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Peoria Civic Center Eyes Strong Return from COVID-19 Shutdown

Jeff Smudde

Peoria Civic Center general manager Rik Edgar believes the venue is poised for a big rebound once COVID-19 subsides.

“Actually, the outlook is pretty good. It's not going to be turning on the faucet one day at full strength,” said Edgar, adding he’s optimistic they can attract crowds as well as they were before the pandemic struck. “We’re referring to it as the ‘Roaring 20s’ – but in the 2020s versus 1920s. The pent-up demand is there, so we're hoping to be able to fill that demand in a safe way when we can.”

Edgar said they are starting to plug events into the calendar, with capacity limits in place to assure that safe reopening.

“We are starting to book things into the third and fourth quarter and possibly even the summer,” said Edgar. “We're going to mostly do events in the arena, socially distanced 25%. But we're going to ease from 25 to 60%, and ultimately, we'd really like to be at 100% by the third quarter of this year.”

Edgar said many events will not work without at least the possibility of full capacity, noting a Reba McIntyre concert planned for this summer had to be rescheduled to next spring.

“That event would not work at 60% capacity in August, so out of an abundance of caution it was moved to March – not just in the Peoria area, but across the country. So we're working for solutions,” said Edgar.

The first major event set for the Civic Center is a regional in The Basketball Tournament in July, a 64-team national tournament with a $1 million grand prize. Peoria was selected as one of four TBT regional sites, with 14 games played over four days and some televised on the ESPN network.

The field includes one team of former Bradley players and another featuring University of Illinois products. This marks the TBT’s return to Peoria after Bradley’s Renaissance Coliseum hosted games in 2017.

“They had reached out to Bradley University again, but with social distancing, the math just didn't work at Renaissance Coliseum – but it did work at Carver Arena,” said Edgar. “So it's really an awesome opportunity for us.

“We're able to put it into the arena, socially distance our fans in pods, and have 25% capacity. We may be at 60% capacity by the time the event happens in July, but even at 25% capacity that event works for us. So that's why we were so excited to get it and bringing it here.”

Earlier this week, the Civic Center announced two future events at the Civic Center Theater: comedian Jo Koy on Sept. 9, and Food Network star Alton Brown on March 24 next spring. Edgar said more announcements could be coming soon and he’s optimistic for a bright future – as long as people take COVID-19 precautions seriously.

“I think the first quarter of '22 looks absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “But we still need people to be able to help us get back to work, and part of that is: wash your hands, wear a mask when you're in public, get vaccinated. Once those things become more prevalent, then our industry comes back.”