Continued Momentum for Downtown Peoria
Written By: Andrew Ketterer
Rarely is there a business reopening that is as jaw-dropping as what the Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette has given visitors in Central Illinois. After being closed for renovations for over a year, the Pere Marquette spectacularly reopened its doors to the public on Friday, June 28th.
This event signaled the first of two openings on this specific downtown block. The Pere Marquette served as $44 million of a $93 million project that includes a 10-story, 116-room Marriott Courtyard next door. These two hotels will also connect to a brand new, environmentally-controlled sky-walk that leads directly to the Peoria Civic Center.
Peoria officials and citizens hope that this development will transform downtown Peoria, providing job opportunities, parking, retail space and easy access to the Peoria Civic Center.
All of this will be crucial for bringing visitors to the Peoria Area, according to Amy Hawkins, director of sales for the hotel. “The Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette will offer meeting planners, along with business and leisure travelers, premier accommodations in the center of our vibrant city,” says Hawkins. “We couldn’t be more excited to work with the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (PACVB) and the Peoria Civic Center!”
The reopening of the Pere Marquette is just another step toward renovating and updating the downtown Peoria area to attract visitors of all kinds. Already completed face lifts include the Peoria Riverfront Museum and the Caterpillar Visitors Center, which make up a recently developed area on the riverfront that had been vacant for over 10 years—“The Block.”
According to their website, the Peoria Riverfront Museum’s focus is to become “an extension of the classroom—engaging the community, empowering teachers, exciting and educating students, and attracting visitors from near and far.” The museum features many types of exhibits including art, sports and Peoria’s history. A Giant Screen Theatre is also featured, giving visitors a chance to catch the newest releases or educational films. Along with the jaw-dropping theater, the museum touts the Ziess Powerdome Planetarium, which features a digital projection system that displays more than 7,000 stars onto a domed ceiling that seems to stretch for infinity. The system is also capable of presenting full-dome video shows on various topics. This publicly and privately funded museum was opened in the Fall of 2012.
Alongside the new museum, the Caterpillar Visitors Center acts as an anchor in the ground for Caterpillar in Peoria. The state-of-the-art facility displays Caterpillar’s equipment and its storied history for residents and visitors in the area. One of the feature exhibits is a theater built directly into the truck bed of a replica Caterpillar 797 Mining Truck.
The combination of the Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette and “The Block” represents a few of the successful updates to the downtown Peoria area, likely leading to an increase in business and leisure travelers.
“This is a very exciting time for Peoria,” says Don Welch, CEO and President of the Peoria Area CVB. “The addition of the Peoria Marriot Pere Marquette, along with the opening of the Peoria Riverfront Museum and Caterpillar Visitors Center, will have a significant impact on tourism to the area, and will also enhance the ability to attract conventions, meetings and sporting events to the area.”
Along with these completed projects in Peoria, the city understands the need to continue momentum that has already been generated. The city has begun road construction as part of the $31.8 million and two year overhaul of the Peoria Warehouse District in downtown Peoria. The project’s focus is to attract the young professional demographic using a combination of retail and living space, providing them with an urban environment, in which to live.
Even more momentum was gained when Caterpillar, Inc., a Fortune-50 Company, placed another future stake in the ground. They have recently announced plans to build a brand new world headquarters in the central area of downtown Peoria. This would likely take up a few city blocks and would again have a tremendous economic impact on the city. Details of the plans will be released soon, according to Doug Oberhelman, CEO of Caterpillar, who spoke at the ribbon cutting for the Pere Marquette.
Peoria Mayor, Jim Ardis, also spoke at the ceremony. And according to the Peoria Journal Star, Mayor Ardis said, “It’s been a long process—but absolutely worth it. We knew what (Marriott) would do for the face of Downtown.” Ardis continued enthusiastically, “Combine this with the new Caterpillar, Inc. headquarters, the development of the Warehouse District and the puzzle pieces start to come into place!”
Although the puzzle pieces are just now starting to come together, Peoria’s downtown renovations have already been nationally recognized. On Sunday, June 16, Peoria was announced as one of 10 cities to be named an All-America City by the National Civic League.
The entire process was fronted by the Young Professionals of Greater Peoria (YPGP). This group traveled to Denver, Co. for a few days to present to the National Civic League board, along with 19 other finalist cities. Throughout the entire process, the theme “Forever Young” was used as a tribute to the rebirth of downtown Peoria, as well as the YPGP who led the All-America City campaign.
Shortly following the acceptance of this prestigious award, a press conference was held on the Peoria Riverfront where the YPGP presented Mayor Ardis with a road sign reading, “Welcome to Peoria: All-America City.” Every single speaker who approached the podium spoke about what the prestigious award means to the future of the city, specifically what it will do to attract businesses, tourists and young talent.
The Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette is just one more giant step towards creating one of the most unique and attractive downtown areas in the state of Illinois.
And when combining the momentum of the Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette, Peoria Riverfront Museum, Caterpillar Visitors Center, Peoria Warehouse District, Caterpillar’s World Headquarters and the All-America City Award to the already cultured and local feel of downtown Peoria, it’s easy to see why the future is so bright in Central Illinois and the city that is “Forever Young.”
Written By: Andrew Ketterer