Pere Marquette project 'moving in right direction'

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New redevelopment agreement being negotiated; vote likely in October

With the threat of his project being terminated now gone, Gary Matthews said he is anxious to move forward in redeveloping the Hotel Pere Marquette and the area surrounding it.

“I feel we’re moving in the right direction, in a very positive direction for the community,” said Matthews, president of EM Properties. “If all goes well we can get the property closed and get started on the project by the end of the year.”

The project is the $102 million redevelopment of the Pere Marquette and construction of a new Marriott Courtyard hotel tower on the part of the block now housing Big Al’s and other structures that will be razed, including the parking deck. The hotels would be joined together and both managed by Marriott and they then will be connected to the Peoria Civic Center via a climate-controlled skywalk that would be built along the alley between the hotels and Sacred Heart Church.

The project has been in the works nearly three years but has been delayed because the economy turned sour shortly after it was first announced. City Manager Patrick Urich sent Matthews a letter a few weeks ago intending to terminate the agreement because, he said, not all of the terms were being fulfilled.

The City Council first gave Matthews two additional weeks to satisfy the terms, then this week voted to allow Urich to withdraw the termination letter so the issues could be resolved and a new redevelopment agreement adopted.

In an exclusive interview, Matthews said the city has shown a willingness to work with him on resolving remaining issues and getting a new agreement written and approved. He said he has proven to the city that the financing is in place, one of the biggest issues that led to Urich’s termination letter.

“I am very pleased with how it is going and impressed with how creative the city has been in coming up with solutions to these issues. I think we are all very anxious to get going,” he said.

Matthews said the redevelopment agreement now being negotiated “will be restructured in a positive direction for the city of Peoria” but he declined to give any details. He said he and city officials agreed to not disclose details while the redevelopment agreement is being negotiated.

Matthews said the city is shooting for a City Council vote on the new redevelopment agreement on Oct. 11.

“All the issues have been or are getting resolved to the satisfaction of all parties,” he said.

Mayor Jim Ardis said also believes the project is again moving in the right direction and while he believes a vote on a new agreement will come in October he things Oct. 11 may be too optimistic.

“I would be happy if we could do it that soon. I’m pleased with the way things are going. There has been a lot of good movement in the last couple weeks and I think we are very close to having a really good agreement for both of us,” he said.

Ardis agreed the issues are being resolved and while he still disagrees there is solid proof of financing, “the indications are strong the banks are ready to go on it, so we’re more confident.”

Soon after the city announced it wanted to terminate the project it received letters and email from various political and civic leaders urging it to allow the project to continue because of its importance to downtown redevelopment and, most important, to the Civic Center as it tries to fill its expanded convention space.

The Civic Center, Matthews has said, is what interested Marriott in the project.

If all goes as planned and Matthews is able to close on the Pere Marquette by the end of the year, he will start first with the multi-million dollar renovation of that structure, including all new electrical and plumbing works and complete overhauls of the common areas and guests rooms so it is ready to go when construction starts on the new tower.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).