PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – The City of Peoria will loan $4 million to bail out the struggling Peoria Civic Center. The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to issue the bonds.
However, the council would reject a similar strategy to support the Peoria Fire Department.
Rik Edgar, general manager of the Peoria Civic Center, delivered an annual presentation at the council meeting Tuesday, and explained the venue’s dire situation due to the pandemic. Earlier this month, Edgar told WMBD the Peoria Civic Center would run out of money by November without some form of relief, and he campaigned to raise awareness to federal and state lawmakers of the challenges facing the live event industry since the global spread of COVID-19.
Since March, the Peoria Civic Center has hosted only one event — the St. Jude Telethon. Edgar said the area’s largest events center was on pace for record attendance and gross income, referencing a record-breaking KISS concert in February. But with the postponement and cancellation of concerts, Broadway shows and other live events, the Peoria Civic Center lost 11 bookings that were on pace to sell out, said Edgar.
“Our projections were to be $500,000 in the black,” he told council members Tuesday night.
Instead, the pandemic forced to venue to lay off 90 percent of staff and those remaining received a 40 percent pay cut, according to Edgar.
“I don’t see a Peoria area without the [Peoria] Civic Center,” said First District Councilwoman Denise Moore.
The $4 million approved by Peoria City Council will retain at least 20 employees, manage utilities and repairs, and pay overdue bills. The city voted 11-0 and the councilmembers agreed Peoria could not afford to lose the venue.
“This is not a GoFundMe,” said at-large councilman Sid Ruckriegal. “We are bailing out the Civic Center, in order for it to survive.”
However, the unanimous decision to bail out the Peoria Civic Center drew irony from some members of the horseshoe.
“The elephant in the room is not long ago this same body cut two fire engines,” said at-large councilwoman Rita Ali. “And I hope that we revisit that and have the same passion in resolving that problem, in resolving this problem.”
The city recent decided to eliminate two Peoria Fire engines in order to balance the budget decimated by COVID-19.
Immediately following the vote to support the Peoria Civic Center, Councilman Chuck Grayeb asked if the council would be willing to bail out the Peorie Fire Department, too.
“We took care of the [Peoria] Civic Center […] because they are an integral part of the Peoria family,” said Grayeb. “So are our citizens who need protection.”
Grayeb proposed issuing bonds to salvage the two engines before they are permanently shut down on October 1, eliminating 22 positions in the process.
However, the conversation grew tense when Grayeb asked the Peoria Fire Union president Ryan Brady if the union would drop pending litigation for unfair practice against the city, if the council decided to issue bonds to save the engines.
Brady declined to answer without consulting with his union, but other councilmembers raised concerns of the offer’s legality.
Ruckriegal called it “Quid Pro Quo’ and “Illinois Politics at its finest.”
The city attorney would only comment on the statement’s legality in closed session, prompting the council to meet privately for roughly 20 minutes.
When they returned to the council chambers, they rejected a motion to issue bonds in support of the Peoria Fire Department. The vote failed 4 to 7, with Grayeb, Ali, Moore, and Beth Jensen voting in favor.