Eureka College's Student Magazine Since 1889

The Eureka College Pegasus

Eureka College's Student Magazine Since 1889

The Eureka College Pegasus

Eureka College's Student Magazine Since 1889

The Eureka College Pegasus

New Entertainment on the Riverfront

Merik Flatt-Beer
Courtesy of J.R. Runkel

Among the many current construction projects in East Peoria, one might stand out to visitors more than the others. The city council approved plans for a mini golf course and restaurant to be built off of I-74 next to the Bass Pro Shop. It is expected to open in the spring of 2024.

Central Illinois has long been criticized for its lack of fun things to do. The Peoria area specifically has seen a lot of backlash in recent years over their gutting of public works and infrastructure, including tearing down the riverfront shopping center and selling the iconic Spirit of Peoria paddle boat to a private buyer.

East Peoria has been doing its part to try to change this image. Winning the bid for Bass Pro and building the Levee district were important and powerful boosters for the local economy and entertainment in the region. However, these areas are mostly just stores and restaurants with a lack of actual entertainment.

A building project on the riverfront in front of the Bass Pro Shop has caught the public’s eye. The new facility was kept under wraps for the initial year of planning and development. In a meeting early August, 2022, it was written that, “City Officials have determined that this Family Entertainment Development Project will be an excellent fit and complement with the current development in the Bass Pro development project site and other nearby development and amenities in the City (including the Levee District).” At the time, East Peoria Mayor John Kahl “expressed enthusiasm” for the project.

The Putt Club is meant to bring in more business to the area. It is also cited as something to help counterbalance the very dense concentration of hotels in the city. However, it does raise concerns about staffing. Many similar central Illinois businesses have had trouble finding staff after COVID, and many haven’t recovered in the time since. Staffing a whole new business won’t be easy, but inside sources have expressed confidence in the matter.

In an interview about the progress and future of the project in 2023, Mayor Kahl said that he is excited to bring more business to the region. He also notes that the property tax will boost revenue to the city.

“We are confident that residents and visitors alike will thoroughly enjoy patronizing the business,” Mayor Kahl said.

Who exactly owns the Putt Club and what their personal plans are is murky. The mayor did not know who the developer was, but a reporter from WCBU pointed in the direction of JR Runkel, spokesperson for Fortner Insurance, as a chief investor. Runkel was kind enough to provide a pitch presentation about the project and its plans.

According to this pitch, the Putt Club is a family entertainment facility “combining food, drink, games, and indoor/outdoor professionally designed golf putting courses.” The indoor/outdoor nature of the building means that it will be open year-round, as opposed to other mini golf courses in the area.

There is some worry that this will impede on the business that Roc Ice Cream and Golf has built over many dedicated years in the city. Mayor Kahl insisted that he sees no interference happening between the two because their business models are different enough. Roc has closed for the season and was unavailable for comment.

Besides the two mini golf courses, there will also be space for games, as well as rentable meeting areas for things like company outings and birthdays. The intention is that this will be a community destination, not just for mini golf, but for any event.

Another major draw is the restaurant. Runkel seems excited about what the menu might look like, with high quality food, but he can’t disclose any more than that at the present time.

The obscurity around this project might be cause for concern to some residents, as well as the business owner. Leading up to the opening, it is not surprising that getting the word out about the project might be important to drive up excitement and public knowledge of the place.  Marketing can be expected in the coming months, but Runkel did not have any marketing materials that he could share at this time. Runkel says that this project is strategically placed to get as much visual engagement as possible from commuters on I-74.

It is estimated that the project will cost $5 million. Construction has been moving rapidly, and the city estimates that it will end on time for an early spring opening.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Merik Flatt-Beer
Merik Flatt-Beer, Staff Contributor

Merik Flatt-Beer (East Peoria, IL) is a senior majoring in Psychology and Hispanic Studies. They have a special interest in regional culture, and feel very strongly about local policy, and workers and students rights. When they’re not writing or studying, they’re probably playing old Wii games.