Back in the 1920s, when a new vaudeville act or stage show was produced, it was soon booked into a Peoria theater to test audience reaction, because Peoria, Illinois, was viewed as the archetypal American town. Later in the century, “Will it play in Peoria?” became linked with political campaigning.
Peoria is still a microcosm of America, and over the last 80 years it has been awarded “All-American City” honors four times. But for sports event planners and tournament owners, the question, “Will it play in Peoria?,” is easily answered.
“Everything plays in Peoria,” says Cara Allen, director of marketing for the Peoria Area CVB (PACVB). “In fact, when it comes to sports, it’s hard to find one we don’t play here. Our venues are top-notch and capable of hosting major sports events of all types and sizes.”
Peoria, together with its sister city across the Illinois River, East Peoria, along with adjacent towns, offer not only great sports venues, but a level of hospitality and service that athletes, event owners and organizers, as well as families, find extremely attractive.
Peoria Civic Center
With the 11,433-seat Carver Arena and an 110,000-square-foot Exhibit Hall, the Peoria Civic Center is the largest exhibition facility in Central Illinois. The Carver Arena has played host to a number of sports, including basketball, ice hockey, roller sports, weight-lifting/body-building and wrestling.
The Exhibit Hall (which is the length of two football fields) can be divided into four halls with a ceiling height of 30 feet to the beams. The Exhibit Hall can house multiple basketball courts, 22 volleyball courts, 18 floors suitable for martial arts, wrestling, seven floors for cheer, dance or gymnastics, 18 badminton courts – and weight-lifting/body-building events.
“We are seeing more and more cheer, dance and gymnastics competitions in the Civic Center,” says Kailey Love, sports sales manager for the CVB. “The ceiling height is perfect and the venue has everything you might be looking for.” Among the amenities are plenty of parking, locker rooms, meeting rooms, restrooms and concessions, in addition to an experienced staff that can handle everything from technical services to catering.
“Every March, we host the Illinois High School Association Boys’ Basketball State Finals, and have just committed to the event for the next five years,” Love adds. “We use the Arena for the actual tournament and use the Exhibit Hall for a ‘March Madness Experience,’ with games and interactive exhibits. It’s a really wonderful, one-of-a-kind event that brings tens of thousands of people to the area.”
The Civic Center is within easy walking distance of the downtown area and riverfront, with plenty of museums, shopping and dining options.
Mossville Soccer Complex
With more than 68 acres to work with, the wide-open Mossville Soccer Complex is one of the largest privately owned soccer facilities in the Midwest. It has a domed indoor facility with two fields and 25 outdoor fields, which can be configured into any size to accommodate the players.
“The Mossville complex is very multi-purpose, suitable for lacrosse and other field sports,” says Love. “We have a great working relationship when it comes to bringing events to the venue and this area. Plus, the staff and volunteers at Mossville have vast expertise and experience, so the facility can easily take on tournaments of any size. It works out well for everyone, especially the athletes.”
Louisville Slugger Sports Complex
Slated to open in the beginning of 2016, the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex is a state-of-the-art facility for baseball, softball, soccer and other sports. It will have 10 outdoor diamonds and two indoor, and all fields will be lighted, synthetic turf.
“We’re very excited about the playing surface,” says Cory Hatfield, director of sales for the Peoria Area CVB. “We can get an inch of rain, and within minutes, players can be back on the fields playing safely, thanks to the synthetic turf and the excellent drainage system.”
The complex will include two outdoor pods of four fields and a championship “two-plex” and each will have their own concession stands. All fields will have live streaming capabilities, and the complex will feature great sight lines, major-league-style walk-out dugouts, elevated press boxes, electronic scoreboards on all fields, and bullpens. The complex will have parking for at least 900 cars.
Under the 125,000-square-foot dome, the two indoor diamonds can be converted to three indoor soccer fields. There will also be two hard surface courts for basketball and volleyball. Not only will the dome help accommodate tournaments, but it also can be used for sports showcases, coaches’ clinics and events year round. In addition, the facility will include an umpire/officials room, a Youth Sports Hall of Fame, and meeting and banquet space.
“The Louisville Slugger Complex has already been booking events for 2016,” adds Love. “As the facility gets up to speed, the main focus will be on baseball and softball, but the surface can be flexible and they’re keeping their options open and being creative.” The complex also is in walking distance of a shopping mall and hotels.
Other Peoria Venues
The large Detweiller Park is a popular multi-use destination, and is home to the IHSA State Cross Country Course, along with a BMX facility. There are also 18 multi-purpose fields available for tournament use, and the park has restrooms and concessions.
The EastSide Centre in East Peoria hosts national, regional and local tournaments and has five baseball fields, five softball fields, a football stadium, track and field area, multiple soccer fields and an indoor facility for volleyball. Other amenities at EastSide include parking for 1,400 cars, restrooms, concessions, two outdoor playgrounds, picnic areas and Splashdown Waterpark.
Avanti’s Dome includes nearly 76,000 square feet of indoor space as well as 33 acres of outdoor space for baseball and field sports. The dome has played host to cheer, dance, gymnastics and martial arts events.
In addition, the Owens Center is an indoor skating rink facility that is open year-round. The center features two full-size rinks, along with concessions.
For sports planners, one of the keys to playing in Peoria is the location. “Our central Illinois location puts us within easy driving distance of a lot of major hubs,” Love says. I-74 goes right through downtown, and other major highways feed into the area.
In two-and-a-half hours, visitors can drive to Peoria from Chicago to the north, St. Louis to the south, and Indianapolis to the east. The Quad Cities of Iowa/Illinois are 90 minutes away, and Madison, Wisconsin, is three hours away. In addition, Peoria has an international airport, which is just 15 minutes from downtown, with five passenger airlines offering nonstop flights to 11 destinations.
The area offers more than 4,700 hotel rooms and hundreds of dining options to suit all tastes and budgets.
When not competing, athletes and families will find plenty to do, including a vibrant riverfront that offers concerts, festivals, trails and more, along with the Peoria Riverfront Museum. The city has a zoo and also the Wildlife Prairie Park, where visitors can see elk and buffalo. The Caterpillar Visitor Center offers a fascinating look at the company and machines that help build the country.
“There are lots of things to do here,” Love adds. “We have many of the facilities and amenities of larger cities, but without all the hassles. It really doesn’t take more than 20 minutes to get anywhere.”
The CVB provides a variety of services to help make tournaments and events successful, including helping to bring in volunteers to assist with events. The CVB also publicizes events on its website, creates a custom press release and can provide welcome bags for athletes and an information booth at the event. They’ll also collect donations from partners for drawings and contests and help out with on-site registration.
“We can provide ideas for speakers, places that athletes and families may like to visit, and any other special events,” Allen says. “We make it very easy to play in Peoria.”