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Back You are here: Home News News Local The Pere Marquette is back in grand fashion

The Pere Marquette is back in grand fashion

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The Grand Lady is back, but for all the cosmetic surgery she received over the last year or so she isn't easily recognizable.

But EM Properties and the Marriott Corp. are ready for people to come see the refurbished Hotel Pere Marquette, which officially reopened at 3 p.m. on Friday.

But as remarkable as the hotel is now, this beauty goes well beyond skin deep. It has entirely new organs, as well, because hotel owner Gary Matthews, president of EM Properties, spent millions to also replace all the Pere Marquette's electrical and plumbing works. It has new paint, flooring, lighting, woodwork and in many cases walls from top to bottom.

The ribbon was cut Friday during a ceremony attended by many of Peoria's political, civic and business leaders, all of whom heaped praise upon the work done to transform the 86-year-old, 14-story building into one that Marriott officials in attendance said was more than worthy enough to carry their banner.

"Obviously this is a huge milestone for me, but this project means so much to so many in this community. It launches a whole new era of economic development and civic pride," Matthews said during the ceremony.

Mayor Jim Ardis said that "words cannot adequately express the importance of this project to Peoria."

And Caterpillar Chairman Doug Oberhelman, in congratulating Matthews for his "vision, perseverance and execution" also congratulated the community for coming together to make it happen and to attract such a "class company with class management" as Marriott to manage the Pere Marquette and to build a Marriott Courtyard Hotel next door.

That project is underway and will be completed in 2014, upon which the two hotels will be connected to each other, sharing many amenities, as well as connected to the Peoria Civic Center via skywalk.

Oberhelman said it will become important to the 20,000-plus visitors Caterpillar brings in and expects to continue bringing in every year. That will include Caterpillar's board of directors, which he said will stay at and have its October meeting at the Pere Marquette.

"This has been our home since 1910 and will be our home for a long time to come. But Peoria and the Pere Marquette are known throughout our facilities around the world. All over the world I hear two questions: How is the Pere Marquette doing and is Big Al's still open?" Oberhelman said.

Big Al's indeed is open, but not where it was when this project started several years ago. It moved to a new building at Jefferson and Harrison streets to make way for the new Courtyard hotel.

The Pere Marquette will have 286 rooms on 12 floors, including a renovated presidential suite, bridal suite and other suites. It will continue to have four ballrooms, all redone as well. That includes the Cotillion Room, perhaps the most elegant of them all, which now can be accessed from the Main Street entrance and up the grand marble stairwell into the Palm Court. That is the area where the registration desk once stood, but that has been relocated to the ground floor where the American Café once operated.

Seven meeting rooms have been redone and there are new common areas that could even be used for gatherings. One is what the hotel calls the "Greatroom." It includes the new lobby bar area but extends well beyond where the previous bar was and includes new seating areas, including sofas and comfortable chairs.

The entrance to the new restaurant, called Table 19, is off the Greatroom instead of the foyer along Madison Street, where the entrance to the previous hotel restaurant, Carnegie's, existed. The restaurant is another area that looks completely different and is more open than before.

Throughout there is artwork and antique pieces that help tell the story of the Pere Marquette's rich history. "Our hotel has a rich heritage in the City of Peoria and we welcome the opportunity to preserve this tradition," said Laura Lojas, sent from Cincinnati to Peoria by Marriott to manage the Pere Marquette. "The exquisite refurbishment and quality craftsmanship will immerse guests in genuine sophistication, whether they are here for work or play."

Another sent by Marriott to Peoria is Matthew Ianetta, the executive chef at Table 19. Originally from Boston and sent here from Atlanta, Ianetta said he and his wife are enjoying the big-city feel in a small metropolitan area that marks Peoria.

"We really like it. It's so nice to have such a quick drive to work. In Atlanta it was easily an hour each way. I am excited to be here and I am anxious to serve our guests and give them a taste of what we will do here, what they can expect from us," he said.

Friday night marked the opening night for Table 19.

Other new amenities at the Pere Marquette will include valet parking, new pre-event areas outside the ballrooms and a business center on the second floor that is open 24 hours a day.

Completion of the Pere Marquette leaves the Marriott Courtyard as the only part of the three-phase project to be finished. Earlier a new 400-space parking deck was completed and it also will be connected to the skywalk to the Civic Center.

The Marriott Courtyard will be 10 stories with 116 rooms. It amenities to be shared with the Pere Marquette will include a swimming pool and whirlpool.

All told the project will cost $93 million by the time it is completed in about a year.

The price originally was higher but the city and Matthews whittled it as the project moved along. There were times, because Matthews had to face delays in getting financing arranged, that the city nearly pulled the plug on its end of the project, that being a redevelopment agreement for the issuance of bonds.

But Matthews persisted, got everything in order and the project moved forward.

However, he admitted Friday, "There were times I wasn't sure we could pull it off."

He praised the leadership of Ardis and City Manager Patrick Urich and the rest of the City Council in working with him to get the project started, nearly five years after he first announced it.

Asked if the headaches and such that accompanied the project were worth it, Matthews replied, "In spades."

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).