PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Dozens of people visited the first open house hosted by a group hoping to restore the Madison Theater in Peoria.

The Madison Preservation Association hosted 50 guests at the open house.

Board member Cody Gielbelhausen said the purpose of the open house is to garner community interest to restore the historic building. He said the project is expected to cost $25 million.

“I hope they’re excited about what the theater can become once again and seeing such a critical block in our downtown and such a unique and incredible space throughout all of Central Illinois, and see that it’s absolutely worth saving,” he said.

Gielbelhausen said the theater needs a lot of work, but is structurally sound.

“I think most people find that it certainly has its issues, and its roof leaks, plaster damaged. But it’s not nearly as bad of condition as most people think,” he said.

For Jan Nelson, it was like stepping back in time.

At age 16 in 1957, Nelson worked as an usherette at the Madison Theater. She said the place holds a special place in her heart because it was her first job, and she has many fond memories.

“We would sneak up in the balcony area, and we’d hide our popcorn behind the couch so that we’ve have lil something to nibble on until intermission,” she said, adding she instantly recognized the theater’s carpeting when she walked in.

Nelson said the theater is a gem the city of Peoria can’t afford to lose.

“I hope that people really realize what we have here and what we can do with this,” she said.

Another open house is slated for August 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

RSVPs are required to attend: (309) 431-1612