A Publication of WTVP

Just one year ago, the red ribbons were cut, opening the newly expanded exhibit hall, and shortly thereafter, the beautiful fourth-floor ballroom in the Peoria Civic Center. It now seems like the two years of construction prior to the opening were just blips on the screen, minor inconveniences, while the facility just kept rolling events out.

In truth, those were intense times, with many hard decisions made by the construction team, Civic Center staff and the Civic Center Authority on what to keep and what to shelve for another project, another day. It all worked out very nicely, indeed, and I hope you’ve had a chance to attend an event in the ballroom and see for yourself how ‘big city’ the great hall and ballroom turned out. I haven’t toured one person yet who was not truly impressed.

It’s funny how history repeats itself. During the 20th anniversary in 2002, I had the opportunity to interview some key business leaders on the topic of the original Peoria Civic Center planning and construction back in the late ‘70s. David Connor from Commercial National Bank noted that it was a tough, almost unpopular, task to get the project completed because of the many naysayers. Connor would nod his head and remark that after it was built, those same people would pass him in the street and say, “Now we can’t imagine downtown without the Civic Center!”

Fast-forward to the last year of special events in the ballroom—the largest banquet facility in downstate Illinois: the George Washington Banquet featuring Senator John McCain, the Tri-County Urban League Gala featuring Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, the remarkable OSF Angel Ball with special effects by national lighting designers. The Methodist gala and leadership retreat, Caterpillar workshops, the United Way breakfast. ICC’s Community Celebration, Easter Seals’ Ball, the Chamber of Commerce Thanksgiving Luncheon.

Did I mention high school graduations, elegant wedding receptions, birthday bashes, holiday parties, or the recent Hallmark movie screening, at which Ernest Borgnine and John Carradine were made honorary citizens of Peoria? Oh, there were a few conventions that used the ballroom, too. In total, 121 events took place in this brand new ballroom alone in the last 12 months! It’s enough to make anyone say, “I can now hardly imagine the Civic Center without the ballroom.” It’s the largest banquet facility in downstate Illinois.

Perhaps you attended one of the events that used every square inch of the expanded exhibit hall—now totaling over 110,000 square feet. There was the March Madness Experience, with elbow room around all those crazy basketball games, and the Home Show, with the traditional house built inside the Civic Center. Just last month, the Central Illinois Auto Show played in Peoria again, now all on one contiguous level. Of course, that left the arena open, so hockey fans were able to come down Saturday and Sunday to see the Peoria Rivermen skate the ice.

Now more than ever, after one year of programming, the Civic Center hosts simultaneous events. It happens more frequently than you might think, especially considering the number of private events that take place but aren’t on public radar. Private business group seminars, banquets of varying sizes and pre-show gatherings in the Lexus Club all add up to hundreds of events that are not ‘ticketed events.’ And you thought the place was busy before!

Peorians should be very proud of their Civic Center, which has something for everyone on a regular basis. There aren’t more than a handful of venues in the country that have an arena, theater, exhibit space and, now, a ballroom, all under one roof. Promoters who visit are just amazed at the number of events held here each year. Individual events are approaching 400 annually, which becomes almost 675 days of events each year, an astounding number compared to venues in major markets that are only doing half that number. It truly is THE place people gather for live entertainment, for conventions, for the best banquets.

Last summer, the 25th Anniversary Open House welcomed more than 4,000 central Illinois citizens, and while that was a very special day, we know that many people could not make it on that particular date. I’d like to take this opportunity to invite you and your associates to come take a walking tour of the new Peoria Civic Center.

Starting May 3, 2008, the Civic Center will host tours the first Saturday of each month at 10am. Reservations are suggested, but not required; call PR Coordinator Allyson Peffer at 680-3586. Tours range from 45 to 90 minutes, so wear comfortable shoes. You’ll see how the architects’ theme of the curve of the river bend was incorporated into carpet and ceiling designs, how the new glass arcades blend with the Philip Johnson glass arcades from the original construction, and how spacious and elegant the expansion and upgrade turned out to be.

The one-year report card on the new Peoria Civic Center is Grade “A.” Come see for yourself. IBI