|By John Sharp, Journal Star, Peoria,
Ill.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 20-- PEORIA -- A former Peoria mayor and hotel owner may pitch an alternative plan to the Downtown Marriott Hotel project that could include a walkway connecting three Downtown hotels, including the Pere Marquette, with the Civic Center.
Lowell "Bud" Grieves, owner of the Downtown Mark Twain Hotel, has requested a meeting with the City Council to discuss a plan he says would involve existing hotels and slash by half the amount of public financing needed.
Grieves' plan includes some sort of participation from Kinseth Hospitality Inc., the company that owns the Holiday Inn City Centre.
Grieves, in an e-mailed letter to City Council members, said he wants to meet with the council next week to go over plans.
Grieves declined Friday to discuss specifics about the plan other than to say it's a "multi-faceted, three-stage approach" he believes "makes great sense" compared to EM Properties developer Gary Matthews' $102 million Marriott Hotel project, which involves about $40 million in public financing.
Grieves said he will unveil his plan publicly after the first of next month after he has a chance to speak individually with council members.
"It will be a controversial vote this time," Grieves said. "If the council is aware of an alternative plan that makes sense and costs less money . . . I think they will be aware of it."
Bruce Kinseth of Kinseth Hospitality said one aspect of the project could include some sort of climate-controlled skywalk such as what is featured in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.
The four-mile skywalk encompasses shopping, restaurants and entertainment and links buildings with a 72-degree enclosed and elevated walkway.
"We talked about the benefits to all Downtown hotels," Kinseth said about his discussions with Grieves. "We talked about connections to the hotels, to the Civic Center to benefit everybody."
Kinseth said he is unsure how much an elevated walkway will cost, but said the entire project would connect 700 rooms to the Civic Center while leaving money available for "enhancements" to the Hotel Pere Marquette.
Kinseth said the costs, though, would be "peanuts" compared to what Matthews' is requesting with his project. He also was critical of the proposed $9 million developer's fee Matthews could get from the Marriott Hotel project.
"The idea would be Downtown Peoria would be successful with all the major hotels in decent physical condition to support the (Civic Center) instead of one doubled in size and singled out that could bankrupt the other (Downtown hotels)," Kinseth said.
Matthews said he hasn't seen Grieves' plan but doesn't understand why the former mayor is "resistant" to the Marriott Hotel project when "he wasn't this way 1 1/2 years ago," when the project was initially introduced.
Matthews said the Marriott Hotel project benefits Grieves' hotel from "just the overflow" of increased conventions that will come to Peoria because it is connected to the Civic Center.
City Council members reached on Friday were unaware of the specifics of Grieves' plans.
"I would be willing to meet with Lowell Grieves and I'll listen, but again, I'm not so sure taxpayers need to be spending any more money than we already have on the Downtown (hotel project), the Civic Center or anything like that," at-large City Councilman Gary Sandberg said.
Other council members said they were willing to listen to Grieves.
"I think we need something that is going to work Downtown," 1st District Councilman Clyde Gulley said.
Gulley also suggested the city reconsider some of the original 2008 revenue projections for the $102 million Marriott project that were provided by EM Properties.
The council voted in December 2008 to support the project with a nearly $40 million bond.
"We still need to try and increase our hotel accommodations in Downtown Peoria," Gulley said. "I wouldn't say that we shouldn't be open to see what (Grieves) has to say."
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