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March Madness? Peoria Hotels Worry Coronavirus May Impact IHSA Tournament Attendance

Daryl Scott
Peoria Public Radio

Before Jeff McLinden gets to deal with what happens should Peoria lose its bid to host March Madness next year, he’s got this year’s basketball tournament to worry about.

“We’re in full contingency mode,” said the managing director of the Marriott Pere Marquette and the adjoining Courtyard by Marriott. The downtown hotels have hosted the Illinois High School Association boys tournament for the past 25 years.

“What if the IHSA doesn’t come to town next weekend? What if they decide to play the games at a remote location and let people watch them on television?” McLinden was referring to efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

No announcement has been made by the IHSA regarding a change in games scheduled for the Peoria Civic Center this weekend and next.

Around the country, concern over an outbreak of the virus has raised the possibility of playing large-scale sports events in empty halls or the cancellation of games such as the Ivy League basketball tournament.   

The NCAA announced Tuesday that it would make decisions about its upcoming national basketball tournament in the next few days.

In Peoria, McLinden has said the upcoming tournament means a lot to the hotels he oversees.

“We house four teams in the Pere Marquette and four teams in the Courtyard plus the IHSA vendors and support staff. We’re 90 percent committed to IHSA for those two weekends,” he said.

McLinden called the coronavirus outbreak “a slow version of 9/11.”

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in 2001, the whole travel and leisure industry was affected, he said. 

“No one was flying and you had hotels shutting entire floors down," he said. 

McLinden said his hotel and others in the industry are “super hygienically-focused.” “We’ve got gallons of sanitizer and boxes of wipes on hand,” he said.

The impact of travel restrictions that have gone into effect as a result of precautions to reduce the spread of coronavirus are already being felt, said McLinden.

“We’ve had consultants that usually fly into Peoria from Charlotte, N.C. that are being told by their company not to fly,” he said.

“It’s still a little bit early to see the effect this will have but it’s absolutely coming,” said McLinden.