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Illinois: Peoria’s got big plans

Courtesy Peoria CVB

Projects are percolating in Peoria, with work expected to begin on a downtown hotel tower and a massive museum project near the riverfront.

The city also is wrapping up a new $65 million terminal at its General Wayne A. Downing International Airport. The old terminal opened 50 years ago; the new one, scheduled to open late this year, will have 11 gates and will be equipped to handle 2 million passengers each year.

Peoria officials hope the terminal will attract additional carriers. The city is now served by Allegiant Air, Delta, United and American Eagle with nonstop service to hubs that include Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Las Vegas.

Courtesy Peoria CVB

Peoria is closer to getting the additional downtown hotel rooms it needs to support the recent expansion of the Peoria Civic Center. In December, the city council approved nearly $40 million in public financing for a $102 million project that will renovate the historic Hotel Pere Marquette and construct a 220-room Marriott hotel tower next to it. Renovation will begin on the historic 287-room Pere Marquette after the Illinois Boys State Basketball Tournament in March. The hotel has 18,000 square feet of meeting space.

Developers say work on the Marriott tower could begin as early as July. The two hotels will be connected to one another and to the civic center by skywalk; both hotels will be managed by Marriott Corp. The project will also include a new parking deck with retail space on the street level.

The addition of the hotel tower and the skywalk connection are critical to entice larger groups to the civic center, said Jill Gleason, director of sales for the Peoria Convention and Visitors Bureau. There are 800 hotel rooms within walking distance of the civic center, but many larger conventions look for facilities with at least 500 guest rooms attached to them.

Although the Pere Marquette and the civic center are less than a block apart, the short walk can be uncomfortable when the weather hits extremes.

“When we had the Society of Decorative Painters in last year, they came during the two weeks of the year when it was hottest,” said Gleason. Group members had to make the short walk in temperatures that hit the 100 degrees Fahrenheit in June.

Peoria hopes the decorative painters group will return in a few years when the hotel projects are completed. By then the riverfront should be even livelier with the addition of Museum Square.
Seven local organizations and the city’s largest employer, Caterpillar Inc., have teamed up to turn a former block occupied by Sears near the Illinois River — about 7 acres in all — into a complex of museums and interactive experiences.

Courtesy Peoria CVB

Last April, local citizens showed their support for the project by approving a sales tax that will provide $40 million in public funding for the project.

Partners in the project are the Heartland Foundation, the Illinois High School Association, the Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences, the Peoria African American Hall of Fame Museum, the Peoria Historical Society and the Peoria Regional Museum Society.

On about two acres of the site, Caterpillar will construct its Caterpillar Experience, an interactive visitors center that will give an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at Caterpillar’s people, products and services. Museum Square will also have an Imax theater, a planetarium, and hands-on exhibits that explore the history of the city and the river.

Having the city’s leading corporation as a partner in the project will make Museum Square even more of a draw, Gleason believes. Caterpillar officials have visited the John Deere Pavilion in the Quad Cities for ideas.

“Groups are very interested in Caterpillar,” Gleason said. “Its business has changed so much in the last couple of years.”

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