NOW A FAMOUS catchphrase that has come to define the thoughts and behaviors of the typical American citizen, “Will it play in Peoria?” had its beginnings in the vaudeville scene rampant in the central Illinois riverfront town in the ‘20s and ‘30s. As soon as a new act was ready for the stage, it was tested in a Peoria theater to gauge audience response. If it was not well received, it was either sent back for revisions or canceled altogether. If the vaudeville act played well, however, then it was believed to be destined for success. It’s a feeling that returns to the town in the dawning of a new age where revamped and brand-new venues, restaurants and entertainment are\ given the stage again for a decidedly new audience of planners and visiting groups. Here’s what the playbill holds in 2015.
Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette
The historic Pere Marquette Hotel closed in 2011 for an extensive renovation, reopening in June 2013 after a $70 million investment. Along with the updates and modern amenities, the recently completed hotel renovation preserved a host of unique elements from the original 1927 property, including the Presidential Suite once occupied by famous politicians and celebrities such as Martin Luther King Jr., General Dwight Eisenhower and former President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan. For corporate groups, the hotel now offers 19,000 square feet of event space, including 12,000 square feet of contiguous space, four ballrooms, eight breakout rooms and flexible prefunction areas for gathering.
“Not only does the opulent historic and modern décor make us unique, but we are now attached to the Peoria Civic Center via a climate controlled skywalk, which takes you to the largest downstate Convention Center in Illinois, offering 110,000 square feet of exhibition, meeting and ballroom space,” says Mary Jo Schettler, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.
The Gateway Building
The Gateway Building, located conveniently on Peoria’s Riverfront, offers two rooms with 6,015 square feet of combined social space that offers banquet-style seating for 90 people, 140 theater-style and 56 classroom-style. The Grand Ballroom, which opens to a full-length balcony with views of the Illinois River, is also available for larger groups with seating for up to 290 guests.
“Our Grand Ballroom’s west wall is adorned with large windows that give a great view of downtown Peoria,” says Alli Reed, events coordinator for the Gateway Building, Peoria Park District RiverFront Division.
The Packard Plaza
Built in 1927, The Packard is a three-story building for groups ranging from 50 to 320, which includes a two-level, loft-like space.
A grand staircase and a balcony that circles the room “provide a gorgeous and unique setting for banquets, proms, fundraisers, wedding ceremonies and wedding receptions,” says Erin Borcherding, general manager and event coordinator for The Packard. “The Ballroom can also be sectioned off into breakout rooms for meeting space, which can be sectioned off more so by utilizing a split-level room rather than with dividers.”
The Peoria Civic Center offers a sports arena, convention space and meeting rooms.
The Peoria Civic Center
With a full-size sports arena, convention space and numerous meeting rooms, the Peoria Civic Center can equally accommodate full-scale trade shows and smaller events. In addition to the exhibit hall, there is a ballroom as well as 17,000 square feet of meeting space across 16 rooms that are located on the first and second levels and vary in size with seating from 10 to 1,000 guests.
Located on the top floor of the Contemporary Art Center, the four meeting areas of ROOM—managed and owned by marketing communications firm Simantel, which shares the space—are designed to spur the imagination and generate creative energy.
“ROOM is a place for an inspired meeting experience,” says Maggie Whalen, VP and executive director, who cites the great city views as a bonus. “It’s about businesses and organizations removing themselves from their day-in and day-out environment in order to think differently and approach their business with another perspective.”
The River Room is a modern take on a boardroom, which seats up to eight in a large windowed, modern design space that’s great for brainstorming. The City Room, the largest flexible space, also with huge windows, is perfect for groups of up to 40, featuring huge arched windows, a sound system and a mobile ēno interactive whiteboard for presentations, notes and Internet. And The Focus Room is designed for product testing and focus groups with a video camera to stream to a viewing room so that focus testing is comfortable and seamless. An additional, more traditional boardroom seats up to 12 and overlooks the Illinois River.
ATTRACTIONS AND MUSEUMS
Spirit of Peoria
The Spirit of Peoria Mississippi Riverboat is a one-of-a-kind historic experience. One of the few remaining genuine paddlewheel-driven boats in the country that offers overnight trips, guests will get a healthy dose of Illinois history while they cruise to significant destinations such as Springfield, all the while enjoying music, storytelling and gourmet food. The 2015 season starts in early May with itineraries ranging from one-day outings to three-day trips including themed itineraries such as “The Land of Lincoln” cruise, which takes guests to Springfield and then Alton.
The Caterpillar Visitors Center is a brand-new resource to the area with incredible views.
The Caterpillar Visitors Center
Located on the riverfront, the impressive, new Caterpillar Visitors Center provides “a fascinating look at the company, the iron and the people making sustainable progress possible around the world,” according to a brand statement.
The Caterpillar Visitors Center, an arm of the leading construction manufacturing company, offers four meeting rooms that can accommodate a wide range of meeting types. A dining room seats 104 or can be set up for 160 for a cocktail reception; a classroom seats 50, a conference room seats 16 and the property’s theater seats 62. “And the view of the Illinois River from our meeting spaces can’t be beat,” says Lisa Miller, media relations, Caterpillar Inc., Law and Public Policy, Global Government & Corporate Affairs Division. “Our staff works with corporate meeting planners throughout the process to ensure every detail is discussed. Our caterers also offer a wide menu to choose from, but will also customize the food and create special dishes to satisfy every palate.”
Peoria Riverfront Museum
The new Peoria Riverfront Museum is a one-of-a-kind collaboration, and the only museum in downstate Illinois to be affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, where visitors can explore and learn.
The Grand Lobby accommodates 205 with table seating and 350 with chairs only, while a Dome Planetarium seats 64 with tables and 100 with chairs only. There’s also an outdoor Sun Plaza that seats 120 with tables or 300 with chairs, and a nearby outdoor Sculpture Garden that seats 150. Back inside, the Giant Screen Theater has fixed stadium seating for 200.
“Imagine a 5x7-story HQ digital presentation (controlled via laptop or smartphone) in a comfy stadium-seat lecture hall with Wi-Fi,” says Cathie Neumiller, VP of marketing and communications of the Peoria Riverfront Museum. With a focus on interdisciplinary learning, the goal is to offer exhibits that visitors might normally have to travel great distances to experience.
The brand new Peoria Riverfront Museum is the only in downstate Illinois to be affiliated with The Smithsonian Institution.
PEORIA BY THE NUMBERS
$2.5 million is the total cost to build the historic Pere Marquette Hotel in 1926. $93 million is the total cost of the hotel’s 2013 renovation plus additional ongoing construction, which will include a second adjacent hotel.
115,007 is the population of Peoria, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Peoria is the seventh most populated city in Illinois.
5,700 students are enrolled at Bradley University, which was founded in 1897 and is a small private university in town.
1940 is the year that legendary comedian Richard Pryor was born in Peoria. In 2015, artist Preston Jackson will unveil his bronzed sculpture of Pryor in the town.
110 facilities worldwide manufacture Caterpillar products and components, with 51 plants in the United States alone.
19 local hotels and motels serve planners looking to hold events in town.
2 new museums opened in Peoria in 2013: The Caterpillar Visitors Center and the Peoria Riverfront Museum.