Madison Theatre still silent?

By Anna Yee

February 13, 2013 Updated Feb 14, 2013 at 11:16 AM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- BB King, Ray Charles, REO Speedwagon. These are just some of the classic musicians who have played in Peoria, more specifically at the Madison Theatre downtown.

What started as a silent picture theatre in 1920, turned into a landmark for live music and unique architecture before the doors closed in 2003.

"Everybody seems to have a story about the Madison," said Tim Kirchgessner, a "Battle for the Madison" group member. "It's not just me. It seems to belong to a lot of people."

Last week, a small group of enthusiasts launched the facebook page "Battle for the Madison" to help raise money to restore the historic theatre.

Since then, more than 1,200 people have joined the revival effort online. Even shirt sales soared, and talk of big name sponsors, like BB King himself, were in the works.

But a setback muffled that momentum.

Rebecca Harriss, a group spokesperson, said this week a group member spoke with the theatre's owner, who had a different vision.

"His main desire at this point is to tear it down and put up another restaurant," said Harriss. "He said he could do that for $2 million cheaper than what the estimates were to restore the theatre."

Harriss said major restoration could cost between $10 and $15 million.

Even though the Madison is on the National Register of Historic Places, the building can be torn down if it is not funded by state or federal dollars.

Madison Theatre owner JD Comfort also owns Jim Bistro in Peoria Heights. He declined to comment on camera but said no plans have been set in stone for the future of the theatre that he and his family have owned for more than 20 years.

Group leaders have decided to halt fund-raising efforts for now. However, comments of support are still flooding the facebook page.

"The goal now is just to keep awareness going," said Harriss, "and if someone were to step in and say, "I want to buy the building from the Comforts' we would resume efforts."

Those efforts could one day bring back a piece of Peoria's musical history.

To submit a comment on this article, your email address is required. We respect your privacy and your email will not be visible to others nor will it be added to any email lists.