It's just a couple hours away from St. Louis and Chicago and less than four hours from Indianapolis, but when it comes to ensuring that your event runs ultra-smoothly, Peoria, Illinois is a world apart.
Consider the experience of Mark Lingle, director of the World Sports Stacking Association. His organization hosts more than 200 events in 22 countries worldwide. The numbers continue to grow for this lively, unusual individual and team sport where competitors stack specialized plastic cups in a specific sequence as quickly as possible. To make such a huge number of events run smoothly, Mark knew he had to begin partnering with conventions and visitors bureaus, but he didn't know where to begin. That all changed when he had the good fortune of meeting Chad Mentzer, Sports Sales manager for the Peoria Convention and Visitors Bureau, at the U.S. Sports Congress conference.
"The conference was overwhelming, but Chad took me under his wing and helped me work with convention and visitors bureaus, develop Requests for Proposals, handle bidding processes, and understand the relationships between bureaus and rights holders," confides Mark. Soon thereafter, the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau was charged with hosting the Illinois State Sports Stacking Championships. Peoria took responsibility for every aspect of the event including:
Finding judges - A bureau employee took the time to learn the sports-stacking judging software and trained everyone else on it
Venues, hospitality and lodging
Public relations and marketing.
"Peoria was like my guinea pig to see how well we could work with bureaus," says Mark. "They passed with flying colors. They handled the details of running the tournament so perfectly that all I had to do was fly in on Friday night, do some judges' training, officiate on Saturday and fly out."
It's no wonder that Illinois High School Athletic Association (IHSA) has kept its state basketball tournament in Peoria for the past 14 years, and has signed a contract to bring it back another five.
"There's an incredible spirit of cooperation in Peoria," says Marty Hickman, executive director of the IHSA. "They have a tremendous volunteer base and a can-do attitude when it comes to accommodating our fans, our teams and our members."
A volunteer committee (of 30 community leaders) works together to oversee every aspect of the event, including the March Madness Experience. With 110,000 contiguous square feet of interactive games, the March Madness Experience tests the skill level of basketball fans of all ages. While the kids enjoy the activities, guests can still catch all the action from inside the arena at the broadcast booth, catch a bite, or watch possible future high school stars play on center court. The volunteer committee, which includes the Peoria Area CVB, also coordinates support systems including hotels and businesses, as well as medical, fire, parks and police departments.
"When an event comes to Peoria, they can be assured of an impressive amount of excitement in the community, which translates into everything from a groundswell of volunteers to hotel rates that are far more reasonable than St. Louis or Chicago," says Chad. "We highly value every event that comes to town and the opportunity to show visitors the very best."
That very best includes a metropolitan and natural environment made even more remarkable with Midwest hospitality. With a vibrant riverfront that includes one-of-a-kind pubs, restaurants, galleries and shops coupled with scenic views, paddle wheel cruises and a sculpture walk, you'll never run out of ways to play. Wineries, shopping, casino, botanical gardens, museums, theatre and much more are all minutes from downtown.
The Peoria Area CVB represents an eight-county region and traveling a short distance on the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway to a variety of communities and festivals is an experience you won't want to miss. From Princeton to Havana, you'll find a plethora of unique attractions, eateries and shops worth exploring. With so much to do, your event participants, coaches, family and friends will truly enjoy the Peoria area.
For golf enthusiasts, Peoria is a ‘dream come true' with over 300 holes and 20 miles of fairway. "We are eager to host golf events," notes Chad. "Our location in the center of Illinois makes us highly accessible, and we have an abundance of exceptional courses."
Most importantly, sports facilities are world class and within easy driving, and in some cases, walking distance from lodging. "You can be just about anywhere in the Peoria area within 10 minutes by car," notes Chad. "And in some cases, fly directly into Peoria, or connect through numerous flights to Chicago. The Peoria International Airport, which is a quick eight minute drive to downtown Peoria, is completing a $65 million expansion/improvement."
Facility highlights include:
The Peoria Civic Center - Walking distance from hundreds of area hotels rooms, this multipurpose convention center and sports complex is home court of the Bradley Braves and home rink of the Peoria Rivermen, a St. Louis Blues® NHL affiliate. The multipurpose complex has a glass arcade that connects the 12,000-seat arena, a 2,200-seat theater, 110,000 square feet of continuous exhibit space, a 27,000 square-foot ballroom and additional break out rooms totaling 17,000 square feet.
EastSide Centre - With a 53,000 square-foot recreational and health club, plus 14 lighted softball, baseball, and soccer fields, and a stadium with track, EastSide Centre has it all.
Five Points Washington - this multi-purpose facility offers a fitness center, an aquatics center, two-court gym, banquet and meeting rooms, and even a performing-arts center.
O'Brien Field - located in downtown Peoria and home to Cubs® minor league affiliate, Peoria Chiefs, it features private dining and is within walking distance of the Peoria Civic Center and minutes from several downtown hotels.
Owens Recreation Center - open year-round, it features two full-size indoor ice rinks.
The moment you confirm your event with the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, they'll begin identifying the perfect venue, setting up lodging, writing press releases and organizing media relations, publicizing your event on their website, recruiting volunteers, and even securing sponsorships and celebrities. At least once a week, they'll be in contact to check details, review progress, and ensure every one of your needs is being met.
"We have great working relationships with hotels and venues throughout our eight-county area," notes Chad, "so we can negotiate very competitive rates. We are an extremely sports-friendly city."
Karen Nash, director of Sales at Peoria's Holiday Inn City Center explains why. "It's critical for us - our hotel and our community - to be attentive to guests' needs and provide outstanding service, especially since Chicago and St. Louis are so close by. We go all out starting with the basics, plenty of staff throughout the entire event. We communicate with all outlets of our hotel so that each department is ready for the influx of guests. Working with our CVB and the Sports group, we utilize their schedules so we can staff to coordinate perfectly with events. Larger ‘check ins' typically have a wait, so the Holiday Inn City Centre provides a complimentary welcome refreshment table to make the wait just a little smoother for them. If there's an early game, we make sure the restaurant is fully staffed to get participants in and out quickly.
"Our goal is exceptional service and we will do what it takes to ensure each and every guest has an absolutely great stay, thoroughly enjoy themselves and realize, that Peoria is, without a doubt, the best place to play!"
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