St. Jude Benefit Gymnastics Meet Moving

By Marc Strauss

August 25, 2011 Updated Aug 25, 2011 at 11:19 PM CDT

After 20 years in Peoria the St. Jude Benefit Gymnastics Meet is moving. Marc Strauss explains what that means for the event and for the local economy.

Dawn Kocher says it's one of the most difficult decisions she's ever had to make. The founder of the St. Jude Benefit Gymnastics Meet has arranged to move the competitive fundraiser to St. Charles, Illinois.

The meet's contract with the Peoria Civic Center had expired and organizers opted not to negotiate a new one.

"Basically our costs were going up. Our income had leveled off. Our ability to make more money for St. Jude was kind of limited," explained Kocher.

In 20 years the annual meet has raised over a million dollars for St. Jude. But as the agreement with the Civic Center approached its end a friend of Kocher's named Ron Nasti, who also runs his own gymnastics academy, convinced her he could run the meet on a tighter budget by moving it to the Chicago suburbs.

"Because there's a larger concentration of hotels you're able to negotiate a little bit more on your hotel price and your group rates. There's also a larger concentration of gymnastics clubs up there."

While the meet will continue, and perhaps even mean a bigger check for St. Jude, it's a lost event for the Civic Center. That means thousands fewer visitors to the area.

This year's meet drew 2,300 young athletes from all over the country. That's a lot of moms and dads and grandparents staying at local hotels and eating at area restaurants.

Leslie Williams of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau says losing one of January's big local sporting events will have an impact.

"That event alone brings in about $100,000 and books 500 to 600 hotel rooms each night. With it pulling out we're going to lose that and it is going to hurt<" said Williams.

The new home of the meet will be the Pheasant Run Mega Center in St. Charles on January 7 and 8. For more information contact Jump Start Gymnastics in Peoria at 692-5867.