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Multimillion-dollar Peoria Civic Center renovations on track, says GM

 An aerial view of the Peoria Civic Center

The Peoria Civic Center continues to work on upgrades and renovations throughout the venue, a little more than a year since the city approved a $20 million funding plan for capital improvements.

“We've had multiple projects happening, we have them going on right now,” said Peoria Civic Center general manager Rik Edgar. “Getting the funding approved is one thing; getting it implemented is a tougher challenge because of supply line chains.”

Edgar said one of the biggest priorities, repairing a leaky roof, is about 95% complete.

“The only trouble area we have right now is the glass arcade because that is a under structural design work right now, because it's a little more complicated,” Edgar said. “But it is nice to have concerts in the arena and theater and not have to worry about people getting wet during a show.”

The city funding augmented a $25 million state grant awarded to the Civic Center in 2019 for renovations and improvements, helping the venue get closer to the $47 million total price tag for its full list of needs.

Edgar says a majority of the work so far has been in areas that most people wouldn’t notice, such as the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system. He said the next big item the public will notice is a new arena scoreboard that’s set to be installed in May.

Other upcoming changes include updating some signage with digital technology, renovated restrooms and some theater refurbishments.

“The building is going to lose about 20 years of age just in old technology that's going away,” Edgar said. “There's going to be a visual appearance that folks haven't seen yet.

“On our convention center side, we have had carpet that has been walked over more than a million times – well more than a million times – that’s getting replaced. So, it's kind of de-aging the building, and I think that leads to excitement and excitement leads to more activity.”

One major project that still lacks a definitive timeline is replacing the outdated ice plant for the Carver Arena hockey rink. The city’s funding package intended to facilitate that replacement so the Peoria Rivermen could remain one of the venue’s primary tenants.

In January, the Rivermen and the Peoria Civic Center Authority (PCCA) agreed to a one-year extension of the hockey team’s current lease, running through the SPHL’s 2024-25 season.

“I can tell you that there is ongoing conversations between the PCCA and the Rivermen for a long-term contract extension, and that would impact the long-term planning on the ice plant,” said Edgar, noting the project will take the arena offline for a significant period of time once the project starts.

Rik Edgar
Rik Edgar

“We know that it will not happen this summer,” he said. “The earliest that that project could possibly take place would be ’25. But that's going to depend on the negotiations.”

A strong quarter

Figures published recently in Pollstar magazine, a trade industry publication for concert and live music venues, ranked the Peoria Civic Center at No. 38 in the U.S. for tickets sold over the three-month period from mid-November to Valentine’s Day – at more than 46,000.

“What it is, is the last five years of building the marketplace, and we had a really strong showing with multiple and diverse events,” said Edgar, noting a variety of performances ranging from hip hop (Nelly and T.I.) to country (Hardy) to hard rock (Disturbed), as well as family shows (Hot Wheels).

He said Peoria’s ranking is particularly noteworthy when you consider the market’s size doesn’t crack the top 100.

“We're really punching above our weight, and the other part of that is that doesn't include all of the Bradley (men’s basketball) and Rivermen fans,” he said. “We had another 76,000 people also come to events outside of those numbers.

“The fact that we're punching so far above our weight shows that we have actually become a bit of a destination market, as in more than half of our tickets are sold for more than 50 miles from our building. So people come to Peoria, and then that leads to economic impact because we're bringing dollars from outside of our zip code into our zip code. That, at the end of the day, is our business model.”

Last summer, the Civic Center established an Audience Building Fund through a $500,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, with the purpose of diversifying programming. Edgar says it’s helped bring in shows like Monica, the “My 2000s Playlist” concert (with Nelly, Ashanti, Ja Rule, and T.I), and comedian Hasan Minhaj.

“What it's done, it's allowed us to try new things and attempt them,” he said. “We've also found out what is working, and that allows us to build the marketplace for the future. So it’s building, and what we're seeing is we're getting people out to the shows.

“The sales on the tickets are also really strong; for the ‘My Playlist,’ it was over a half million dollars in ticket sales on a weeknight. So it shows that that market exists, whereas previously we were seen as not a market that could support that.”

Making progress

Edgar said the Civic Center’s event staffing levels have continued to improve gradually since COVID-19.

“We're starting to see a few more people come back to work, and we're also seeing a growth in the convention side of our business that was really crippled coming out of the shutdown,” Edgar said.

“We are seeing some of the consumer shows come back, but the other thing we're seeing is sporting events. We've had huge volleyball tournaments (and) we now have a youth state wrestling tournament that's coming in that actually outgrew their last market.

“We've also brought everything from Legos to dinosaurs into the convention center. So that activity there is increased, and we're starting to see folks come back to work. It's been a little easier, but we're still not where we were pre-pandemic.”

Edgar said they’ve put an emphasis on improving the service time at concession stands.

“I think that food and beverage is always a place where folks are going to have an opinion,” he said. “But what we have done is we've made some positive steps there. We're now starting to actually time what it takes when someone's in line and – while we might stub our toe, occasionally – we're starting to see that people are coming in and getting their food in under 4-5 minutes at a line at like a Bradley game.

“The challenge we will always have is this building was built 42 years ago with narrow concourses. If you have an event where there's 5,000-7,000 people, especially if it's stoppage for breaks like a halftime or a period between (hockey) periods, and they all get up and go at the same time. It's just math: I have 80 points of sale and 5,000 people – there's going to be a line.”

Looking forward

Edgar said the strong ticket sales reported by Pollstar show Peoria’s potential as a live music market, and he’s optimistic about many shows on the calendar in the coming months – beginning with a Journey concert with Toto opening on Tuesday.

“If you book the right things, they (audiences) will come,” he said. “We have Journey on a weeknight and we're going to sell 7,000 tickets – and most of those tickets are coming from outside of Peoria, and that's a great thing to have people come and see us.”

Other future concerts Edgar expects to perform well include Lauren Daigle (May 9), Whiskey Myers (May 10), the Violent Femmes (May 15), Foreigner and Loverboy (Sept. 25), and Barenaked Ladies with Toad the Wet Sprocket (Nov. 1).

Edgar said the Civic Center drew more than 80,000 paying guests in February, with 56 events held throughout the facility over a 29-day period.

“We've seen such a great response from the community this past year, and what I've seen is familiar faces coming back to us,” he said.

“I think we’ve become a destination and my team takes a lot of pride in that. We just hope folks continue to come visit with us, because the more they do, the better the shows get. At the end of the day, we're just trying to make people happy and have a good time.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.