PEORIA — Where Van Halen and Cheap Trick once rocked Peoria, Tricia Buskirk sees a subtler yet exciting future.
The 3300 Event Center, her rebrand of 3300 W. Willow Knolls Road, will honor the property’s diverse past while blueprinting new enterprises. Under her revival and reshaping old incarnations — dairy barn, night club, restaurant and church — will echo as a wedding venue, cabaret, tea room and fellowship hall.
And that’s just for starters.
“To say that we know what we’re doing, we don’t,” Buskirk, 44, said with a grin. “We might be different tomorrow. We don’t have any set plans.”
For the past dozen years, she has operated Buskirk Garden Center and Gift Shop in Hanna City. In recent times, she has developed a side gig — by referral only — as a wedding planner.
Late last fall, she agreed to plan a wedding at 3300 W. Willow Knolls Road, then owned by Second Chance Church. In the process, she learned that the long history of the site could be coming to an end.
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History includes cows and Van Halen
In 1914, Dr. J. Harvey Bacon bought the three-acre site for an innovative approach to his medical practice. He viewed milk as a core aspect to overall health. So, he built a dairy barn to produce and sell milk, to patients as well as the public.
“My grandpa used to ride his horse (from Pottstown) to get milk for his family,” Buskirk said.
The property, including additions to the barn over the years, remained in his family until 1967, when a development company bought the site. At the time, the area remained relatively remote. But in 1975, Second Chance nightclub began to draw big crowds to rock shows there. Many local acts hit the stage, as did bigger names like Van Halen, Cheap Trick, Foghat, Humble Pie, The Romantics and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
After Second Chance shut down in 1984, O’Leary’s Restaurant became a favorite among the meet-and-mingle crowd. Other tenants would include Grandpa John’s Rib Shack, Apple’s Bakery and Country Health & Home.
In 2004, along came Second Chance Church, which thrived for 16 years. But in late 2020, as Buskirk arrived to plan a wedding, the church was shutting down and selling the property.
As she worked on the wedding, she was approached by an agent: Might she want to purchase the place? Buskirk initially scoffed at the idea as impossible time-wise. In addition to her roles as business owner and wedding planner, she enjoyed traveling on weekends with her husband, Joe Buskirk, a motocross competitor.
But the agent kept lowering the asking price, eventually enough to perk Tricia Buskirk’s interest. She decided to make an even lower offer: a mere $150,000 for the 22,000-square-foot commercial site, plus the surrounding three acres.
“If it’s God’s will,” she told the agent, “you’ll accept $150,000.”
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The offer was accepted — “a nice gift from The Man Upstairs,” as a grateful Buskirk described it.
Since then, rehab work has been feverish, including new carpeting, paint, lighting, doors and sprinklers. Much of the labor has come in trade, in exchange with her husband’s Buskirk Tree Service & Landscaping. All told, she estimates at least $100,000 in work has been done so far.
The building brims with a rustic/retro look replete with thick joists, clay blocks, black bolts and plank flooring. The decor offers nods to Peoria’s history, including old chandeliers from the Pere Marquette Hotel and pavers from city streets. Meantime, accoutrements — dim lighting, classic tablecloths — lend a sense of elegance throughout.
Slowly, the event center has been opening its doors. Much of the vision has come from Buskirk’s son, Brian Donahue, the general manager of 3300 Event Center. Donahue, studied business in college and ran a banquet facility.
‘Our minds never shut off about things we can do here,’ he said.
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Progress and plans
In the nightclub area, now dubbed The Grand Ballroom, weddings have been booked into 2022, with room for perhaps as many as 300 guests. The old O’Leary’s spot has hosted family gatherings and celebrations of life. Above it, in what used to be a private room for O’Leary’s VIPs, is a small bar area now called The Captain’s Room, ideal for poker nights or ladies’ nights, Donahue said.
Businesses also have launched. In the former Country Hearth & Home, Buskirk has set up a gift shop with several vendors. Next to that is Tea Room at 3000, run by a niece of Buskirk. Nearby, a wide room has been set off for Unity, a fellowship hall to host weekly Bible-study meetings.
Other projects loom. For instance, the old wooden silo will pay homage to the site’s history. The old Second Chance sign already is in there. And Donahue plans to frame and display contracts from the old rock bands that once played there.
To that music lineage, Buskirk would like to add small concerts, but low-key, family-friendly gatherings.
“I don’t want it to be a nightclub,” Buskirk said with a smile. “Weddings get rowdy enough.”
The place also could host fundraisers and other community events. Guests often feel a nostalgic pull to the place, thanks to yesteryear experiences of all sorts.
“It’s always a happy atmosphere,” Nuskirk said. “Visitors light up telling their memories here.
“The walls really talk.”
Phil Luciano is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.