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Changes to Marriott Deal in Peoria, Illinois Spur Projects Movement Forward
Following Withdrawl of Cancellation Letter

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

Oct. 22, 2011--PEORIA -- The taxpayer's obligation on the $102 million Marriott Hotel redevelopment project "will be less than $30 million," Mayor Jim Ardis said Thursday.

That amount lowers what the city plans to bond for the project, repaid through increases in valuation through property tax-increment financing. A previous redevelopment agreement has the city obligated to repay $37 million.

"There is some significant changes to it," Ardis said. "All of the main points have been agreed to by everyone. It's getting the final legal stuff done (that is preventing the project from officially moving forward)."

Ardis' comments come despite the lack of a hotel redevelopment agreement on the City Council's agenda for Tuesday, which was the date on which city officials had suggested the project would return for their consideration.

The mayor's comments also come about two months after City Manager Patrick Urich forwarded a letter to the project's developer, Gary Matthews of EM Properties, notifying him that the agreement had been canceled.

Ardis said there had been no intention from that letter to push Matthews to move on the project, which was supposed to be under construction by now, according to the agreement approved in May 2010.

"I said it before that when we sent Gary the letter, the intention wasn't to kick-start the thing," Ardis said. "If that was the case, we would've done it a year ago. Hindsight being what it is, it definitely moved it forward with a serious sense of urgency."

The City Council voted 8-3 on Sept. 27 to withdraw its cancellation of the hotel project. A revised agreement was supposed to be voted on this month, but it appears more likely to go before the council for a vote next month.

Progress on the Marriott project seemed on life support in August after Urich, in his letter to Matthews, said there was a lack of proof of private financing, discrepancies in some of the numbers and in tax credit information.

On Sept. 2, EM Properties released a statement saying Matthews had provided sufficient evidence of financing. A few days later, an attorney representing the developer sent a letter to Urich saying if the agreement was canceled, all remedies would be pursued.

An EM Properties representative did not return a call for comment Friday.

Ardis said once the new agreement is drafted, the city will post it on its website so the public has time to review it. He said there are no plans to vote on the agreement without giving the public some time to review it.

"A lot of the concerns that a lot of people have had in the community, some council members (included) . . . I think the new agreement has done a good job in addressing a lot of those concerns," Ardis said.

The project, as approved by the council 16 months ago, requests $37 million in public financing through bonding to support a two-part redevelopment: Turning the Hotel Pere Marquette into a 284-room, full-service hotel next to a new 10-story, 117-room Marriott Courtyard where Big Al's and its adjoining taverns are located.

Big Al's, in turn, will relocate to a newly constructed building on a parking lot across Jefferson Avenue from the Civic Center, next to the CityLink bus transfer station.

The project is to be attached via a skywalk to the Civic Center's theater and has been viewed by supporters as a catalyst to attract more conventions and events to the Downtown venue.

The economic recession and slow recovery has been cited for causing multiple delays in getting the project started. As such, the design of the project has changed twice and the city's obligation requirements have gone down.

John Sharp can be reached at 686-3282 or jsharp@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSharp99.

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(c)2011 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)

Visit the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) at www.PJStar.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services



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