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Developer EM Properties Ltd Optimistic About $102 million
Marriott Hotel Project Moving Forward in Peoria, Illinois

By John Sharp, Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 6, 2009--PEORIA -- New Year's Day is the tentative date for the property transaction selling Big Al's and its adjoining taverns to a local developer to allow a $102 million Marriott Hotel project to go forward.

Developer Gary Matthews is optimistic that the closing can occur sooner, perhaps in December, or approximately one year since the City Council approved $39.3 million in public financing for the project.

Movement on the Marriott project stalled this year because of the national economic recession that has restricted lending for hotel projects.

"We are getting close with the financing, and I'm starting to see cracks on the ice with larger lenders outside the city," Matthews, president of EM Properties Ltd., said Monday.

Al Zuccarini, owner of Big Al's on Main Street, echoed Matthews' optimism.

"I feel very confident," he said.

The optimism is in contrast to the concern Zuccarini felt in July when he was worried about the hotel's future and with losing revenue from the closure of J Pree's, Nikki's, Z-Bar and Club Reign.

Only Big Al's remains open along the commercial strip of Main Street property adjacent to the Hotel Pere Marquette. All of the properties are slated for demolition so the Marriott can be built.

"I was concerned four to five months ago, (but) we have met numerous times and I've gotten my progress reports, and I'm very optimistic," Zuccarini said.

Matthews acknowledged that securing the private financing needed to begin the project has been difficult, given the economic recession and the hit that has occurred to the hospitality sector. The private investment in the Marriott project is approximately $54 million.

Originally, Matthews hoped to start demolishing the taverns next to the Pere Marquette in April. He has since had to postpone that work.

Matthews said he's secured some lending from local banks, but declined to name them. He said the need is to get national lending institutions to offer support.

"We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel . . . the out-of-town banks are starting to call in now," Matthews said.

Matthews also said his firm is moving ahead with hiring engineers and architects, and is in contact with a design team located at Marriott's corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Md.

In addition, Matthews said he is pursuing tax credits that will help fund the restoration of the historic Hotel Pere Marquette, optimistic that more than $7 million in federal historic credits can be utilized for the renovation.

The original look of the glass-encased Marriott facing Main Street hasn't changed, Matthews said. Plans are to completely renovate the interior of the 82-year-old Pere Marquette. All told, the project is supposed to be a 14-story, 489-room complex that includes a $25 million rehabilitation of the Pere Marquette and a skywalk attachment to the Civic Center.

The project is supported in public revenue bonds, repaid over 23 years. Projections show the entire city's obligation to be more than $81 million when considering interest, until 2032.

The city's bond will be repaid through revenues generated by the project, including tax-increment financing and additional hotel, restaurant and sales taxes it generates.

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Copyright (c) 2009, Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.

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