Downtown Transformation or Economic Risk? The Hotel Pere Marquette Dilemma Unveiled!

The Hotel Pere Marquette celebrated its grand opening on January 16, 1927, amidst the vibrant Roaring ’20s, characterized by flappers, the iconic Charlie Chaplin, and robust national economic growth.

Fast forward to today, the 83-year-old Downtown hotel is facing a significant challenge – a reconstruction effort during an economic recession not witnessed by the hospitality industry since the Great Depression.

Bob Marx, the executive director of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, referred to the Pere Marquette as “the little engine that could.” While possessing the determination to thrive, the hotel, like many others, is dependent on external support to weather the economic storm. Without substantial investment, the Pere Marquette is anticipated to encounter considerable difficulties.

The crucial decision lies with the Peoria City Council in the upcoming weeks – whether to revive the hotel to its former glory or if the associated costs pose too great a risk for taxpayers. A crucial step in this process is a vote on a contract with consultants HVS, who will conduct a market study for the proposed Marriott Hotel plan. The cost of this study is capped at $15,000.

Initially, in December 2008, the council greenlit a $102 million redevelopment plan for the Pere Marquette, transforming it into a high-quality Marriott Hotel. Public bonds of nearly $40 million were allocated to support the comprehensive project. However, the economic recession intervened, stalling financing for 1½ years. Now, the hotel’s developer, Gary Matthews of EM Properties, claims to have the necessary commitments to move forward.

Nevertheless, plans have been adjusted, featuring a scaled-down Phase 1 with 401-405 high-quality hotel rooms, down from the original 475. Matthews is optimistic about the potential addition of 100 more rooms in the next “two to three years” post-construction.

City officials, such as Marx, are hopeful that the Marriott’s success will attract investors interested in upgrading or purchasing the Holiday Inn City Centre, thereby enhancing the overall hotel landscape in Downtown Peoria.

Despite the challenges posed by the current economic climate, the Peoria Marriott project aims to address the shortage of high-quality hotel rooms. Marx is actively exploring opportunities within the industry to generate interest in further developments, envisioning a Downtown Peoria with 600 to 800 high-quality rooms.

The hotel industry is facing substantial hurdles nationwide, with revenue plummeting by up to 40% due to the recession and reduced business and convention activities. Real estate development, especially in the hotel sector, is deemed challenging and risky.

Similar struggles are evident in other cities, like Chicago, where overdevelopment has led to bankruptcies and closures of several hotels. The recession’s impact is pervasive, influencing occupancy rates for older hotels, including those in Downtown Peoria.

Critics of Matthews’ plan argue that, given the low occupancy rates and the prevailing economic uncertainties, constructing a $102 million structure backed by taxpayer bonds may not be prudent. Alternative proposals, such as connecting the Pere Marquette with the Holiday Inn City Centre via a skywalk, have been presented, but reception has been lukewarm.

The fate of the Pere Marquette and its transformation into a Marriott Hotel hinges on the decisions of the Peoria City Council, as they navigate the complexities of revitalizing the hotel amidst economic challenges.