Friday, April 11, 2014

Gov's Road Map Won't Finish 6-Lane Projects

The five-year road map for transportation spending unveiled this week by Gov. Pat Quinn fails to include any funding to finish both the Route 13 widening between John A. Logan College and Carbondale, or the Interstate 57 widening between Interstates 24 and 64.

The spending plan includes both the upcoming FY 2015 and the next five fiscal years ending on June 30, 2020. Quinn outlined details of the plan Wednesday. Only the $71 million I-64 replacement bridge over the Wabash River made the highlight reel.

Under the last five-year plan the state poured millions in to new construction projects, starting the Route 13 widening between Marion and the college as well as the rebuild of the Route 13/I-57 interchange and development of the new Morgan Avenue exchange on the north side of Marion.

Overall, the plan includes few new construction projects for Southern Illinois focusing, as almost always, on resurfacing and basic maintenance. That means few economic game-changers so when the existing construction now underway on Route 13 and the I-57 interchange ends, that's it for now.

As to the widening of I-57 in Williamson, Franklin and Jefferson Counties, the only project on the list that appears connected at all is replacement of the I-57 bridges over Atchinson Creek two miles north of the Ina interchange.

Over the last few years IDOT has been replacing the bridges on I-57 between Interstates 24 and 64 with 6-lane structures in preparation for widening this stretch of the interstate. Besides the bridges they also will have to rebuild some of the overpasses used by smaller roads such as Westminster Drive on the south side of Marion.

The largest project on the list for the region - the Wabash River bridge on the state line - will be led by IDOT, but paid in part by Indiana.

Although the higher profile projects are not included in the governor's plan, hope remains. Lawmakers have been talking about a new capital spending plan for sometime. High profile projects usually get saved for those in order to get lawmakers to support the higher fees and/or taxes to pay for them.

The most interesting brick and mortar projects included actually aren't road projects at all, but mass transit and air transportation.

Rides Mass Transit District which serves much of southeastern Illinois should get three new buildings out of the deal - a $1 million administration building to replace their existing one, $1.5 million for a new maintenance and dispatch facility, both to be located in Harrisburg, as well as $1.8 million for a new District Transfer Center to be located in Marion.

This is in addition to $2.45 million to replace four 35-foot, three super medium duty, and eight medium duty diesel buses as well as one minivan.

After years of delay in part caused by the recession, the Williamson County Airport will be getting a new $10 million terminal building. This Phase I and Phase II work is slated for funding in FY 2015, which is the budget year beginning this July 1.

It's been at least seven or eight years since the airport authority started serious discussions on a new terminal. Before the recession in 2007, the airport had two airlines offering scheduled service, one to St. Louis and the other to Chicago, and a third airline planning flights to Las Vegas and Orlando. The latter deal fell apart before any planes got off the ground, but not until after the airport had made changes to the terminal to handle the larger flights.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Rend Lake Resort Upgrades Rooms

Today's Southern Illinoisan reports on the $400,000 renovation of the Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center at Wayne Fitzgerald State Park.

Over the past two years, every guest room on the property, including those in The Flagship, Windjammer and Schooner botels, cabins and the hotel, was remodeled as were public areas like lobbies.

“It’s like coming into a brand new place,” resort concessionaire John Reilly said. “The rooms have been completely redone.”

The resort’s 105 guest rooms have new beds, mattresses, box springs, linens, lighting and drapes and are equipped with flat screen televisions, microwaves, coffeemakers and small refrigerators.

The resort opened in 1990 and the renovation should restore the luster of the lakeside facility and conference center. Now if the underfunded Department of Natural Resources would just try to focus on their own maintenance and upkeep at the park, all would be well.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Harrisburg Moving Toward New TIF, Developments

The Harrisburg City Council held a public hearing this Thursday to consider establishing the city's second TIF district. The targeted area includes both the down as well as land along the new Route 13 Bypass (Bill Franks Way). Unlike most council meetings the council chambers proved to be standing room only.

The council is expected to approved the district on Thursday, Nov. 21.

Meanwhile the city remains in negotiations with an Indiana theater chain to locate an 8-plex cinema in the former Mad Pricer building at the north end of Commercial Street (Route 45). The city and any would-be developer has until the end of the year to get a redevelopment agreement approved for the soon-to-be expiring TIF 1.

With all the focus on the bypass that fully opened last summer, there's been plenty of effort near the old intersection of Routes 13 and 45 at Poplar and Commercial. Wortman-Meyer Properties has broke ground for a new convenience store/truck stop at the northeast corner of the intersection. The station replaces both an old shuttered gas station as well as a small strip mall behind it that caught fire and suffered extensive damage.

No word as to what name the station will operated under. Randy Meyer, the principle in Wortman-Meyer Properties also runs Meyer Oil Co. out of Teutopolis, Illinois, that operates convenience stores under the Mach 1 name. A Subway is also planned for the Harrisburg store.

Although they asked for a variety of incentives in the end the city agreed only to build the extension of Locust Street from Route 45 east to the city limits that will run along the north side of the development.

Across the street to the northwest at the intersection of Locust and Commercial Streets the city council approved earlier this month the sale of the lot to Diederich Properties of Marion, according to the Daily Register. Jeffery Diederich owns Speakeasy Liquors in Marion and Herrin, which operates as an upscale liquor and cigar store. He has already applied for a liquor license at that location.

According to information included with the bid the intended store will be 5,300 square feet with a drive-through and parking areas.

Diederich Properties states in the bid it has a firm commitment from a general contractor commence construction within 30 days of closing the transaction.

The estimated project investment between both Diederich Properties and its tenant, Speakeasy Liquors is $1,900,000 and is estimated to create 12 jobs in Harrisburg.

The floorplan includes a walk-in humidor, premium liquor room, red wine cellar, white wine and Champagne Cellar, walk-in cooler and a beer cave.

Down Route 45 to the south Knapp Oil appears to be at last halfway finished in the construction of their new convenience store in front of the new Walmart. Likewise the reconstruction of the strip mall beside the supercenter destroyed in last year's tornado appears to be nearly complete as well.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Street Name Hints at Long-Awaited Restaurant

A new road name may provide a clue to a new development rumored for Marion's west side.

The Marion City Council voted 4-0 last night to adopt Resolution 2013-36 naming the new Route 13 frontage road between Walton Way and Skyline Drive that's on the south side of the highway. The resolution names the road Garden Avenue. The resolution also renamed the existing Bradford St. behind Absher Motors to Garden Avenue as well.

Currently there are no garden establishments on that stretch of road, most of which remains closed to public until work progresses enough on the Route 13 railroad overpass to close the existing at-grade highway crossing. When that happens the railroad will allow the new railroad crossing on Garden to open.

City officials had been mixed on the new name as late as a month ago. Although logically they could have simply kept the Walton Way name for the new stretch, engineers wanted to keep the Bradford name and add it to the new stretch.

As the city has a history of naming roads on the west side after businesses or developers, this name may be an important clue. Walton Way is named for the late Sam Walton, founder of Walmart and Sam's Club fame who actually visited Marion when his club opened a couple of decades ago. 17th Street is named for 17th Street Bar & Grill, and there are many more examples as well.

While there's no official hint as to what Garden Avenue means, and absolutely no discussion of the name given at the council meeting, it would probably be safe to assume if another street goes in and needs a name, the city could consider name it Olive Alley.

If you haven't figured it out by now, think about one of the country's top Italian restaurant franchises. It's a chain that's been looking at Marion off and on since its sister franchise Red Lobster opened back in the earliest days of the Illinois Centre mall.

A few years ago Marion Mayor Bob Butler mentioned that a long-rumored restaurant had settled on a site in Marion. It was believed to be a reference to this chain. Around that time another source hinted at the restaurant in question and a site along the south side of the highway.

I could be wrong and we could get nothing, or a Garden Inn by Hilton, but there hasn't been anything on a new hotel, other than the upcoming expansion of Country Inn & Suites. All the talk has focused on restaurants.

This new stretch of property opening up is all due to the Route 13 six-lane expansion project. With the new lanes and the new railroad overpass knocking out direct access to the mall there at Toys 'R Us, the state agreed to develop the access road on the south side. With the railroad not agreeing to another at-grade crossing, and IDOT refusing to allow commercial development on the south property unless an access road was built, the landowners on the south side were caught in a Catch-22 situation.

Chain restaurants that specialize in dinner regularly want to be on the side of the road with the heaviest evening traffic flow. For the west side of Marion that means the side closest to the east-bound lanes of Route 13 as they approach the interstate.

The new road should create at least four or five good-size outlots on the Reinbold and Campbell properties with high visibility. When the road opens highway access will initially be from Skyline Drive on the west and Williamson County Parkway on the east by Sam's Club. Mall traffic will also be able to use Marathon Drive by Toys 'R Us and drive under the highway over to Garden Avenue.

The city has proposed a new TIF district to cover the two aforementioned properties. A hearing on the proposal will take place prior to the next council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 5 p.m. with the regular council meeting starting at 6:30 p.m. A previous TIF covers the property between it and Skyline Drive where the 1960s-era furniture store is slated for demolition.

Part of the new TIF proceeds will be used to extend the mall entrance road at Red Lobster and O'Charley's (Sinclair Dr.) south to the new Garden Avenue. That will make the existing three-way intersection a four-way intersection.

A public hearing concerning an amendment to TIF 1 will take place the same night at 6 p.m.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Downtown Upgrades on Focus for Marion, Mount Vernon

Rare Chop House at 224 S. 10th St. in Mount Vernon.
New restaurants and new projects have targeted the downtowns of the King City and the Hub of the Universe this summer.

Developed behind the scenes by an executive of a local industry who saw the need for a top of the line restaurant in town the new Rare Chop House held its grand opening August 29. It's located in a restored three-story downtown building at 224 S. 10th St. in Mount Vernon, one block south of the courthouse on Illinois Rt. 37. The building formerly was home to a True Value franchise.

The website at is just a page with basic information at the moment. More information can be found at the establishment's Facebook page. Jason Piercy is general management and hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

At a book signing last week at the former Grenada Theatre, now the Grenada Center for the Performing Arts, I learned that a new independent book store will be moving in next door. The owners say they are six to nine months away from opening.

The city's use of tax increment financing appears to be paying off. The downtown buildings looked as good as I've ever seen them.

The relatively new Hub TIF District in Marion is also starting to see payoffs for the downtown area.

Purple Peacock and Latta Java at 410-412 N. Market St. in Marion
After Hurst-Roche Engineers rehabbed 200 N. Market St. two years ago with a covered porch, a second building is adding a permanent cover for its customers as well as some outdoor living space on the second floor.

The Purple Peacock has been upgrading its buildings over the last year further up the street. The building hosts both the antique store as well as Latta Java, a local coffee shop.

New restaurants and bars are also looking at downtown.
The Vault Cafe opened earlier this year on the ground floor of the historic five-story Marion State and Savings Bank building at 504 Tower Square Plaza.

Also the old Marion City Hall at 100 Tower Square Plaza is also currently undergoing renovation for what is supposed to be a restaurant. Just down the alley the former Mollie's that sold last year has reopened as Miss Kitty's Cathouse and Lounge. On East Main Street a new Mexican restaurant is under construction across from Washington Grade School.

City officials hope to see the trend continue. They will be holding a meeting with business and building owners in the downtown area in early October to go over details of a new $10,000 low interest loan program for building upgrades and improvements.

Friday, September 13, 2013

I-57 Interchange Ahead of Schedule

The massive two-year I-57/IL Rt 13 interchange project in Marion that isn't supposed to be finished until next year may open fully finished before the end of 2013, according to Mayor Robert L. Butler.

Learned a few other updates from him yesterday about Marion developments. Nothing new on the STAR Bonds project, based on past conversations with him and state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, the would-be developers looking to step into Bruce Holland's shoes are waiting for the road projects to be completed.

Last year's drought helped the construction of the new rebuild of the Exit 54 interchange, but the mayor's still waiting for construction to begin on the connections and upgrade of the Morgan Avenue interchange. The additional overpass is up, but remains unconnected with Morgan Avenue.

Crews have finally begun earthwork on the new access road off of the south side of Morgan and on the west side of the interstate that will provide access to the north end of the old Holiday Inn/Executive Inn hotel and the mobile home sales lot at the southwest corner of Morgan and I-57. Due to restrictions on entrances too close to the interchange IDOT purchase access rights from the property owners and agreed to build the new access road. One thing different from the original design, the road will not hit Morgan opposite the Holiday Inn Express entrance, but a bit to the east.

Meanwhile work continues on the six-lane expansion of Route 13 from I-57 east to Court Street, the new overpass of the Burlington Northern on Route 13 by the Illinois Centre Mall (I'll add the "Star" to the name when the new owners get around to actually changing their signage). Once traffic can be redirected onto the new overpass and the area around Skyline Drive and the new extension of Walton Way is finished, that new road will be opened.

On the jobs front the owners of the former Circuit City building are hot on one or two tenants for giant warehouse and distribution center on the west side of town. If successful it could mean around 300 jobs.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Harmony Seeks to Save Bridge

According to, folks in New Harmony, Indiana, are seeking ways to save their bridge over the Wabash River that's been closed since May 2012.

...The Harmony Way Bridge Committee began meeting this summer to work on proposals for the 83-year-old New Harmony Bridge.

The span was operated for decades by a private commission as a toll bridge until inspections last year found extensive deterioration, prompting its closure in May 2012. Indiana officials have said replacement costs could be as much as $25 million.

Businesses in both Indiana and Illinois have been hurt by the bridge's closure, committee member Linda Henning of Crossville, Ill., told the Evansville Courier & Press.

The group is looking at having the city buy the bridge and issue bonds which would be covered by bridge tolls.

One thing that could help is if Illinois extended a spur from the Ohio River National Scenic Byway from New Haven (where the current byway crosses into Illinois, up through White County to the New Harmony bridge. Indiana already has a spur of the byway leading to the tourist town.

The move could generate some additional traffic as well as give the bridge some additional points when it comes to grants.