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With Final Hotel Plans Approved by Marriott and Financing in Place, Developer Gary Matthews Confident
 City of Peoria Will Approve a New Marriott Courtyard be Built and the Marriott Pere Marquette
 Will be Renovated

By Paul Gordon, Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 17, 2010 --PEORIA -- The immediate economic impact of the new Downtown hotel project will be an estimated $131 million, according to figures the project developer is giving to the city.

That's just the construction phase, during which he expects 840 jobs to be created.

The economic impact once the new Marriott Courtyard is built and the Marriott Pere Marquette is renovated will be an estimated $31 million annually, with 250 permanent jobs, said developer Gary Matthews, president of EM Properties, noting the statistics are from a study by Bradley University professor Robert Scott.

And any savings Matthews realizes on the project -- such as from a possible $8 million historical tax credit from the state -- will be split with the city of Peoria to lower its $37 million obligation on the $102 million deal.

Those are among key facts Matthews has been putting before Peoria City Council members in one-on-one meetings the past week. They will be included in a modified development agreement the council will vote on May 25.

"We're ready to go. The demand is there, the elements for the project are in place, including financing," Matthews said Friday in between meetings with council members that continued through the weekend.

"It is time to make a real difference Downtown. The opportunity is here and I'm confident the council will agree," he said.

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said he remains supportive of the Matthews development and will urge the council to be, as well.

"The deal has changed, but we are splitting cost savings, our costs are lower (original deal called for $40 million in city bonds) and it is a good project. I'm confident the council understands how significant this is to the city," Ardis said. "We've seen millions of dollars spent or planned on projects from Bradley University down to the river. The only hole in the donut is that part of Main. This will complete it and raise the tide for everyone."

Matthews said he had one-on-one meetings to give council members time to absorb the information and make an informed decision. The information includes the changes from the original agreement the Council approved by a 10-1 vote a year and a half ago, before delays occurred -- some of them forced by the economic downturn.

Among the changes are the amount of the bonds, fewer rooms -- from 470 to 405 -- a smaller parking deck, additional retail space on the Monroe Street side of the new hotel and that Marriott Corp. has agreed to a 30-year management contract.

The changes, he said, will enable Peoria to be more competitive in the convention market, especially since the chief element -- connecting the hotels to the Peoria Civic Center via elevated walkway -- has remained the same.

Council members have seen new renderings and computer-generated graphics of how the Pere Marquette will appear once the $35 million in renovations are completed.

It is because of what is needed to bring the Pere to acceptable standards that the total project cost is still listed at $102 million even though it has been scaled back in size.

"The Pere was a lot more broke than we originally thought. Life safety issues alone drove up the cost quite a bit. But also, we made the decision to make the Pere a four-star hotel instead of three-star, using top of the line (amenities such as furniture, fixtures and equipment), additional restrooms and complete makeovers of all areas of the hotel," Matthews said.

The Pere will remain open during the renovation, save for a couple weeks when all the electrical and other mechanical parts of the building are replaced. The hotel will get new windows, canopies and signs, with repairs to the historical sign on the roof.

Work on the exterior will be rehabilitation work to the structure, but the appearance will remain, which is one of the requirements for an historical tax credit, Matthews said.

Plans for the 117-room Marriott Courtyard have changed. It won't be set back as far from the street; doors to both hotels will be along Main Street, going into a common check-in area at street level. The building will be designed to better blend with Downtown Peoria and lend itself to the historical significance of the Pere Marquette.

The building also will be built in a way that will enable builders to add rooms if needed.

Matthews said making the new hotel a Courtyard -- a special service hotel rather than a full-service -- is not downgrading the project.

"What we are doing is recognizing the need to be competitive. A Courtyard has varied price points to suit more guests and is geared more to business guests. We couldn't be as competitive with a full-service Marriott because of the prices. It is still a Marriott, with Marriott quality and Marriott service, and it will be connected to the Civic Center," he said.

"I think it is important to remember that a Courtyard is to Marriott what an Embassy Suites is to Hilton," Matthews added. "I don't think anybody questions the quality of Embassy Suites."

Matthews and Ardis said the project will help Peoria compete regionally for conventions that typically don't go to Chicago or Las Vegas.

"That's what will come to Peoria," Ardis said. He cited a Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau study a couple of years ago that showed in 2006-07 Peoria lost out on 46,000 hotel room nights because there wasn't a quality hotel attached to the Civic Center.

Both mentioned the news that Bass Pro Shops will build a store on the East Peoria riverfront, which should bring thousands of visitors each year.

"There are a lot of things starting to happen and the demand for quality hotel rooms is going to continue to grow. In a sense, the timing couldn't be better. I don't agree this project is going to hurt other Downtown hotels. I think it should prompt them to reinvest in their properties so we all win," Matthews said.

Bob Marx, CEO of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed such a project should help other hotels. Just the Marriott name, he added, "will have the kind of clout in the marketplace to allow us to compete for more business. It's going to complement everybody."

Marx said the bureau will urge the City Council to approve the modified agreement with Matthews "because we would look favorably on any plans that help the entire community, and this is the only viable plan out there right now that will do that. It is a project we sorely need."


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