PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The Peoria Civic Center, once booming with conventions and record-breaking revenue now sits desolate as the uncertainty of COVID-19 continues to impact its fiscal outlook.
Formerly crawling with conventions, sporting events, plays, and concerts, it’s now idle, as General Manager Rik Edgar reflects on the impacts of the novel coronavirus to the center’s once record breaking streak.
“On Black Friday, we were rolling along, having a great year again, and everything came to a screeching halt,” said Edgar. “We had just come off of really good shows with Luke Combs and KISS and then we went to no revenue, no subsidy, it all stopped on that day.”
As events cancel, postpone, or reschedule, Edgar said its once more than 350-strong staff is now whittled down to 16.
“Those 16 that are still with us are all taking pay cuts,” said Edgar. “So it’s been very…it’s been nothing less than brutal for our organization. Last year, we did about $27 million in business. We were projecting to do around there and we’re going to end up at about half. And so, that money goes into the tax base as well as it feeds our hotels and restaurants. They’re all closing downtown already so we’re just trying to be in a position where we can come back so they can open up with us.”
Revenue streams dry for the time being, as the uncertainty of COVID-19 remains substantial. Discover Peoria’s president and CEO said the area rises and falls with the titan tourist attraction.
“When it doesn’t exist you can see the impact of it,” said JD Dalfonso. “You really see the impact of it. In particular, when we’re talking about meetings and conventions, those are scary words right now and rightfully so. We understand the safety that comes with them. The entertainment side as well.”
Remaining hopeful, Dalfonso speaks to future plans to revive the area’s once profitable center.
“Our industries were the first ones out and probably going to be the last ones back, so how do we navigate these waters towards recovery?” said Dalfonso. “There’s all different aspects of tourism and we’re exploring all those to think more innovatively along the process and the more we do that, the better off we’re doing to be when this is all over.”
The Peoria Civic Center’s fiscal year begins in September. Edgar said no opening date is scheduled as the state needs to reach phase five before events can begin again.
“We want to open when it’s safe,” said Edgar. “Right now, it’s not. We’re going to play by the rules. We’re going to be the elite. We’re going to be the best at doing this.”
Edgar encouraged Peorians to write to local, state, and federal lawmakers to rally funds. Bailout packages could keep the center afloat until phase five is reached he said.
“There are government packages being put on the senate floor, [but] we don’t qualify for anything,” said Edgar. “We’re not a governmental organization. We’re not a line item in the city of Peoria’s budget. We’re also not an independent venue. If they want to see us come back, reach out to your local legislators as well as your state and federal and say ‘take care of our venues’ because there are eight of us authorities across the state, and we’re literally left out in the cold.”
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