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Peoria's $102 million Public/private Marriott Hotel Project
 Remains in Financing Limbo

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

July 31, 2009 - PEORIA -- Al Zuccarini, the owner of Downtown establishments Big Al's and Johnny's Hideaway, said he's been hit with more than $1 million in revenue losses from the closure of four establishments this year.

Those businesses -- J Pree's, Nikki's, Z-Bar and Club Reign -- were shuttered in order for Zuccarini and his partners to be ready to move so a $102 million public/private Marriott Hotel project could be built in the 500 block of Main Street.

But the project, while still on, remains in financing limbo as developer Gary Matthews continues searching for private support to help finance the 14-story, 489-room development at the site of the Hotel Pere Marquette.

"I want the deal to through," Zuccarini said on Wednesday. "Gary wants it to go through. The city wants it to go through. (But) I'm running out of money and patience and time."

Zuccarini insists he doesn't want to be a "hardball" as Matthews works on negotiations to secure the financing needed to begin demolition of Big Al's and all the businesses located in the building.

"It's killing me," he said. "I've closed four businesses in order to get my equipment and stuff out of those places because of the time frame. I've lost all of this revenue and lost all the rent in those businesses."

Zuccarini also had to close 5th Amendment Bar & Grill at the former Euro Jack's at 500 Main St. because of financial struggles.

He said, however, there is no chance Big Al's, Downtown's only adult strip club, closes until Matthews has finalized the hotel deal.

"I'm not touching that at all until I have a check in my hand," Zuccarini said, adding that he has a mortgage on the building that continues needing to be paid.

Matthews, president of EM Properties Ltd., said he appreciates Zuccarini's willingness to work with him in the development of the hotel, and reiterated that the project "is moving forward and it's not going to go backwards."

"I certainly appreciate the fact that he's been patient," Matthews said. "We're winding down to the end."

When the hotel project was introduced in December, an April date was set in which demolition of Big Al's and the adjoining businesses would begin. That time line, however, has been pushed back on more than one occasion.

Matthews has said he is hesitant to provide another deadline, but an Oct. 1 date has been set for a possible closure on the transaction of Zuccarini's property.

"We have options come up and certain deadlines come up and that is one of them," Matthews said. "It's subject to change, so there is nothing to be too certain about. It all depends on financing."

The major problem with securing private financing has been the economy, Matthews said.

"The problems are not Peoria," he added. "The problems are that this economic climate in commercial real estate is very difficult."

In November, Zuccarini received city permission to secure a liquor license to operate Big Al's at either 414 Hamilton Blvd. -- currently an office building -- or across the street at the Madison Theatre. Zuccarini has said a refurbishing of the Madison could be overly costly to do.

The closures of the four establishments connected to Big Al's has quieted Main Street, something viewed by others with mixed opinions.

Two summers ago, the area around the 500 block of Main Street, become a public safety concern near the federal courthouse after some Downtown taverns open until 4 a.m. prohibited some youths from entering because of stringent dress codes. This led to instances of loitering.

"Main Street is not as busy as it has been in the past," at-large City Councilman and Deputy Liquor Commissioner Eric Turner said. "Once all the decisions have been made, and the hotel goes up ... I think you will see Main Street come back with a vengeance."

Branden Martin, owner of Carbon night club, said that while his business has been steady, overall, Downtown is less active without the other establishments in business.

"We could use another (club) venue," Martin said. "I don't think it would hurt."

Zuccarini, meanwhile, said while he pushes for the hotel project to happen, he also notices a decline in Downtown activity since the establishments next to Big Al's closed.

"It's dead," he said.

John Sharp can be reached at 686-3282 or


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