CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD) — It is no surprise that every industry has been impacted by the pandemic.
One of the first to go down was the entertainment industry.
In a year-end report, WMBD’s Matt Sheehan spoke with Central Illinois entertainment venues to see where they’re at now and talk about 2022.
Shut-downs, cancellations, and stay-at-home orders turned off the bright lights of the theater and muted the sound of live entertainment.
“Unfortunately, when COVID hit, we got to see what the economic impact was firsthand,” said Peoria Civic Center General Manager Rik Edgar.
Arguably the heartbeat of the entertainment industry in Central Illinois, the Peoria Civic Center closing its doors affected more than just the venue’s bottom line.
“Our restaurants and some of our hotels had to shut down during COVID because we weren’t able to support them,” Edgar said.
The Center lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and had to cut staff from 350 team members to 16.
In September 2020, the Peoria Civic Center issued a “Red Alert.”
That meant sporting events, concerts, and trade shows were canceled. It caused event spaces to become empty spaces. Edgar previously said if the Center does not receive funding soon, there will not be a Civic Center.
“Without an infusion of cash, the Civic Center will have to shut down,” Edgar said on Sept. 1, 2020.
Three weeks later, the Peoria City Council bailed out the Civic Center, loaning nearly $4 million to keep it afloat.
WMBD checked in with the City of Peoria to see the status of the loans.
“The agreement with the Civic Center has the money being repaid beginning in 2028/2029. Currently, the City uses taxes earned by the Civic Center to offset existing debt service for the Civic Center that runs through 2028,” said City of Peoria Finance Director/Comptroller Kyle Cratty.
Now the Center is back in action, hosting some of the world’s biggest names.
COVID-19 has also brought challenges in attracting both guests back into the venue’s doors. Some of those challenges come from the artist’s outlook on mask mandates.
“Some artists don’t want to play a state with a mask mandate, and we’ve had that happen to us. That’s okay, that’s their choice. But we’re also seeing our Broadway shows. Really love our protocols, and they really feel safer here,” Edgar said.
The pandemic has also made way for new event centers to join the mix. The Scottish Rite Cathedral was under renovation for most of the pandemic.
Now it’s able to host smaller-scale shows in its newly renovated theatre.
“Our capacity is 845. We also have capacity in our lower level ballroom of 250 people,” said Jenny Parkhurst, Executive Director of Performing Arts for the Scotty.
Jenny said while their theatre isn’t as large-scale as the Civic Center, she thinks they will work hand-in-hand in offering a place for local events and traveling shows of all sizes.
“I think Peoria is so perfectly poised to welcome all different types of entertainment and live performances,” Parkhurst said.
It is a similar story in Bloomington. The City has both Grossinger Motors Arena and the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.
Thom Rakestraw, with the Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts Department, said these two venues also allow shows of all kinds.
“We’ve got 25 shows, from concerts to touring Broadway shows,” Rakestraw said.
The message remains the same from both the Civic Center and Bloomington’s arenas. When shows are happening downtown, it’s good for everyone.
“It’s really a bonus for people to go downtown, have a meal, have a drink, go see a show, it’s just really booming right now,” Rakestraw said.
“Now that we’re coming back online, we’re starting to see a little more life downtown. A study showed that over the last 5 years we were open, we had a half a billion-dollar impact in Peoria. And we’re looking forward to getting that impact back and reviving the economy,” Edgar said.