Peoria performers mourn the losses of beloved KDB Group venues
On Wednesday, Jan. 6, the KDB Group, a development company owned by investor and businessman Kim Blickenstaff, announced they are “reevaluating the scope” of their operations in Peoria.
This includes shutting down the Scottish Rite Theater and the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center for the Performing Arts, effective Jan. 15.
Just a few hours after learning that news, the Central Illinois Jazz Orchestra took the stage at the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center, housed in the former Peoria Heights Public Library building. The community group, conducted by Bradley University Music Department Chair Todd Kelly, started filling Peoria stages with sound in 1998. Since then, Kelly says the group moved homes four times, from the New Millennium, to the Fieldhouse, from Peoria Pizza Works, to the Broadway Lounge.
“This was our first performance,” said Kelly. “We're hoping it was the first of many at the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center.”
Kelly says that, before receiving the news, he was working with KDB Group’s Executive Director of Performing Arts Jenny Parkhurst to make the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center the new home of the Central Illinois Jazz Orchestra.
“Of course, we were very shocked and disappointed. I love that venue,” said Kelly. “And performed there many times, including the Bradley jazz groups performed there last March. My New Orleans band, the Water Street Stampers, performed there several times. So it's a beautiful room and has great acoustics and just a wonderful vibe in there that I'm really going to miss.”
He says his favorite performance is one he wasn't a part of, but rather Peoria Symphony Orchestra's Too Hot to Handel Messiah program last December.
Kelly won’t be alone in missing the venues, for however long they’re gone. Heather Maughan is the conductor of the Peoria Pops Orchestra.
“I think of us as the orchestra of the people,” said Maughan. “Our motto, you know, that they came up with back in the 70s, was: ‘we make music fun.’”
The community group performed twice at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in 2022 and Maughan says they were scheduled to play three concerts there for the 2023 season. Kelly says he had three upcoming performances scheduled between the two closing venues as well. Maughan has seen her part of the performing arts community come together to get events rescheduled.
“I had my phone blow up,” she said. “With orchestra members saying: ‘Hey, I could possibly talk to this person, or I think I could get us a discount here or just want to make sure you heard this.’ So we're planning ahead.”
Both Kelly and Maughan say that staff with the venues were apologetic when telling them about the cancellations.
“I got a personal phone call, you know, because we had that close working relationship,” said Maughan. “And they were really respectful about it.”
In fact, the staff are prominent in Maughan’s memories of her performances at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, which she affectionately calls the “Scotty.” She says her favorite performance there was her part in the Dan Fogelberg: Native Son tribute in October.
“The staff at the Scottie that I worked with were very professional, very accommodating, and very good,” she said. “And just great to work with. So I really hope that I still see them around.”
The staff of both venues are also at the front of Kelly’s mind.
“I have a lot of friends and a lot of former Bradley students that were working in those facilities that are now going to be out of work,” he said. “So my heart goes out to them mainly.”
Another thing Maughan and Kelly will miss about the venues is the opportunities they provided for performing arts groups in Peoria. For groups too large to perform in a bar, but too small to fill the Peoria Civic Center, venues like the Scottish Rite Cathedral and the Betty Jayne Brimmer Center offer a professional performance experience. The venues offered professional sound, large crowds, careful microphone placement and, in the case of the Scottish Rite Cathedral, a full lighting system.
“It's tough because we are always looking for those kinds of facilities for a lot of the groups in this community,” said Kelly. “It's just two less places that they're going to be able to play.”
Maughan will particularly miss the grandiosity of the Scottish Rite’s stage.
“It was just so great for, you know, smaller community groups and even solo artists to be able to have these venues to perform at that were very professional,” she said. “It made you feel like you were legit, like you made it.”
Still, the cancellations are just a bump in the road for Maughan and the Pops Orchestra, who will find the roar of a crowd somewhere else.
“I mean, we still have places we can go. But the sad thing is that they're outside Peoria, or they're, you know, just a little bit more relaxed feeling,” she said. “And sometimes you just want to feel, you know, fancy and nice as a performer.”
Even though the Scottish Rite Cathedral and Betty Jayne Brimmer Center have only been operating for a short time, they’ve left a real impression on the people who performed there.
“I think the first time I walked into [Scottish Rite Cathedral] I went: ‘wow, this is really cool,’” said Kelly. “It had that staircase and the balcony, and just a really nice feel to it. So yeah, I don't think there's anything else like that.”
Maughan will miss having a venue that “felt like home.”
“It didn't feel intimidating to go to the Scottie. And it was still very accessible for a lot of people, the ticket prices were still manageable for a lot of those in the community,” she said. “The quality of performances there were amazing. It was amazing.”
It’s unclear whether the decision to close the venues is permanent or temporary, or what the KDB Group’s plan is for the buildings moving forward. For now, Peoria’s performing community can only reminisce on the performances the spaces made possible and wait.