Q&A: Peoria Civic Center GM Edgar touts venue’s best fiscal year since 2007 expansion
A presentation of the Peoria Civic Center’s annual report shows an adjusted gross income that exceeded budget projections by $1.9 million dollars.
“It’s phenomenal. We just wrapped up our fiscal year at the end of August, and it was the best year that the venue’s had since we did the additions 17 years ago,” general manager Rik Edgar said, referring to an expansion completed in 2007.
In an extended interview with WCBU ahead of his scheduled presentation to the City Council, Edgar said the city-owned Civic Center is in a better financial position than it has been in “a very long time.”
“We're a true nonprofit, so we're not allowed to make a profit,” he said. “With that being said, we were able to build up some reserves through our capital funding and so we're now flush with enough money to sustain the building, if we had any kind of offset.
“But right now we're only seeing things getting better. Attendance is up, the amount of shows and activity is up, and the success level of those shows is up.”
The presentation touts $7.1 million in adjusted gross income in FY2023, with $6 million in net event income that is $1 million more than the previous best annual performance.
More than 450,000 guests came through the Civic Center in the past year, with 142 ticketed events included among 352 event days.
“We had a number of successful shows, and the interesting thing is: I manage the booking calendar and Ashley Clayton is my right hand. We were so busy that we really would book shows, and I had to be reminded that we'd already booked that (date) on the calendar,” said Edgar. “It was a unique issue to have because of the amount of shows.”
Edgar noted that the Civic Center set a new attendance record for a comedy act in Carver Arena three times in the past 12 months, and “Bluey’s Big Play” this Saturday and Sunday in the theater will set the mark for highest-grossing family show.
“So again, we keep seeing records broken and things keep going in a positive direction,” he said.
Edgar said a $500,000 state grant to establish an “Audience Building Fund” is helping to bring more diversity to the types of acts at the Civic Center, with Black Violin (Oct. 20), Monica (Nov. 4), Complexions Contemporary Ballet (Jan. 30), and Malevo (March 26) on the calendar.
“Promoters want to know that while they do take risks, they want to limit risk,” he said. “Since we do not have a market history with spoken word, interpretive dance, and some of the hip hop-type shows that we haven't had here, there seems to be a desire to for us to bring them.
“This is a way for us to go to promoters and go, ‘we can protect your downside risk if you take a chance on Peoria.’ So the idea is that as those shows become successful, any money that may have been incentivized out of that fund would eventually get replaced.”
Improvements and renovations
Edgar said upgrades are in progress at Carver Arena as part of the $45 million in capital improvements taking place over the next three years.
“We've demolitioned our lower bowl seating and we're putting in new seating that will have handrails, and it's more safe when people come up and down. So that is the immediate,” he said. “During the fall, we will be getting new LED boards, and the scoreboard’s on the way.”
Funding for the projects come from a $20 million investment from the city on top of $25 million in state grant money.
Edgar said they’ve already replaced the Civic Center’s heating and cooling system and boilers, and a new roof is about 85% done with the rest to be finished in the spring.
“There's other things, but again, one of the challenges we had is with supply line chains,” he said. “So a lot of projects that we were hoping to do now, or even over the summer, got pushed back because once we hit October with Bradley (men’s basketball), with Rivermen (hockey), and all the other activities, we don't have – we need like a 1-3 month window, and we couldn't close the venue down during our busy season.”
Edgar installation of a new ice plant for the Carver Arena hockey rink has been delayed by a year.
“There's some complications that we found out when we did a full study on putting it in, so the projection now is for that to be the summer of ’25,” he said. “We could not get the parts here in time to do it and have a plan to have the arena closed – because it'll have to be closed from 100-120 days. So that's something we have to plan, because we already had bookings this summer. It's coming, but some of these things take a while.”
Edgar said they have already communicated with the Rivermen and with the maintenance team about making sure the current ice plant can function through potentially two more hockey seasons.
Edgar says the Civic Center is still exploring the possibility of selling naming rights, but no deal is imminent.
In July, the Civic Center Authority issued a request for proposals (RFP) on a possible $5 million naming sponsorship, seeking a minimum offer of $500,000 annually over at least 10 years.
“That was put out to see what kind of interest was locally. That process closed and we didn't have a legitimate offer,” said Edgar. “It's a process that takes a while … so the process is ongoing, and we would love to have someone put their name on the building.”
Edgar said exploring the RFP route was just a first step, and now they can look in another direction.
“We can contact individual businesses or folks that are friends with the venue and try to find someone not only that wants to have their name for the recognition, but someone who really wants to be a part of the culture that we've cultivated at the Civic Center,” he said.
Edgar reiterated that the name of the arena cannot be changed, as the recognition of former Mayor Richard Carver is guaranteed by statute.
“It's going to be Carver Arena in perpetuity, per when they built it,” said Edgar. “But there are opportunities with the theater or, more importantly, the entire Civic Center as an entity.”