop. Plus, the hotel’s front door will sit on Main Street, where commerce is arguably most needed.

Finally, the owners of other hotels might tell you they’ll need to renovate to stay in the game. But one of the Peoria area’s most attractive features to visitors is price point, which is low. To keep it low, hotels operate on a slim profit margin, which makes expensive renovation a risky venture. This is where the Hospitality Improvement Zone (HIZ) enters the picture. The HIZ encompasses the Holiday Inn City Centre and Mark Twain, and tax increment financing is available to assist the owners of those properties. The proposed Business Development District would require those properties within the HIZ to charge an extra one-percent hotel tax, which would create more financing for renovation.

Also, keep in mind the HIZ encompasses more than 30 businesses, including the historic Madison Theater. Hopefully it will provide the owners of those entities the incentive to make improvements as well.

A new hotel and HIZ are not perfect solutions to the issues currently faced by the Peoria area hospitality industry. But they may be as close as we can get. iBi