The LST 325 left Peoria on Wednesday after a record-setting two-week stay. The ship saw an estimated 3,000 visitors per day during its stay here.
Capping a stay extended by high river levels, the Landing Ship Tank (LST) 325 floated out of Peoria Wednesday morning.
Setting out about 9 a.m., the ship headed south on the Illinois River for its next stop in Alton. It will remain there for tours until Tuesday, when the crew will take it back to its home port in Evansville, Ind.
With final visitor totals estimated at 37,000, including at least 20 school groups, Peoria Park District supervisor of riverfront events Bill Roeder noted that attendance "stayed steady the whole time."
That number averages to about 3,000 visitors per day during the LST’s two-week stay in Peoria, topping the LST’s previous record of 2,500 visitors per day.
Since permanently docking in Evansville in 2005, the ship has seen 50,000 visitors in that city.
"We exceeded them big time," said Bud Ruff, who helped organize the Peoria visit.
The LST, moored on Peoria’s riverfront since Aug. 21, was supposed to leave town for Henry on Aug. 28, but high water levels kept it docked here for another week.
The seven-day extension not only boosted the LST’s visitor numbers, but it also increased business to at least one area restaurant. Roeder spoke with a manager of Old Chicago on Water Street, who said "he had great business" as a result of the ship’s presence.
"It sounds like it was a great benefit to the community in business as well as tourists to the riverfront," Roeder added.
The ship also helped out attendance at riverfront festivals and events, he said, and stated that Erin Feis "saw a stronger during the day attendance, and it was from people who decided they would do both (Erin Feis and tour the LST)."
This visit was not the first time the LST 325 has had a connection with Peoria. In 2005, Peoria came in second to Evansville as a housing ground for the ship.
Mike Whicker, executive director of the LST 325, said he thinks the main reason Evansville was chosen then was that "the mayor … proposed a museum to go along with the LST," which appealed to much of the crew.
The ship may have the opportunity to dock in Peoria in the future, as its contract with the city of Evansville will come due in 2015. The contract may or may not be signed again, which may leave its crew searching for a new home.
"We’d love to be in Peoria," Whicker said. "It’s a beautiful town."
Michelle Anstett can be reached at 686-3196 or firstname.lastname@example.org.