Many people have visited the newly renovated and expanded Peoria Civic Center since the Great Hall ribbon cutting on March 1. The comment now often heard from people entering the Great Hall from Jefferson Avenue is, “This looks like a big-city facility.” Indeed, it should, and it does.
Beginning in 2001, the Peoria Civic Center Authority analyzed Peoria’s role in the regional entertainment, convention and meetings marketplace. The Authority recognized that this flexible and busy campus consisting of arena, theater, exhibit and meeting space needed upgrades and expansion in order to compete effectively. Since the PCC opened in 1982, new, larger and more contemporary facilities have been built. To maintain market position, the Civic Center’s functionality, space and appearance all needed improvement.
The new pre-function space for meetings and banquets carries a river theme throughout its design and décor, with undulating patterns and earth tones which create warm and welcoming spaces. The increased exhibit space has massive dock facilities for easy load-in and load-out, a welcome improvement for clients looking to maximize efficiency. The 100,000 square feet of exhibit space and 45,000 square feet of meeting space are now attractive to larger events that couldn’t previously be accommodated.
The last piece of this elegant puzzle is a convention hotel. Cities with high-quality convention facilities generally have a nationally-recognized chain hotel adjacent to their Civic Center, a critical element for meeting planners who select the convention location. With the size of Peoria’s facilities, 1000 hotel rooms are needed in the downtown area, and one of the hotels should be on the Civic Center campus.
The questions meeting planners routinely ask are:
- Are there high-quality rooms attached to the convention facility?
- Are there enough high-quality hotel rooms located within walking distance of the Civic Center to accommodate my entire group?
- Can the hotel rooms near the Civic Center be booked well in advance of my meeting date?
The question we should be asking ourselves is: Are there enough high-quality hotel rooms downtown to accommodate business travelers, Civic Center users, the Caterpillar Visitors Center and the new downtown museum? Right now we cannot answer “yes” to these questions. Nearly $1 billion in development for Peoria demands a second look at how to meet visitors’ needs. To maximize our community’s visitor potential, we must find ways to attract hotel development to downtown Peoria. Our neighbors seem to have found the ways and means to secure high-quality hotel investors. Incentives for development are short-term investments for long-term gains. With Peoria’s superior medical facilities and professionals, we should be able to attract medical meetings and conferences, but his won’t happen without excellent hotel accommodations, preferably at the four-star level.
When I first arrived in Peoria, Greg Edwards, then Executive Director of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, discussed the need to lure an upscale hotel at several meetings I attended. I understand that when the Civic Center was originally built 25 years ago, a hotel was part of the master plan. So this is not a new issue! Let’s get it done. IBI