PEORIA — The Peoria Civic Center was bathed in red light this week, and it had nothing to do with any goals scored by the Peoria Rivermen.


One of the symptoms generated by the COVID-19 pandemic is red ink on the balance sheets of public civic centers around the country, and Peoria's complex is no exception.


"It's no secret," Civic Center Authority board chairman Matt Bartolo said. "We have a problem."


A problem that is $3.8 million big. The facility beamed red lights out of its windows downtown this week as part of a "Red Alert" night.


Shutdown orders from the state in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic derailed what was a fine Civic Center fiscal year — projected by facility leaders to finish $337,000 in the black for the period from Sept. 1, 2019, to Aug. 31, 2020. Instead, the Civic Center absorbed a $250,000 loss, and was forced to reduce its 350-member staff to just 16.


"We just passed a budget for the coming fiscal year that has $0.00 listed for projected revenue," Civic Center general manager Rik Edgar said. "It's right there in the budget. Zero revenue. To keep the Peoria Civic Center open, we'll need about $4 million for the new fiscal year.


"We don't have it. And we're going to need it in the next 60 days because we'll be out of money in October.


"If that happens, the Civic Center will close. Permanently."


Edgar will head a Civic Center contingent that will present its case for funds to the Peoria City Council later this month.


Peoria without a Civic Center? Hard to imagine the city letting that happen.


"We are very hopeful the Save Our Stages bipartisan bill currently in the U.S. Senate is part of Congress' next COVID relief package," Bartolo said. "That could help not just the Peoria Civic Center but civic centers across the nation that are in the same boat we are."


Are venues in Moline, Rockford, Springfield, in that same boat?


"All venues are funded a little differently," Bartolo said. "But for venues that rely on events as main sources of revenue, absolutely. And if (concert) shows are not out touring, if the talent is not touring it doesn't matter if you are open or not. There are some venues that have property taxes as a source of revenue, but they are definitely in the minority.


"Our revenue sources are the city's HRA fund, and building activity — and we haven't had any (events) since March 13. We've been as responsible and conservative as we can. We've had to make some pretty unpopular and difficult decisions as it relates to the head count of our staff."


Edgar says the story was going to be very different until the state shut down everything because of the pandemic in March.


"We were shattering records for our events, we were on pace to have back-to-back fiscal years the likes of which haven't been seen in 20 years here," Edgar said. "While I'm talking to you right now, our sold out Cole Swindell show just messaged me that he has canceled. Not re-booked. Canceled. From Sept. 1 of 2019 to Aug. 31 of 2020 — that's our fiscal year — we had 32 concerts booked to play at the Civic Center.


"Instead, we've gone six months of no shows, no events, no games, nothing."


Bartolo and Edgar say every $1 spent in the Civic Center generates $11 for the Peoria economy.


"I think everyone knows we are a huge part of the economic engine downtown and in Peoria in general," Bartolo said. "A meal before a Rivermen game or a drink before a concert. I think in order for us to recover (as a community) the Civic Center needs to be able to open and function.


"Right now, though, we feel helpless. We had a lot of shows on the books and selling well, we projected to be in the black for the fiscal year, we welcomed ASM Global as a third-party management operator. We worked a new lease with the Rivermen, who again were doing well. BU basketball had a great season. We were awarded a $25 million capital grant from the state (the Civic Center has hired a local firm to create and prioritize a list of repair projects on which to spend that money).


"Things were looking great from our perspective. Couldn't have looked any brighter. We're not in a position where we're going to lobby to open up any sooner than the (state health) guidelines provide. We're just playing by the rules."


Phase 4 and a 1,100 page manual


"Phase 4 is what we're in right now," Edgar said. "I can't have more than 50 people in the arena. So no events."


Edgar has a massive manual from ASM Global management headquarters detailing how to operate when the time comes where spectators can attend events.


"It is essentially a six-pillar template that each facility can customize to fit its location," Edgar said. "We'll go to our safety committee and present it. We have to consider, what things can we reasonably mandate in our building?


"Will concession lines limited to six people for social distancing work for us? Not in our concourse. Six people allowed in a bathroom? Face shields worn by all spectators and staff? We can make all the changes we want, but we've seen from other venues that if the community won't support the mandates, then nothing is going to work.


"How do you achieve compliance? Well for example, if our capacity is set by the state at 30 percent, in Carver Arena that's about the number of seats available to accommodate Bradley University's basketball season ticket holders. So hypothetically, maybe you enforce mandates by giving people a choice — do you want to wear a mask, or do you want to give up grandpa's season tickets? Other venues have done things like that with people who won’t comply."


A $4 million request


So about that $4 million ask — what does it cover?


"We are going to make a presentation to the City Council on Tuesday for the new year's budget," Edgar said. "It has no events booked. It has nothing for revenue. We're asking for about $4 million.


"That money is to get our staff up to full pay — many of them are working for reduced pay or on furloughs right now — and get the building ready.


"We can't just shut off the lights and stay home. There are things that have to be taken care of in the facility every day. We need the money for some cash flow, to pay our bills and to make some repairs, because we don't know when the capital improvement grant is coming from the state.


"If we get the call from the state that we can open up the building to events, we can be up and running in 30 days."


Life after COVID-19


"Our tenants could function on less than a capacity house if they decided to ramp it up and play," Edgar said. "But no fans at all? The Rivermen for sure can't make it on those terms.


"We want the Rivermen, and Bradley University basketball, and our Broadway series to come out of the pandemic strong."


Said Bartolo: "We want to host activities. Our staff wants to be in the building ... all we can do right now is try to brace and prepare ourselves for when that time comes."


You can check out the Save Our Stages act right here: https://www.nivassoc.org/take-action?fbclid=IwAR2eh5d2mW8UVSpc8baoprXUA0cjzezyrIyiQYd0tIb-xAyVBQEeMHJjDgw


Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.