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Water Street parties ready to go again, with a couple new twists

It will be like an Old Quarter Street Party on Water Street between Walnut and State streets in Downtown Peoria again this spring and summer. And Kelleher's Irish Pub, the host for the street festival going into its third season, will welcome others to join in.

Not that the first two years were trashy, but the festivals will get a touch of extra class on Wednesday nights this year when the Peoria Municipal Band plays on the stage in front of Rhodell's Brewery each week for 10 weeks, starting in June.

"We haven't had trouble attracting and keeping crowds the first two years and we don't think there will be a problem this year, either. But we are expecting maybe a little more variety in the people who come down," said Gene Beever, outdoor event manager at Kelleher's.

"We'll always have entertainment down here, but we don't want people to think it's just going to be a rock-and-roll beer bash. We want to appeal to a lot of people," Beever said.

The first Street Party of the year will be Friday, May 18. To start the season parties will be Fridays and Saturdays and expand to Wednesdays and Thursdays, as well, in June. During the parties Water Street is closed off between Walnut and State streets from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The Street Party was started by Kelleher's owners Pat Sullivan and John Hunt as a way to get more people downtown. "I saw other places where it works really well. We're just trying to expand riverfront entertainment and arts," Sullivan said.

"We've been trying to get the rest of the places up and down Water Street to join in and we can make it so much bigger and better but so far it's been kind of hard to get others to sign on. But we're still in our infancy and once downtown becomes that much more of a happening place, I think we'll be able to grow it," he said.

That is coming soon as the new Peoria Riverfront Museum and Caterpillar Visitors Center are slated to open in October. Also, work is getting underway on the Warehouse District to convert old, vacant buildings into loft apartments and condominiums with new specialty retail and services.

Sullivan, however, said he already deems the Street Party a success for the city. "We're getting people here from throughout the central Illinois region, even Canton and beyond," he said. "It's good for tourism and it gives people more to do downtown. A lot of people think there isn't anything to do downtown. They just need to check us out."

Bill Blasek, Kelleher's general manager, said people who come to Peoria on business enjoy the Street Party, as well. "The hotels will drop people off down here a lot of times. People like having something to do when they are in town. This is a great way to showcase the city and the out of town visitors will talk about it if they had a good time when they were here," he said.

Blasek said there are plans to expand the space set aside for local artists to display their wares, at no charge to them. "They will have an automatic audience, especially on Wednesday nights with people who enjoy the Municipal Band. And it's such a pleasant atmosphere down here. With the streetscape and the wrought iron fencing and such, it takes on sort of a New Orleans atmosphere," he said.

Some of the special events planned for this season will be a beach party, special programming during the air show in June, Oktober Fest in September, shrimp and clam boils and Dueling Pianos shows.

There is never a cover charge, Blasek said. "That gets more people here, also," he said.

"We are hoping it really becomes a destination spot," he added.

The first two years, Beever said, the Street Party attracted 750 to 1,000 patrons on Friday and Saturday nights if the weather cooperated. "They start showing up right after they get off work and the crowds stay pretty steady throughout the evening," he said. "It seems the later the evening gets, a little older crowd shows."

Blasek said Kelleher's has the largest menu and bar during the event as it sets up 40 tables and chair units and puts out a separate grill and menu for the Street Party.

He added the pub is committed to continuing the event despite the extra costs incurred with setting up and tearing down each day and night of the Street Party.

"We think it's worth it and the people enjoy it. And if more of the businesses along here would join the fun and give people more to choose from, we think the crowds would grow," he said.

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