PEORIA, Ill. — For 25 years, Peoria has been home to the Original March Madness Tournament.
City leaders plan to keep it that way.
The IHSA Boy’s Basketball Tournament has been a staple here in Peoria, but the contract expires after this year’s games.
City leaders say they have submitted a comprehensive plan, and that keeping the tournament in Peoria is a priority.
Cities around the state are placing their bids to host the Original March Madness Tournament.
Peoria officially placed its bid last Friday, but 90 miles to our East, Champaign has entered the mix too.
President and CEO of Enjoy Peoria, JD Dalfonso, says Peoria has many things to offer that other cities don’t.
“We’re centrally-located, the amenities here. When our hotels come together, as they have, to support this tournament to our restaurants, to our venues such as the Civic Center,” Dalfonso said.
Dalfonso says everything the Peoria Civic Center has to offer makes it the perfect location for basketball games, and more.
“Attributed to our friends across the street at the Civic Center. To be able to provide a venue that not only provides a state of the art venue for basketball, the arena it has to offer. But right next door in the same building (The Exhibition Hall), it has an incredible experience for guests, players, and fans of the sport,” Dalfonso said.
Mayor Ardis says Peoria prides itself on the ‘March Madness Experience,‘ which offers games and exhibits for everyone.
“The Experience is Peoria’s. We came up with that idea, we own that idea. That idea and all that stuff doesn’t walk out the door if there’s a chance for another community to take it. That’s proprietary to us,” Mayor Ardis said.
“That’s not something that’s gotten old and stale, the committee has done a great job at keeping that fresh. Bringing new booths and games to that. I think that’s another thing that a lot of communities may think they could easily duplicate, but it’s gonna be very challenging for them to do that,” Mayor Ardis added.
Mayor Ardis says the committee was ready to file the bid and worked extremely hard to make it a compelling case the Original March Madness should stay in Peoria.
“Every five years, when this comes about, there’s no complacency on the committee. We go after that new contract just like it was the one they went after a quarter of a century ago when it left Champaign,” Mayor Ardis said.
“We’re not complacent, we’re very energized. We want to continue to bring new things to the IHSA to help them understand we love having their tournament here. We understand we are the face for the IHSA State Boy’s Basketball Tournament, we want to keep that. Their confidence level in our ability to keep performing is strong. We don’t take this for granted at all,” Mayor Ardis said.
With multiple hotels in walking distance of the Peoria Civic Center, and the Pere Marquette even connected to it, Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis says this gives visitors from all over to a place to stay.
“We hear that anecdotally that people that always come down for the tournament, regardless of who’s in it, they want to be in Peoria for the tournament. They book their rooms in advance, and when the tournament’s over, they re-book for the following year,” Mayor Ardis said.
Mayor Ardis says the history Peoria has with the tournament is just another reason the tournament should stay here.
“For the last couple generations, it’s all the kids know. When they say ‘go to state,’ you’re going to Peoria for state. It means a lot. It’s the recognition of a year’s worth of hard work in basketball and have the opportunity to come to Peoria to play for the state championship,” Mayor Ardis said.
Dalfonso says it’s the community’s effort that makes the entire experience so successful.
“With our corporations and sponsors and partnerships. Not just Caterpillar, but the Park District comes together. We have numerous entities across town that want to be a part of this for the state tournament,” Dalfonso said.
Leaders agree, the tournament benefits all of central Illinois.
“It’s expansive. Outside of Peoria, I know we host at the Civic Center, but East Peoria, Pekin, our surrounding communities really go to bat to make sure everybody is taken care of,” Dalfonso said.
Dalfonso says the new contract will be for three years, whereas in the past it has been a 5-year contract.
While the tournament takes place in March, Dalfonso says IHSA plans to have an answer on where next year’s tournament will be sometime in March or April.