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Outdoor concerts and disc golf: Galesburg city council hears tourism proposals

An outdoor stage and performance venue is proposed for this lot in the 100 block of East Main Street.
Courtesy photo
Galesburg Tourism and Visitors Bureau
An outdoor stage and performance venue is proposed for this lot in the 100 block of East Main Street.

Tourism numbers are up in Galesburg.

And there are plans in the works for new attractions that would draw even more visitors to the community.

A fire destroyed the former O.T. Johnson Store in downtown Galesburg 17 years ago.

The empty lot in the 100 block of East Main Street is now being re-envisioned as a performance venue with an outdoor stage.

“This is a performance venue so it’s not just bands. We’re talking about symphony, choral, theater, community organizations,” said Kate Bullis, president of the Galesburg Downtown partnership. “Maybe they want to have yoga on the stage and in the grass in front of the stage.”

The Galesburg Downtown Partnership, which strives to create a cultural district downtown, is partnering with several other organizations to make this happen.

Bullis told the Galesburg city council the venue will be called The Railyard.

It would have bring-your-own seating for 1,000 people and standing seating for up to 3,000.

Bullis said even with a handful of events a year, the venue would generate major tourism dollars for downtown.

“The Railyard is going to be a catalyst for growth in downtown. More visitors are going to come downtown from out of town as well as our community. It’s going to make our small businesses downtown have more business and thrive,” Bullis said.

Bullis is asking the city to donate the lot and pay for half of the $750,000 project.

The rest would be funded with grants and donations.

A new disc golf course
Josh Fleming also addressed the council about a project he said would generate tourism revenue.

He runs a disc golf league at Kiwanis Park on the city’s east side, but wants the city to build a new course at Lake Storey.

He said the area from the Quad Cities to Peoria is already a mecca for the sport that surged in popularity during the pandemic -- and a new disc golf course would draw not only players but tournaments to Galesburg.

He said it’s a non-strenuous sport that anyone can do.

“You buy your equipment. You buy the things you need, and you don’t have to go pay green fees or rent a cart,” he said.

The largest disc golf tournament in the world, Ledgestone Open, is held annually in Peoria. This year it drew 2,300 competitors.

Fleming said by bringing sanctioned tournaments to Galesburg a couple times a year, the investment in a new course would be paid off within two to three years.

“And you’ll continue to make money,” he said.

Fleming said the group is lining up sponsors to help fund the 18-hole course, which will cost around $17,000 to install.

Then they plan to ask the city to fund the rest.

Tourism numbers
The Illinois Department of Tourism last week released the economic impact data for 2022.

“I’m happy to report that direct visitor expenditures to Knox County and Galesburg were $97 million. That’s up 16.8% over 2021,” said Randy Newcomb, executive director of the Galesburg Tourism and Visitors Bureau.

More importantly, Newcomb said, visitor expenditures are up 5.4% over the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

The data shows of the nearly 600,000 people who visited Galesburg from more than 25 miles away in 2022, the majority were from the Quad Cities, Peoria, Bloomington, Quincy, Hannibal, Chicago, Champaign and Springfield.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson is TSPR's regional reporter.