MACOMB — The West Central Illinois Arts Center (WCIAC) played host to an Arts Advocate Night for the long-awaited Center for the Performing Arts (CPA). There, attendees heard about the latest economic impact report and the status of the proposed $89 million building.
Western Illinois University’s College of Fine arts and Communications (COFAC) Dean William Clow spoke about the university’s recent petition drive to rouse public and private support for the center. He also spoke of the strong message and transformative effect the building will have once construction begins, if funding is awarded.
“I think that once we show this building is going up in this town, it’s going to do things for the community, it’s going to do things for the university.” Clow said. “We need to show that Western is here to stay and we’re sticking around for the next 118 years, or whatever it is.”
Clow told attendees that once construction actually begins, fences rise and shovels are in the ground, everything is going to change.
“It really will make a difference because it will show a commitment to Western, and it will really show that we are here for the long term, and I think that’s very important.”
He said that he felt good about recent developments and that “it feels like with this reallocation of the budget, we have a great opportunity to get something going. We just have to keep everybody’s attention, and we have to convince them that it’s time and that it matters.”
During his presentation, Clow provided details of an economic impact study that was put together by a collaboration between COFAC and the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at WIU.
The report suggests that construction of the building will have an immediate $132 million dollar impact through the sales of goods and services in the 45-county region representing the primary source for the main contractor, sub-contractors, and related materials and labor. The $132 million dollar figure includes the $89 million for the building (2018 dollars), more than $21 million in downstream business interactions and almost $22 million in economic activity by employee-related household spending.
The combined activities of building development and employee-related household spending are estimated to create more than 780 employment positions (full and part-time) with almost $40 million in combined employment compensation. It also suggests government entities at all levels will benefit as well, as they are projected to realize increased revenues of more than $12 million, which includes almost $4 million among state and local governments in the region and $8.4 million among federal agencies.
The report also suggested spending within the 45-county primary region will have an uplifting economic effect on the state’s other 57 counties. Purchases by businesses and employees are expected to generate more than $16 million in economic activity across those other counties, and downstream business interactions and employee-related household spending should account for 10.5 million and 5.7 million, respectively, according to the report.
Once construction is completed, tourism witin the 45-county primary region and the 57 county peripheral region in Illinois is expected to see a dramatic upturn. The CPA is being positioned as a “hallmark for WIU’s commitment to its campus and recognition of the important of theatre and performing arts to its mission,” the report's writers said.
Staff who wrote the report said they were able to identify the economic impact of expenditures in the local economy by estimating attendees to future events at the performing arts center. The numbers did not include spending by McDonough County residents or those in the surrounding region, who likely already use local outlets for entertainment, eating/drinking, and other activities.
It is anticipated that non-local visitors to Macomb and McDonough County will spend almost $66 per day during their visit, and non-local visitors attending WIU CPA events will contribute more than $434,000 in sales of local goods and services, six employment positions, and $126,000 in labor income annually. Government entities will likely realize an additional $66,000 in tax revenues, including $46,000 at state and local levels.
WIU Chief of Staff Dr. Paul Schlag, who spoke on behalf of President Jack Thomas and other members of the WIU administration, said they understand the importance of the CPA.
“We have not had a fully-funded state building built at WIU since the 1970s... The fine arts are incredibly important to any society (because) they civilize and sophisticate us, and we need that in this region,” Schlag said. “There are not that many opportunities to experience cultural events and experience the world.”
Schlag, who served as the Assistant Department Chair for the Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration Department, has had the opportunity to take students on trips across the world. Some of those students had “never event left West Central Illinois,” he said.
The experience of traveling the world, seeing other cultures and meeting different people opens student’s eyes, and a university is a reflection of the world, he said.
“We have an opportunity to bring world-class and national people to come to the CPA to perform and to bring that culture to our area. It uplifts and enriches lives for people.”
WIU has a half-billion dollar economic impact on a 16-county region. If build, the CPA “would have a tremendous multiplicative effect on our region,” Schlag said. “So, we need this, and we need to advocate for it.”
Todd Lester, community president of Citizen’s Bank of Macomb and who is a member of WIU Board of Trustees, echoed these positive sentiments when he said there has never been a better time to build the WIU CPA.
“I’ve had some encouraging conversations with State Senator Jill Tracey and State Representative Norine Hammond, and they kind of encouraged us to do something to get this back in front of the Governor Rauner, and get his attention.” Lester said. “The petition idea came up, and I really think it’s a good idea because I think we’re potentially going to have several thousand signatures, I hope, to take down and present to the governor.”
Governor Rauner made an unscheduled visit to Macomb in late-August during a campaign bid to be reelected this November. Lester said he met with Rauner in person to speak with him about the CPA. “This, in my opinion, moves beyond all the great things that it’ll do for the university and the students we can recruit. It’s the message that we’ll be sent when we build an $80 to $90 million dollar facility, we’re here to stay, and we’re not going anywhere.”
However, due to talk of the university's enrollment struggles, somet people are wondering if WIU is going to be open, or not, Lester said.
“We’re not going anywhere, I can promise you that, but when you build a facility of this magnitude that sends a clear and distinct message that we are here to stay.”
Lester pointed out there are a lot of rental properties in town that are sitting empty at the moment because student enrollment has declined. “I think when you bring in 700-some employees, many of whom are construction workers, and they’re not going to be driving back and forth every day, they’re going to be here to stay.”
Construction of the CPA project should take 28 to 30 months. During that time, those employees will be buying groceries, eating in restaurants, buying gasoline and looking for housing.
“We’re talking about people who are going to be here for extended periods of time, and I think we’ve got landlords in this community that are hemorrhaging right now, and I think this could really help them as well.”
The proposed CPA, if funds are received, will be built near Browne Hall (directly to the south), between Browne and Corbin.

Reach Christopher Ginn by email at chrisginn1978@gmail.com or find him on Facebook.