|By Justin Glawe, Journal Star, Peoria,
Ill.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 03, 2012--PEORIA -- The end product of a $32.5 million investment by the residents of Peoria to renovate the Hotel Pere Marquette now sits in the calloused hands of construction workers.
On a tour of the 86-year-old building Friday, developer Gary Matthews touted efforts to maintain historic integrity in the hotel while simultaneously describing what will be its modern amenities. Much work remains, especially on the ground floor, if it is to open on April 30, as Matthews predicted.
"We say, 'we're putting the old lady back together again,'" Matthews said.
Part of the fixing included a not-so-sanitary discovery. Shafts -- 21 of them -- that house plumbing and heating and air conditioning lines were heavily soiled, causing an unpleasant odor.
"The biggest surprise of the unknowns was the shafts," Matthews said. "The smell was unbelievable. We found tons of towels in them. It ran well over $1 million just for the shafts."
Along with new plumbing throughout the building, all electrical wiring had to be replaced. No small task for a structure that will hold 286 rooms, two kitchens, several bars and a ballroom. One hundred workers toil six days a week -- 10 hours on Saturdays -- to bring the hotel back to life. Matthews stops by each morning to check their progress.
The Pere Marquette will become a full-service hotel next to a new 10-story, 116-room Courtyard by Marriott where Big Al's and adjoining taverns are located.
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.
As for Marriott Hotels, their involvement extends to the minutest of particulars -- the color of ottomans, and the distance from ceiling to the bottom of wood trim has been discussed in detail.
But just as Matthews must make Marriott happy, the company must abide by the historical mandates defined by the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places.
"The NPS trumps Marriott," Matthews said. "But life safety issues trump the NPS."
Part of the revamping of the shafts, which run in walls between bathrooms, included insulation that is nearly fireproof.
"For two hours a fire can rage in the shafts and never reach the guest rooms," Matthews said. "This will be the safest building in Downtown Peoria."
Before the hotel can open, there remains the issue of the 500 block of Main Street, where the Courtyard by Marriott will be built. Before that happens, a building across from the Civic Center that will house Big Al's must be completed. Matthews said he expects demolition on the block to begin in early January.
Matthews teased a possible tenant for a restaurant space in that yet-to-be constructed Courtyard's first floor, saying, "It will be the biggest restaurant in Peoria."
As for the Pere Marquette, Matthews said crews have reached the home stretch.
"Demolition and the guts takes the longest," he said. "Now, we're really going to fly."
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