A year moves pretty fast.
Turning back the clocks to 12 months ago, central Illinois didn't know that the Peoria riverfront would be attracting hundreds of people every other weekend for concerts. Nor did the area know that mere months remained to mini-golf at the Wee Tee Golf Center or cool off at Splashdown Water Park and Lakeview Family Aquatic Center. And few people had even heard what a Round1 was, much less what it opening in Northwoods Mall would entail.
But all of these entertainment stories captured the attention of central Illinois residents in 2017. Some moments were clear standouts that greatly improved the entertainment scene in Peoria; others more resembled a lowlight reel that proved difficult to look away from.
As the calendar flips to 2018, let's recap entertainment in the Peoria area for 2017 with the most important moments of the year.
1. Concerts invade the riverfront
The Peoria riverfront has always been a viable location to host events, but it never evolved into a large-scale concert venue until 2017. Between the start of the Bud Light Concert Series and the move of the Tailgate N' Tallboys Music Festival from Three Sisters Park to Peoria, the riverfront hosted 16 total music dates from large national acts and drew more than 50,000 people across those dates.
The list of names that popped up on the riverfront in 2017 were of a much higher caliber than the recent past — Jake Owen, Nelly, Fitz and the Tantrums, KC and the Sunshine Band, Trace Adkins, Kane Brown and many others. Not only did it elevate the local live music scene, it also provided an economic boon to the Peoria area.
The Peoria Convention and Visitor’s Bureau estimated that 10 of the concert dates exceeded $300,000 in economic impact to the Peoria area. And those concerts also boosted long-tenured events, such as the Steamboat Days Festival, which needed a jolt of energy.
This year and beyond will prove the ultimate impact of this influx of concerts to Peoria. If Inked Entertainment, Jay Goldberg Events and other music promoters continue luring these acts in, we can pinpoint 2017 as the start of the sea change.
2. Outdoor recreation hallmarks close
For Peorians of a certain age, growing up in the city meant frequent trips to some of the summertime hallmarks in the area. Among those trademark locales were the giant bucket of water at Splashdown in East Peoria, the adventurous holes at Wee Tee's and the imminently playable and affordable nine holes of golf at Detweiller Golf Course.
But 2018 will find all of those destinations closed to visitors. Detweiller and Lakeview were closed as a result of budget cuts from the Peoria Park District. Splashdown will close for 2018 because of the soaring maintenance costs required by the facility. And Wee Tee Golf Center, a 70-year stalwart of central Peoria, closed for good at the beginning of June to nobly make way for a medical facility for children just discharged from the Children's Hospital of Illinois.
It's difficult to quantify how these losses will affect the central Illinois population at large. But summer will seem a little gloomier next year without these places around to provide a diversion on a warm day.
3. Limelight Eventplex changes hands
This development sneaked in at the very end of 2017, yet was in the works since at least the early fall. The Limelight Eventplex, a music and events center that opened in early 2014, was sold to the ownership group behind the Castle Theatre in Bloomington and will re-open as the Monarch Music Hall in March 2018.
The Limelight's emergence was a sorely needed addition in Peoria since the Madison Theatre vanished in the mid-2000s — a mid-sized venue that attracted excellent modern acts but lacked the arena pedigree needed to fill thousands of seats. Over the course of three years, a variety of acts from the rock and country music genres brought people to a converted warehouse space in North Peoria.
But all three owners of the Limelight wanted to leave the business, and now the Castle Theatre ownership group steps in. The venue will receive a sound system upgrade and a slight facelift before it re-opens, and the new owners said that shows are already lined up for the spring.
4. Tumultuous opening of Round1
The opening of Round1 Bowling and Amusement should have been cause for celebration — one of the four anchor spaces at Northwoods Mall had sat unused for almost 11 months before it was announced that an amusement center would be going into that space.
Excitement for Round1, which includes bowling, billiards, arcade games, karaoke, and a bar and restaurant, was palpable leading up to the first day in mid-November. But the debut was marred by a large brawl, which spilled out into the shopping court of the mall and spawned video footage that was widely circulated around the web. Another fight followed only a week later.
Though it earned one of the worst first impressions in recent memory, quite a few people have gone to Round1 and enjoyed the experience.
Elsewhere in 2017 Peoria amusement openings, the Elevate Trampoline Park — with full-sized dodgeball courts and basketball dunking tanks — debuted in July to mostly positive feedback.
5. Dawn of the Escape Rooms
An entertainment trend that had swept the nation finally made its way to Peoria in 2017 when the Escape Room concept took over in two area locations. Smartpath Education brought one to East Peoria after previously opening locations in Springfield and Bloomington. Then the Warehouse District gained an escape room with Gone in 60 Escape Games in the first floor of the Persimmon Lofts.
The idea behind an escape room revolves around a team of people starting in a locked room. The team is tasked with discovering clues, solving puzzles and decoding the room to find the hidden key that will lead the members out of the confines. It works as a team-building exercise or as a fun outing for a group of friends or family.
Not many details about either escape room are public, but that's the point: it's a place to escape to and from.
Thomas Bruch can be reached at 686-3262 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch.