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It wasn't Matthews' decision to close Pere

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Gary Matthews isn't sure how soon he would have had to close the Hotel Pere Marquette once he took ownership and started the multi-million dollar renovation.

One thing is sure; it would not have been as early as Dec. 2, which is the date the Pere will close. In fact, Matthews will not yet own the Pere Marquette on Dec. 2, thus he doesn't have the authority to make such a decision, he said Tuesday.

"Some people apparently think this was my call, but it wasn't my decision at all. The sellers of the property told me right before it was announced to the employees of the hotel that they were going to close it around the end of November," Matthews said.

"I certainly don't blame them. Their executive chef had accepted another job, other events were relocating. And in the hotel business December is the absolute worst month of the year for revenues. People don't travel for leisure very much in December or if they do it's for a much shorter duration than in the summer and business travel really drops off during December," he added.

Matthews is the developer of the $92 million project that will include renovation of the Pere Marquette and construction of a new Marriott Courtyard hotel.

While he expects to take ownership of the Pere Marquette sometime in December Matthews said he had not decided on when the hotel would close for renovations. "The only thing I had said was that when I take possession we would have to close for the renovations because of life safety issues. I didn't say when that would be because I didn't know," he said.

He will leave it closed once he takes possession, he said. "We will make sure it is fully secured and go ahead and get started on what we need to do," he said.

Matthews plans to gut much of the hotel and said he will replace all mechanical operations in the building, including all electrical and plumbing. There will be significant periods of time when the building will be without electricity or water while the construction work is being done, so it would be unsafe to try and keep the building open while the work is being done.

He said he expects the hotel to be closed for up to a year while renovations are done. In the meantime demolition of the parking deck and other buildings in that block of Main Street will take place and a new, larger deck will be built. Construction of the new Marriott Courtyard tower also will get started, though it won't be finished until after the Pere Marquette reopens.

Once both are completed they will be connected to the Civic Center with an elevated, climate controlled and secure skywalk, giving the Civic Center a true convention center hotel. Local convention officials have said the lack of a connected full-service hotel has been the main obstacle to landing large conventions for Peoria.

Matthews has offered to work with the Pere Marquette, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Peoria Civic Center to help those guests or events that will displaced. He said he hopes organizations that use the Pere Marquette regularly will return once the work is finished and the hotel reopens.

"I believe they will. It will be a much nicer and safer place to be," he said.

Once renovation work is completed the Pere Marquette will be managed by the Marriott Corp. Whether any current Pere Marquette employees are asked to come back will be up to Marriott, Matthews said. There are about 100 employees at the hotel.

Those employees include Bill Carter, who has been the general manager nearly 30 years. He is the face of the Pere Marquette, as seemingly unflappable as they come in my dealings with him through the years. He has been honored by the hospitality industry on more than one occasion, including by the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

His tenure here and his knowledge not only of the industry but also of what works in Peoria makes him a valuable commodity. I hope he's able to stay here. Peoria can always use somebody of his ilk.

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).