Dan Adler has a vision for the Peoria Stadium, and that vision involves key upgrades and year-round events.
“It’s got a lot of things going for it, but it's not necessarily tied all together in one big strategy at the moment,” said Adler, the chief organizer of Peoria Public Schools District 150’s stadium improvements committee. “Getting more out of that gem is what's needed.”
With the 125-year-old stadium in need of major repairs, Adler is working to build more support for an ongoing multi-million dollar effort to modernize and revitalize the venue. He believes the 82-acre site on War Memorial Drive is a major community asset worthy of preservation – and greater use.
“There's relatively low level of activities, very regular activities there: high school football games, adult softball games. Those have their seasons and they stick to them pretty well,” said Adler, the former president of the District 150 Board of Education. “But in terms of expansion and growth, there hasn't been a lot in recent years and that's something that we're hoping to change.”
Adler said a $5 million state grant represents a big down payment toward all the improvements they hope to make. His goals for this year include raising another $50,000 for capital improvements and operations, establishing a steering committee, and developing a long-term capital improvement plan.
“We would like to take a balanced approach to investing money to preserve some of that rich history and also add some new assets that maybe reflect the community's more recent needs,” he said. “There's a lot of priorities in the school district, and operating a stadium isn't obviously the necessarily first one.
“But there is a path forward in terms of ensuring that we have continual leadership, an organization around every year making the stadium bigger and better, because I think there's a lot of opportunities there.”
Adler said the approach to bringing the stadium into the future should be to “dream big and act practically.” He anticipates building collaboration between the school district, Peoria Park District, community leaders and other public advocates.
“Previous boards have worked very, very hard over the years to try and improve the stadium,” said Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat after Adler presented his plans at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. “When you have to make decisions with limited funds … it’s just languished, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.
“There’s definitely a big sense of urgency to raise some funds (because) it’s such a jewel.”
Adler said Peoria Stadium’s most immediate needs are repairing the visitors bleachers, upgrading the scoreboard, and addressing the grandstand's plumbing and mechanical systems.
“I think the first part is sort of organic, and that is we need to continue to get the word out about the opportunity and gain interest and engagement from people who like to volunteer whether that's by making donations or offer their time at events.”
Adler said one upgrade that would make the stadium more capable of hosting events throughout the year would be installing an artificial turf field.
“We think that's a great investment and will offer itself to posting a bunch of other activities that maybe don't have a logical home today,” he said. “There's a lot of sports that are evolving – cricket, lacrosse – that could leverage a large artificial surface.
“Even soccer. I've heard from folks that played soccer games at the stadium the few times that they've occurred, for playoffs and stuff like that, that that's the coolest venue. So if we have that flexibility with an artificial turf field out there, I think that would draw quite a few interested parties.”
Over the years, Peoria Stadium has been home to a wide variety of activities, from horse and auto racing to women’s professional baseball and even an amusement park.
“It’s got a really diverse and long history, and I think that makes it very valuable, certainly in the minds of long-time community members,” he said. “I think the other thing is: 82 acres of green space in the middle of a city is basically unheard of. That's a big, productive park that is very, very hard to replicate.”
Adler said he hopes a “Race to Save Our Stadium” 5K Run and Fun Walk on April 10 will not only raise some funds, but also showcase the venue’s potential.
“We thought, given the context of the world that we've been living in the last year, that our first event out of the gate would be nice to show that we can host a recreational event that probably hasn't touched Peoria Stadium in the past,” he said. “There are so many things that we can do at the stadium, but until people see them, their imagination isn't necessarily triggered as quickly.”
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