Peoria Civic Center Trumpets First Events Since COVID-19 Shutdown
For Peoria Civic Center general manager Rik Edgar, this weekend can’t arrive fast enough.
“It’s been too long. It’s time to turn the machine back on,” Edgar said at a Thursday news conference trumpeting the venue’s reopening with the first major public events since the onset of COVID-19.
Edgar said they’re excited to have people back in the building, and stressed they are taking spectators’ safety very seriously. They will observe a clear bag policy to reduce hands-on inspections, and more strictly enforce the no re-entry policy. Most importantly, he wants guests to remain civil.
“We’re asking citizens to be nice; be kind to our staff, be kind to your neighbors,” he said. “If you haven’t been vaccinated, please wear a mask. It’s not your personal choice to come and get yourself sick at our events and hurt other people.”
More than 500 days have passed since the Civic Center held its last events. The drought ends Saturday with four regional games in The Basketball Tournament playing in Carver Arena, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band Chicago taking the theater stage.
“I am just thrilled and excited to welcome live events back to the Peoria Civic Center,” said Mayor Rita Ali, adding she believes getting the Civic Center back open will boost the local economy. “The Peoria Civic Center is vital to the recovery of downtown and the greater Peoria region. This venue is for the community, and with the community support, the Peoria Civic Center is returning and it will be better than ever.”
Edgar said they’re cautiously optimistic they can attract strong crowds and return to pre-pandemic levels of success, with more than 20 events on the schedule through October.
“This next year, we’re going to need to greet about 500,000 people over the year to get back on our feet,” he said. “We take it very seriously that we are responsible for a lot of jobs that were lost during this pandemic, and we take it with great pride that we’re going to be able to get those jobs back in the downtown area and really, truly be the economic epicenter.”
Edgar said the Civic Center employed more than 500 workers before the COVID-19 shutdown. He hopes to return to that staffing level next year.
“It’s going to be a slow ramp up. Like a lot of folks, the hospitality industry as a general rule has been hit hard,” he said. “So we’re going to start building slowly and hopefully we can get back to full capacities, probably is going to be early 2022.”
Now in its eighth year, The Basketball Tournament is a national competition with a $1 million prize, featuring 64 teams of former college stars and other ex-pros. The 16-team Illinois Regional includes teams with alumni from Bradley University (Always A Brave) and Illinois (House of ’Paign).
Carver Arena will host 14 games over a five-day span, with four first-round games Saturday and Sunday, four second-round matchups Monday, and the regional finals on Wednesday.
Other acts slated to appear in the coming months include country stars Jason Aldean and Reba McIntyre, indie pop trio AJR, classic rock bands Foreigner and REO Speedwagon, comedians Jo Koy and Bert Kreischer, and Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Earth, Wind & Fire.
“I think Peoria became a ‘must-play’ stop prior to the pandemic, and we are definitely going to be back to a ‘must-play’ stop after it,” said Edgar, eluding to other unannounced major shows. “But we have to have fans come out.”