A Publication of WTVP

Breathing new life into Peoria’s Downtown

by Amy Talcott | Photos by Ron Johnson |
Peoria Civic Center
Peoria Civic Center

Peoria Civic Center General Manager Rik Edgar has presided over record sales and sold-out shows

Will it play in Peoria? If you ask Peoria Civic Center General Manager Rik Edgar, the answer is, “Absolutely.”

Rik Edgar, manager of the Peoria Civic Center
Rik Edgar, manager of the Peoria Civic Center

Since he came to Peoria in 2018, Edgar has worked to diversify the Civic Center’s entertainment options. And it appears to have paid off with record-breaking sales and sold-out shows. Pretty good for the (relatively) new guy in town.

Originally from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Edgar lived most recently in Huntington, West Virginia, where he was general manager of the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

“My wife grew up in Ohio, and at one point we lived in Wisconsin and really enjoyed the Midwest,” he said. “I came to Peoria and fell in love with the city. It has so much to offer for its size.”

Not Your Average Job

When asked about a day in the life of a civic center general manager, Edgar laughed.

“The reason I chose this profession is because when I start my day, I have no idea what’s in store — and I say that in a positive way,” he said. “I worked 9-to-5 jobs, and it was not a lifestyle that appealed to me. This job is 24/7/365, and it’s in my blood.”

Edgar says he’s lucky his staff, which includes 40 full-time employees and close to 600 part-timers, has the same mentality: “We ask them to work crazy, weird hours sometimes, but they put their heart and soul into what they do.”

Edgar has worked in markets both big and small but said the best training he received was in smaller venues where he learned a little about everything. “Those skills have helped me be a better leader,” he said, “and to offer guidance while allowing people to do their jobs.”

Guidance also comes from networking with other local venues such as the Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette Hotel. General Manager Thomas Hobson has had a working relationship with Edgar since he started at the hotel 18 months ago.

“Rik is a personable, thoughtful, detailed individual and a great communicator,” said Hobson. “We meet often to discuss trends in the market, upcoming events and how past events fueled the downtown economy. I think he’s been the perfect fit to lead the Peoria Civic Center.”

Record Numbers

The Civic Center is coming off a record year, including 239 events and nine sold-out shows in 2022. Edgar is quick to decline all the credit.

“When it comes to entertainment, the fans choose it for us, whether they realize it or not,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from people who attend different events here, and it definitely factors into what comes next.

“For instance, I learned this area loves hobbyist monster trucks. We had the Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live Glow Party in February, and we have another big event in March. We love rock shows. Greta Van Fleet sold out here last July. We also do well with country shows. Reba McIntire sold out the arena last summer, and Keith Urban was part of one of the highest grossing weekends in the Civic Center’s history this past November.”

Edgar says there’s also been an explosion in the comedy market since the pandemic. “When people were at home, they watched comedians on Netflix,” he said. “Now we’re selling out their shows because fans want to see them in person.”

Comedian Gabriel Iglesias set the all-time PCC box office record in March 2022, only to be broken six months later by comedian Bill Burr. “The reality is, promoters come to Peoria because they feel like they can make money in the market, and that allows our fans to see a great variety of entertainment,” Edgar said.

Don Kronberg owns Nitelite Promotions, one of the companies that works with Edgar to bring entertainment to Peoria. “I’ve had a great working relationship with the Civic Center for over 25 years,” Kronberg said, “but I think the venue is as strong now as it has ever been with Rik at the helm. He’s always at the top of our list when we are trying to route dates through the area.”

Edgar attributes the increased diversity of shows in part to his own curiosity.

“If I see everyone on the left side of the room, I’m curious what’s happening on the right side of the room, because it’s obviously being underserved,” he said.

That curiosity over his five-year tenure as general manager has helped make the Peoria Civic Center the number two market in Illinois, ranking 88th on Pollstar’s Top 100 Concert Market Rankings list for 2023.

“Rik is smart and doesn’t just say ‘yes’ to every idea that’s brought up,” said Kronberg. “He makes sure the shows he confirms have a true chance of success.”

The Ripple Effect

What’s good for the Civic Center also is good for Peoria’s economy.

“When the Civic Center is hopping, Peoria — especially the Downtown — is hopping,” said Hobson. “You see people in restaurants and bars with their Bradley sweatshirts, Rivermen jerseys and concert t-shirts. When there are events at the Civic Center, the vibe of Downtown changes. It brings the place alive.”

“One of the craziest days we had was December 3, 2022, when Pentatonix and Harry Connick Jr. performed in different venues on the same night,” said Edgar. “Harry Connick broke our highest grossing concert record and Pentatonix was sold out. That night, one downtown restaurant turned away over 100 people, and those people filled up other local restaurants.”

Tim Comfort, owner of Jim’s Steakhouse, is one of Edgar’s biggest fans. “The Peoria Civic Center under Rik and his team just keeps getting better and better,” he said. “Their shows, concerts and sporting events bring people from all over. When Bob Seger played here in 2019, we served guests who came from as far away as California. For the Greta Van Fleet concert last July, we had people here from Dallas. The Civic Center’s events allow us to showcase our downtown restaurant, as well as Jim’s Bistro in Peoria Heights, to people from all over the country.” 

“We need to continue to work together to spread the word about how great Peoria is,” said Hobson. “That’s the key. Rik and his team are offering events that attract people from other areas, and you hear comments like, ‘We didn’t know Peoria was such a nice city!’ It’s really all about expanding on that.”

“It’s Gonna Be Awesome”

The continued success of the Civic Center is putting serious wear and tear on the 40-year-old facility. “We have leaks in the roof and carpet that need to be replaced,” Edgar explained. “We have HVAC systems with 20-year life expectancies that are on their 30th year.”

Also at issue is the condition of the ice plant primarily used by the Peoria Rivermen, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain. With the Rivermen’s lease with the Civic Center expiring at the end of the season and their future in Peoria in question, other areas of the facility also require attention.

Edgar identified seven critical needs out of a total of 20 projects. A capital bill of $25 million will help address some. “We’re at least able to make a sizeable dent to make some improvements,” he said.   

Regardless, the Civic Center has flourished under Edgar’s management.

“Rik is one of the best GMs in the business, and Peoria is lucky to have him at the PCC,” said Therese Spaseff, talent buyer at Live Nation. “We know when we bring a show to Peoria, he’s going to do everything he can to bolster exceptional experiences for the artists, their fans, his downtown businesses and community members, and our team. He truly cares about people and his relationships with them, and I’m happy to have the pleasure of working with him to bring some spectacular shows to Peoria.”

“We just came out of the worst time, with the pandemic, and this past year was the best we’ve ever had,” said Edgar. “I look at the calendar and I’m so excited for all the cool things ahead. I can’t look too far into the future, but I can promise you: It’s gonna be awesome.”

Amy Talcott

Amy Talcott

is a senior marketing and communications analyst at RLI Corp. and a freelance writer.