PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The Madison Theater officially has a new owner.

The Comfort family trust donated the Madison Theater to the Madison Preservation Association, a group seeking to restore the theatre to its former glory. The 1,600 seat theater was built in 1920, the last of the three original theaters in downtown Peoria.

“This is a huge step in our renovation effort,” said Cody Gielbelhausen, board secretary at Madison Preservation Association. “Right now we’re working very closely with the architects and engineers, consultants and lawyers, all the advisors on getting this thing ready to move to construction.”

He said the public has a lot to look forward to. The Madison will be a mixed-use performing arts facility, showing “anything from ballets and orchestras, to rock concerts.”

“It’s going to feel just like it would have in its grandest days in the 1930s and 40s. The ornamental plaster is going to be every bit as grand. The paint scheme is not going to be purple. It’s going to be more time period from when it was built,” said Giebelhausen.

The theater will also get some upgrades suitable for the 21st century.

“The seats will be a little bit wider, more comfortable. The restrooms will be on the first floor and then second floor, not in the basement. Performers won’t have to go underneath the stage for their restrooms and dressing rooms,” Gielbelhausen said.

Second District Councilman Chuck Grayeb said bringing the Madison back is huge for downtown Peoria.

“Historic preservation is a very important aspect of our community,” he said. “It’s victory for Peorians because there were some dark days when we wondered if the building would even survive.”

Grayeb said the Madison is not just a theater, but representative of Peoria’s past and now, its future.

“It’s more than just a piece of real estate. The Madison Theater is our history,” he said. “But now we know it’s going to survive, its going to serve future generations of Peorians. It’s going to be a huge draw, I believe, and help this entire downtown and so I see nothing but good things coming from this investment.”

City Manager Patrick Urich said the city is “excited for the restoration plans at the Madison and look forward to working with them.”

Giebelhausen said the association is seeking the public’s help to bring their vision to life.

“There’s a kind of a dark age as far as pictures go of the Madison from 1930 to 2000. We need people to send us any pictures they have of weddings, concerts, anything they were at that might show how the theatre evolved over the years,” he said.

He added investors purchased the Main St. frontage running from the old Rumberger’s to Neon Bison for $1.3 million. The Two25 Restaurant in the Mark Twain Hotel will be relocated to the space with seating for 250 people. Additionally, there will be a 600-seat event space on the second floor that will tie into the theater’s balcony.

Construction is expected to begin late summer or early fall, with completion in Spring 2024.

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