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New Group Planning To Restore Peoria’s Historic Madison Theater

Madison Theater.png
Tim Shelley
Built in 1920, the landmark Madison Theater in downtown Peoria has been dormant since 2003.

A newly formed not-for-profit group is pursuing an ambitious, complex strategy to preserve and renovate the landmark Madison Theater in downtown Peoria.

“The most important thing about it is to have yet another active venue in downtown Peoria,” said local real estate broker Eric Heard, who serves as chair of the seven-member Madison Preservation Association.

Built in 1920, the historic venue has been dormant since 2003 and was damaged in a 2016 arson fire. Now, Heard and his group are looking to raise $10 million in community donations toward a three-year process that could exceed $30 million.

Heard said the structure of the project “is coming together pretty well.”

“I think we kind of have a pathway toward success, but it’s going take some steps to get there. So there’s still work to be done; nothing’s entirely imminent yet,” said Heard. “But I think we have stuff that we can propose to the public for investment purposes. They’ll need investors for the acquisition of the property as well as donations and tax credits and things like that.”

Heard expects the project will occur in phases, beginning with a $1.3 million sale of the retail space along Main Street from the Comfort family trust to an as yet unidentified investor. He said a purchase agreement is in place and should be completed by the end of the year, with longtime downtown restaurant Two25 planning to move into the space formerly occupied by Rumberger’s Wings and More.

“I think the public wants to see progress along Main Street,” said Heard. “Once people see results, I think people respond more favorably towards a project versus being purely conceptual and pie in the sky.”

The plan then calls for the Comforts to donate the theater space to the Madison Preservation Association.

“That’s going to take more time, so we’re going to do it somewhat separately for the most part,” said Heard. “It’s going to take a while to raise the funds needed for the for the restoration of the theater.”

Heard said returning the Madison Theater to a functioning venue would be a major step toward revitalizing the downtown area.

“We need as many things active and successful to draw people to Peoria, whether it be conventions or concerts, whatever the activities might be,” he said. “We want every possible venue available and to have a more robust downtown, so I think that's why it's really critical that the Madison Theater and other things survive.

“The hotels need to thrive also, because the more people you have in beds, they’re shopping, they’re eating and that will definitely benefit our tax base. Right now, especially coming out of COVID-19, a lot of things need to start going right in downtown Peoria.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.