Q&A with Rik Edgar

General Manager, Peoria Civic Center

In June 2018, Rik Edgar joined the Peoria Civic Center after a nationwide search for a new general manager. The South Carolina native had been serving in a similar capacity at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, West Virginia, a venue that is also managed by SMG. Prior to that, he worked at a number of entertainment facilities in Wisconsin, including the Racine Civic Centre. He and his wife of 16 years, Amy, have two daughters, Madeleine (13) and Moira (6).

Welcome to Peoria, Rik! Tell us a little about your education and career background.
I grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and earned a BA degree in political science at Coastal Carolina University. I then moved to Columbia, South Carolina, to attend grad school and work for the University of South Carolina Athletic Department as a video coordinator. I was part of the staff that won the 1996-97 SEC Men’s Basketball Championship team and received my master’s degree in media arts at the same time. 

After graduation, I went through several jobs in my search for the right career. In 2007, I finally found the perfect fit for me and began working in the entertainment industry. My training and travels have taken me to several communities over the past 12 years. Most recently, I was in Huntington, West Virginia, where I served as general manager of the Big Sandy
Superstore Arena.

How have you and your family adapted to the Peoria community since moving here over the summer?
We love the Peoria area! We enjoy the Peoria Riverfront Museum, Peoria Zoo, movie theaters, parks, shopping and restaurants. We really feel like we have only scratched the surface of what the community has to offer. 

A big reason for us selecting Peoria is that we wanted to find a home with good schools and live in a community with families of varied backgrounds. All of our expectations have been exceeded. My oldest daughter just received her first report card and was a straight-A student. Best of all, she told us the teachers care and the kids are very nice. As a parent, I couldn’t ask for anything more. 

With no previous ties to Peoria, you have somewhat of an outsider’s perspective. What were your first impressions of the community?
The community has everything a family needs to be happy: good schools, entertainment options and great food. On our first visit, we drove around the community and could not believe how many great things were available here. I felt that there was untapped potential in the downtown area. I’m excited to be at the center of revitalization.

Tell us about your previous experiences in Huntington, West Virginia, and Racine, Wisconsin. How is the Peoria market similar to (and different from) those two markets?
Every market must find an identity to be successful. It usually takes a year to really get a feel for the market and look for what kind of change you can make to improve the bottom line. 

Racine was historically a small festival town, but those types of shows no longer worked, and the venue was in a significant recession. What we figured out was that we had to reinvent ourselves as a private event space. Once we focused on those types of events, we were able to revitalize the venue. 

In Huntington, the venue had a reputation as a good small market, but it was price-sensitive. The venue was also coming off a down year in concert business, with less than $1.4 million in sales. We wanted to redefine the market and took a risk in booking a Def Leppard concert with a higher ticket price. The risk paid off and the concert became the highest-grossing show in the venue’s history. That show proved that we could compete with larger markets and made us a legitimate option for major shows. The following year in Huntington, we broke the annual concert sales record with $3.7 million in sales and hosted Luke Bryan, KISS, Journey and many others during that season. 

In Peoria, my initial read was that the market had become a little stagnant. The demographics for ticket sales and the reputation was that this venue was a country market. I felt that Peoria was more dynamic than that and was surprised to find that the arena had not hosted a classic rock show since 2012. 

We needed to take a calculated risk on a solid rock show to see if the market would respond. We had a wish list that included Bob Seger, so I was pleased when we landed a date on his upcoming tour. Ticket sales are stronger than expectations, which is a positive sign for the future success we are hoping to achieve. 

What's ahead for the Civic Center in 2019? What is the key to your success moving into the future?
The convention center continues to be the backbone of our facility—attracting conventions and trade shows that bring an influx of visitors with a significant economic impact. Our sales team is currently booking as far out as 2027. The key to our convention success will be stabilizing the downtown hotel situation. Locally, our SAVOR catering team continues to raise the bar in hosting the biggest banquets in the Greater Peoria area.

The entertainment lineup this year is loaded with top acts like Bob Seger, Blake Shelton, Martin Short/Steve Martin, Disturbed, Sebastian Maniscalco and John Mellencamp. We anticipate a tremendous season and expect several historical sales records to be broken, based on our preliminary numbers. 

Our intention is to build on the momentum of our recent sales to make Peoria a must-play market. The response from the entertainment industry has given us every reason to believe we are just getting started with bringing great shows to Peoria. iBi

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