One of the country's largest gatherings of trophy whitetail deer is coming back to Peoria in 2011. The Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic returns to the Peoria Civic Center next March after spending 10 years at Bloomington's Interstate Center.
One of the country's largest gatherings of trophy whitetail deer is coming back to Peoria in 2011.
The Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic returns to the Peoria Civic Center next March after spending 10 years at Bloomington's Interstate Center.
Show organizer Glenn Helgeland said Peoria was his only viable option after Birkey's Farm Stores of Rantoul purchased the Interstate Center's main expo building and adjacent parking lots. Birkey's sells Case IH farm and construction equipment.
"When you lose 30 percent of your exhibit space and roughly the same percentage of parking space, the decision is made for you," Helgeland said. "We looked at Springfield and Bloomington, but Peoria is the only place big enough for this show.
"Well, we could have gone to Chicago. But that would be a dumb move."
The Deer Classic has grown steadily since starting in Decatur in 1990. The event quickly outgrew available facilities in Decatur and Springfield and was held in Peoria from 1995-2000.
Helgeland said a conflict over available dates was one reason he moved the popular hunting trade show to Bloomington. This year's 20th annual Classic is Friday through Sunday at the Interstate Center and is expected to draw 22,000 spectators, 500 trophy deer heads and a record number of 349 vendors, most of whom sell hunting-related products and services.
Vendors and spectators last year came from 19 different states.
Crystal Howard of the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated the three-day show has had a direct economic impact of $80,000 to $100,000 based on visitors staying in hotel rooms.
"Most of the people staying over are actual exhibitors," Howard said. "A lot of people attending the show come through and go back home. For the most part they are not staying overnight."
Bringing the Classic back to Peoria has been a goal of Civic Center assistant general manager Jim Wetherington, a hunter with a display of mounted deer heads and wild turkeys in his office.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for the Civic Center and the community," Wetherington said. "A lot of sportsmen have been telling me for years that they would like to see (The Classic) back here.
"And it's giving Glenn an opportunity to grow and to take his show up a level in appearance."
Moving to the Civic Center offers Helgeland 90,000 square feet of space for vendors - one-third more than at the Interstate Center. Helgeland plans to use that space to provide more room for showgoers.
"The addition Peoria did to the original Civic Center is tremendous," Helgeland said. "We will be in one building on one floor. The aisles are a little wider and it's more user-friendly. People don't need to go through tunnels and find buildings."
Next year's show will be March 25-27 and Helgeland said moving one month later should not be a problem.
"That's still earlier than turkey hunting season, earlier than spring fish runs and earlier than spring planting, so the date change will be fine," he said. "We might lose a few people on the eastern border of the state, but what we lose we'll pick up from the Peoria area and west and south of (Peoria)."
Jeff Lampe can be reached at (309) 686-3212 or email@example.com.