Thursday, June 15, 2017

Marion Council Considers Ideas for Old City Hall

The Marion City Council discussed three competing proposals Monday night for the 114-year-old for former City Hall building. Options range from a micro-brewery, a pizzeria or a full-service restaurant. The discussion took place in close session and not in public as it dealt with the possible sale of city-owned real estate. No action was taken afterwards.

The Marion Republican has the story.
Butler said three individuals, all from Marion, have approached the city with the different ideas for how the old building could be used. He did not name the individuals but said the council seems to be favoring one of the ideas. 
"We had three proposals, and I think we are pretty settled on one, but we haven't taken any official action," Butler said on Tuesday. He added the city will make an announcement shortly, either at the next council meeting in two weeks, or even before then.
The building sits in the northeastern corner of the square at 100 Tower Square Plaza. Built in 1903, the Marion State and Savings Bank used the first floor while the city had its offices on the second. When the bank built what is now the Citadel Building on the west side of the square in 1914, the city purchased the building and moved operations to the main floor.

The Marion police utilized rooms upstairs for years as the city police station before eventually moving to the ground floor in the north half of the building. The northeast corner of the basement housed the city jail. The city moved out of the building to larger offices in the current City Hall on the east side of the square in August 1993.

This is the third round of trying to find someone to refurbish and find a use for the old building since the Marion Living magazine closed up shop. Of the three suggestions, a microbrewery would likely have the most impact in bringing additional visitors to the city.

Although this is not the first proposal for a microbrewery in the city (one progressed a few years ago to the point of meeting with city officials on what changes would need to be made in the city's liquor ordinance to allow one), if selected, this proposal for one would be the first one of its kind to open in the county and would fit with the ongoing development of a downtown entertainment and nightlife district.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Demolition Starts at Marion's Old Executive Inn

No more outside wall on the east side of the former Holiday Inn.

A Marion tourism landmark shuttered for the last 13 years will finally be coming down. Crews were seen working today on tackling the outer walls of the former 200-room hotel. The hotel was one of a number of Holiday Inn franchises built and operated by Carbondale developer Stan Hoye. The Carbondale hotel opened in 1968 and was demolished last year.

The Marion hotel opened in June 1969 with 100 rooms, two swimming pools, the Five O'Clock Club cocktail lounge, a restaurant with a dining capacity of 100 and banquet facilities for 250. After losing its original franchise it operated briefly as a Travelodge before shifting to its final name of Executive Inn.

In January 2004, a judge ordered the hotel closed when the owner at the time failed to fix numerous life-safety code violations. The state fire marshal's office found 27 violations in 2002. When they re-inspected the building in December 2003 they still found a dozen violations including the lack of a sprinkler system. Although an official at the time suggested the order was only temporary if the building could be brought into compliance, he doubted it would be due to the high cost.

It's fate may have been sealed a few months later when the Fairfield Inn opened on The Hill. Built at a time decades earlier when it dominated the county's hospitality industry, newer hotels and restaurants proved to be too much competition. As late as 2000, the hotel operations generated only a fraction of what its competitors could do, about one-fifth of Drury Inn's take and coming in ninth among the Marion establishments, even behind the Motel 6 and the Super 8. By 2003, its taxable revenues had been cut in half again.

Back in December 2007, then owner Dr. Yuseph Ta told the Southern Illinoisan he planned a $4 million renovation that would cut the hotel down to a 100-room Garden Inn. City officials proved lukewarm to that idea and privately suggested condemnation would be a better idea.

Former Marion Harley-Davidson dealer Phil Campbell later bought the property and planned to redevelop it, at least until the Great Recession slowed the local economy. A check of land records shows that he appears to have sold the parcel to JMB Development last summer on August 30, 2016. The sales price of $3.1 million comes to about $10.30 a square foot if the 7.33 acres amount is correct on the county's GIS maps. Vacant land in that area and Halfway Road has been going for around $15/sq. ft. for the last decade.

It's not certain what demolition of the hotel would cost, but a figure of $400,000 was bandied about a decade ago which was one of the key reasons why the city didn't try to condemn and demolish it themselves.

The new company, owned by Marion contractor Jerry Barrass, had previously bought the former Wolohan property along Halfway and the former Morgan Avenue, now The Hill Avenue.

With the development of the expanded I-57 interchange and the new access road into the land behind the old Holiday Inn, three new developments have targeted the area, raising prices as the amount of vacant land runs low. IHOP purchased its 1-acre tract for $500,940, at a bargain price of $11.50/sq. ft. to help kick off the development spree. BB Management LLC, the owner of the new Culvers, paid $750,000 for 1.08 acres, or around $14.76/sq. ft.

Across the street to the south in May of last year JMB Development sold the 1.71 acre easternmost portion of the Wolohan property to the owners of the Mach 1 convenience store that will soon open for just under $1.2 million, or $16/sq. ft.

The city created the Hillview TIF District for the area to help reimburse development costs which can include acquisition costs, demolition, rebah of structures should the development company decide to keep any of the old hotel, as well as extension of the access road onto the property on the north side of Illinois Route 13. The Southern quoted city officials last spring indicating $27 million in private investment was heading to the area. The only project hinted at, but not named so far, has been a possible hotel development.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

$11.17 Million in Commercial Projects Underway in Marion

Well over $11 million in commercial projects have been permitted or broken ground this spring on Marion's west side along all three exits.

While city officials mentioned Culver's was looking at Marion last month, owners of the new restaurant took out a building permit on June 1 for their new 4,473 sq. ft. restaurant at 2607 Blue Heron Drive, immediately east of the IHOP now under construction. It's valued at $1,450,000. However as Wednesday they had not filed a deed for the lot.

Culver's becomes the fourth restaurant under construction (or at least about to be) in Marion.

The new IHOP up on The Hill at 2607 The Hill Ave. comes in at $1,116,000. They took out their building permit on March 10.

Around the corner at 1309 Halfway Road just north of Krispy Kreme, Kidds Restaurants Inc.has begun construction of a new Jimmy John's. That project is just $200,000. They've had their permit since Feb. 5.

Down the road Marion's third Dairy Queen at 1300 Redco Rd. next to Marion Toyota is finally enclosed. This $850,000 building was permitted Feb. 3. 

The restaurants are joined by two new convenience stores and a large car wash.

The city's fourth Huck's convenience store at 2700 W. Main St. near Exit 53 is going up quickly. Carmi-based Martin & Bayley took out a building permit the new $1,050,000 store at the corner of Halfway and Main on April 11.

Meyer Oil Co. which has recently expanded into deep Southern Illinois with locations in Harrisburg and Herrin took out a building permit on May 25 for a new Mach 1 convenience store at 2603 The Hill Ave. which is on the south side of the former Morgan Avenue backed up to the old shuttered Executive Inn. That one is a $2.8 million project.

The largest project this spring has been NLB Properties's new Finishline Carwash which will take the place of Ryan's Steakhouse. The old building is down and the new one going up is a $3.7 million project.

Smaller projects in the older sections of town include a $300,000 expansion to Erica's Doggie Stylez at 1012 W. Main St. for pet boarding and training and a $150,000 building at 505 E. College St. northeast of Family Video for a new fitness center.

According to the Southern Illinoisan, the city is looking at even more development particularly in the area of The Hill which would include additional restaurants (Buffalo Wild Wings is what's been mentioned the most), office and retail space as well as a $10 million hotel. In total $27 million in private investment is expected in a new TIF district being created south of The Hill Ave.

Other than the Mach 1 station most of those projects have not been identified and could be spread out over the next three years.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Construction Begins on New Huck's in Marion

Martin & Bayley has broken ground for a new Huck's Convenience Store at the site of the old Poe Skating Rink at 2700 W. Main St. at the intersection of Main and Halfway Road.

The City of Marion issued their building permit on April 11 for a $1.05 million building. The Carmi-based company which has operated in Marion since at the mid 1970s purchased the property a year ago on May 28, 2015, for $375,000.

This will be the company's fourth store operating in Marion, and it's sixth location used in town.

The firm, named for the late founding partners, Bob Martin and Frank Bayley, dates to 1960 when they began operating supermarkets in small communities across Southern Illinois and eventually expanding into Kentucky and Tennessee. They opened the first Huck's convenience store in Grayville, Illinois, in 1974. Since 2001 the company has been employee owned.

Other than Huck's it was a slow month for building permits in the city. The other major projects include Brokton Webb's $340,000 4-plex at 909 E. Carter St. and Lee Webb's $250,000 project for storage units at 700 N. Main St. The remaining projects are for a double-wide mobile home and two garages.

Overall, the city approved permits totaling $1.783 million in the month of April.

It looks another development will be heading to that area, J. E. Mayer LLC, the corporate owner of the land where Marion Toyota Auto Body operates on Cree Drive, just purchased the vacant Lot 8 immediately to their west this Tuesday, May 3. They paid approximately $3/square foot, or $103,629 for the .79 acre lot on the northeast corner of Cree Drive and Halfway Road.

That's the same price per square foot that Jellen Enterprises paid for slightly larger Lot 15 last Aug. 15, for the new Huddle House restaurant.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Plans to Reopen State Museum Ignore Region

The director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources says the Illinois State Museum could reopen in a matter of weeks if lawmakers approve Gov. Bruce Rauner's amendatory veto of Senate Bill 317 sent to the governor last December. The General Assembly passed the legislation requiring the governor to reopen and operate the museum and its branch sites at Dickson Mounds, Freeport, Rend Lake and Chicago.

The amendatory veto replaced the list of branch sites to reopen with the language, "branch sites determined by the Department of Natural Resources in collaboration with local units of government and other public and private entities."

That would mean the addition sites Southern Illinois Art & Artisans Center at Rend Lake wouldn't automatically reopen, just the Springfield one. Apparently it would require some local partnerships to guarantee the Southern Illinois facility's future.

Rauner also added a sentence that authorizes DNR and the Board of the Illinois State Museum to "solicit the assistance of the Illinois State Museum Society to fundraise non-State resources for the museum and to provide operational assistance to the museum."

Currently the non-profit group just operates the bookstore and handles a few research issues. This would be a major change for the entity, but one that has been needed for some time.

The governor's third change would deal with admission fees. The legislation authorized the department to charge a fee, but one set by administrative rule, a time-consuming process. Rauner's change would allow the agency director to not only set the fee, but also allow different fees for different classes of visitors, such as a cheaper rate for students or groups.

DNR Director Wayne Rosenthal spoke to reporters about the change today.
Rosenthal said no decision has been made about the size of the admission fees, but Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said he thought a fee of $5 for adults was reasonable. Rosenthal said that would put Illinois in line with surrounding states that charge admission fees to their state museums.

Rosenthal also said that going forward, the museum would work in partnership with private organizations to raise addition funds for the museum. He said there is no target amount for how much must be raised between the admission fees and private donations.

The museum and related facilities around the state closed in September because of the state’s budget crunch. However, unionized state employees there have remained on the job because of a pending lawsuit in St. Clair County challenging layoffs of state workers.

As part of the agreement to reopen the museum, Rosenthal said facilities in Chicago and Rend Lake would close — saving the state about $1 million.

Apparently there's been no progress about finding partnerships in Southern Illinois. That's a shame. It's time for the Rend Lake Conservancy District, DNR and Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in Mount Vernon to step up to the plate.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Movie Shot in Southern Illinois Releases Trailer

Dig Two Graves, the independent film shot in Southern Illinois in 2013, finally released its first trailer Sunday. The movie is a Gothic thriller with a supernatural bent.

A crew filmed at a number of scenic locations across the region including Ferne Clyffe State Park, Mermet Springs and the Tunnel Hill State Trail. The downtowns of Marion and Vienna doubled for the fictional setting of Egypt, Illinois.

Other historic sites utilized included the old school in Grand Chain, "Shot" Winchester's second tavern down at Olmstead, Civil War Era Congressman A. J. Kuykendall's antebellum house in Vienna, as well as Prohibition Era Congressman E. E. Denison's house, Goddard Chapel and the Williamson County Jail Museum, all in Marion.

The film is directed by Hunter Adams and produced by P.J. Fishwick and Claire Connelly.

Ted Levine, Samantha Isler and Danny Goldring star in the movie.

from Hunter McLean Adams on Vimeo.

Monday, August 24, 2015

City of West Frankfort to Buy Outlet Mall

West Frankfort city officials have contracted to purchase the Factory Outlet Store of America mall on the city's west side from its California-based owner.

A deal was signed last week according to reporting by the new Frankfort American, a twice-weekly newspaper sponsored by Morthland College that's only in its fifth issue.

The city has 60 days to review the building and terms before closing on the deal, details of which have not been released. Officials including Mayor Tom Jordan has spent the last two months negotiating the deal for the 25-year-old mall.

Colliers International has been marketing the outlet mall with a sales price of $2,050,000. The building has 91,063 sq. ft. of leasable area which gives it an asking price of $22.51/sq. ft.

The mall is about two-thirds rented and anchored by VF Outlet.

The paper reports that the city hopes to keep the existing retail stores inside and add other retailers or business that wouldn't interfere with retail. Following the success of their industrial incubator building they hope to continue that model to add more retail development both inside the mall as well as development of the entire 20-acre tract will the mall sits.

The mall is owned by DeSantis Properties of Fresno, California, which did not respond to calls by the paper.

Ironically and historically, there's a tie between the DeSantis name (but certainly not the company in this case) and the city. In 1920, a seriously deranged Sicilian named Settimi DeSantis and another man killed two teen boys in some woods south of Royalton, across the county line in Williamson County.

The killings, believed by the public to have been the work of the Black Hand, led to the West Frankfort Race Riot which targeted Italians living in the city. It took the National Guard to restore order. Williamson County prosecuted both men for murder. DeSantis' accomplice hung himself during the trial in the county jail (now the Williamson County Jail Museum). The jury found DeSantis guilty and hung him on a vacant lot on the east side of the square behind what's now John Brown's on the Square.

Hat tip to Jeff Webb, a former staffer of the old West Frankfort Daily American and a photographer with the new paper. He stopped by to talk to me yesterday at my Giant City Lodge book signing and told me about the story and the publication.

He also pointed me toward the new Main Street Baking Co. & Mercantile at 328 E. Main St. in West Frankfort. Of this afternoon it's now carrying books published and distributed by

Besides rolling in the dough with loaves of fresh bread and sandwiches they offer everything your sweet tooth desires, except donuts. For that they will point you down the street.

That's Owner Darla Dawson on the right and her manager, Esther Willis, on the left. The Benton Evening News had a nice profile piece on Darla earlier this summer.