PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Live event centers around the United States are calling on local, state, and federal legislators for financial assistance.
The future of the Peoria Civic Center is uncertain. The event center hasn’t received a cent of federal funding since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s now facing a “Red Alert,” meaning if it doesn’t receive federal funding, it will have to shut down.
“Without an infusion of cash, the Civic Center will have to shut down,” said Peoria Civic Center General Manager Rik Edgar.
The live events industry has come to a halt during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Sporting events, concerts, and trade shows have all been canceled. This has caused event spaces, like the 110,000 square foot Peoria Civic Center, to become empty spaces.
Edgar tells WMBD if they don’t receive funding soon, there won’t be a Peoria Civic Center.
“We’re really excited about the “Save our Stages” proposal. It’s bipartisan legislation on the Senate floor right now. If that’s able to pass, independent venues across the country will be saved,” Edgar said.
Edgar said if no legislation is passed, 95 percent of live entertainment venues will be closed by September of 2021. He said the economic impact of the Civic Center stretches much farther than just inside his doors.
“When we’re operating, we return $11 for every $1 spent in the venue. Last year we did over $20 million from sales,” Edgar said.
Normally the Civic Center employees around 350 people, Edgar said. Now it employs 16 who have all taken major pay cuts.
JD Dalfonso, President and CEO of Discover Peoria said the tourism and hospitality industry has seen thousands of jobs lost due to the pandemic.
“It’s more like 10,000 jobs of unemployment in leisure and hospitality, and that’s some coming back,” Dalfonso said. “When we’re hitting on all cylinders, 2019 showed that Peoria County alone had an uptick alone of 2.4% in employment in the leisure and hospitality industry.”
Dalfonso said the hospitality industry brought in over $370 million in expenditures last year in Peoria County alone, meaning $8.5 million in tax receipts came in when the economy is flourishing. The Civic Center’s impact impacts other local counties.
“We saw $4.4 million in local tax receipts in Tazewell County,” Dalfonso said.
This year, the pandemic has taken that away.
“You see this trickle-down effect of what this means. You don’t see restaurants open downtown if the Civic Center isn’t here. If those doors are closed, we’re seeing some devastating scenarios,” Dalfonso said.
Dalfonso’s company, similar to Edgar’s Civic Center, has not received federal funding to keep people paid.
“We haven’t had any relief, most importantly in PPP (paycheck protection program), therefore having to cut staff and programs. Our ability to perform the programming that’s needed to support our hotels and restaurants,” Dalfonso said.
Edgar said people can help save the Peoria Civic Center by letting legislators know if they’re ready for live events to return. He said this isn’t a political issue, but a human issue.
“Elton John, The Foo Fighters, Lady Gaga have all sent in their support. The more noise we can make, the better opportunities we have of staying in business,” Edgar said.
“Not only do we employ people here, but the restaurants employ folks based on our events. It’s been crushing to watch so many people lose their jobs. If we can just see the end of this tragedy of this closing, we’ll be able to bring back those jobs.”
Another way people can help is by going to saveourstages.com and joining the 1.5 million people who have signed their names in support of two Senate bills: the Save Our Stages Act, and the Restart Act.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is a cosponsor of the Save Our Stages Act.
“Places of entertainment, like theaters and concert venues, have been uniquely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and devastatingly so,” Durbin said.
“It’s critical that Congress provide additional relief to help these venues stay afloat. That’s why I cosponsored the Save Our Stages Act, which will save jobs and preserve a critical sector of Illinois’ economy.”
Senator Duckworth is a co-sponsor of the Save Our Stages Act. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit small businesses the hardest, including live event venues and the vibrant arts and music scene in Illinois and across the U.S., and Senator Duckworth supports this bipartisan bill to keep the live event industry running.Statement from U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s office
Edgar told WMBD he’s already seen an impact on other local downtown Peoria businesses over the last six months.
“The Civic Center is the economic epicenter of Peoria,” Edgar said. “Once we went out of business in March, we unfortunately noticed some of our favorite restaurants have had to shut down, some of the hotels are running at lower capacities.”
Many large events, like the Reba concert, have been pushed to next year. Reba was first set to come to the Civic Center in May of 2020. It was pushed to August of 2020, and now again to August of 2021.
Edgar said while many events and concerts have been pushed back a year, most ticket holders have held onto their seats.
“The best thing citizens can do for us right now, let your legislators know you love live events. You’re ready to come back out. There’s obviously a desire for these things. Over 75% of our fans have held on to their tickets even though events have been scheduled a year later,” Edgar said.
While right now looks abysmal for live event venues, including the Peoria Civic Center, Rik Edgar said if they can get through this tough period, they will come out of this stronger than ever.
“Honestly, 21′, second and third quarter 21′ will probably be the strongest we’ve ever been. We just gotta get there because the artists want to come out, the fans want to see the shows, we just need to be here when that happens,” Edgar said.