Wednesday, June 10, 2015

New Hotel Aims for Downtown Carbondale

Construction of a new 85 unit, 4 or 5 story Home2 Suites hotel in downtown Carbondale could take place by the end of the year.

The hotel will be located on just under an acre of vacant property on the north side of Elm Street stretching from Illinois to University Avenues. About 60 percent of the rooms will be extended stay suites and developers plan a coffee shop on the ground floor as well. Today's Southern Illinoisan has the story. This story the day before provides a bit more information.

The Carbondale City Council approved the sale of the .9617 acre lot to Sai Krishna LLC of Carbondale last night. Closing is to take place within 30 days and be "substantially" complete within 18 months.

The council sold the property at a bargain price of $75,000 which is just $1.79/sq. ft., significantly less than commercial property on the eastern outskirts of the city. However securing a quality hotel in the heart of the city has long been a part of the community leader's plans for decades and even predate the current city hall structure.

The land includes a parking lot, a vacant lot and a half-block city alley. It's immediately south of PK's bar in the 200 block of South Illinois Avenue.

An earlier story quoted city officials on the demand for a hotel.

Carbondale Assistant City Manager Gary Williams said the city had a hotel feasibility study performed in 2013 and found that it would be a favorable and economically feasible project.

Williams said when the project was complete, the city garnered interest immediately. He said the location on West Elm between University and Illinois avenues is a solid location.

“It is positioned a little over a half mile from SIU and it is less than that from SIH,” he said. “Those are two of the biggest demand generators in our region.

At Tuesday's council meeting Curtis Conley, who is both manager of PK's and president of the Carbondale Music Coalition, strongly supported the hotel. Ditto for Southern Illinois Healthcare President Rex Budde who said the development would benefit the hospital.

The development company Sai Krishna LLC registered with the Secretary of State's office earlier this year on March 6. The state lists Pradeep Reddy of Carbondale and Naresh Patel of Harrisburg as managers with Reddy also serving as the LLC's agent of record.

A few years ago Reedy and his wife donated three acres of land for the region's first Hindu temple at 1209 E. Walnut St. and has served as president of Hindu Temple and Cultural Society of Southern Illinois. Patel operates the Comfort Inn and Super 8 hotels in Harrisburg.

The new lodging development comes after a rash of much needed older hotel/motel demolitions in Jackson County.

The old Best Inns of America motel, last operating as the Unicity Inn east of the University Mall has recently made way for a new IHOP restaurant that broke ground in April. Developers paid $875,000 for the tract which will also include, "3,000 square feet for another “fast-casual” themed restaurant and 10,000 square feet of retail."

The city is also working on demolishing the former Horizon Inn, originally the city's first Holiday Inn, on Main Street. The city took ownership of the three parcels for around $2,000 and is looking for a develop who will demolish the building and redevelop the land.

In Murphysboro, the Southern Illinoisan reported yesterday that the Apple Tree Inn at the intersection of Routes 13 and 127 in Murphysboro has a new owner. The motel closed earlier June 1 following a foreclosure sale earlier in the day by the Jackson County Circuit Clerk. Joe Koppeis of Columbia, won the auction with a bid of $125,000.

Koppeis is the owner of the Holiday Inn in Sparta, the real estate company Admiral Parkway Inc., four shopping centers, hardware stores and a Domino’s franchise throughout Southern Illinois.

Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens said he has been in contact with Koppeis, but knows there aren’t any concrete plans. He said Koppeis is commissioning a few studies to determine what would be the most feasible for the location.

Although Stephens is in the dark about what may be coming, he said the developer does have plans to demolish the building.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Dig Two Graves Clip Features Tunnel Hill State Trail

Dig Two Graves, the movie that filmed in multiple Southern Illinois locations in 2013, has hit the festival circuit, before it returns (hopefully) later this year for a screening.

Meanwhile as the producers get ready for their Los Angeles premiere Sunday at the historic TCL Chinese Theaters as part of the Dances with Films festival, director/screenwriter Hunter Adams has released a teaser clip online.

Dig Two Graves Teaser clip from Hunter McLean Adams on Vimeo.

Besides the Tunnel Hill State Trail, the film also used Ferne Clyffe State Park, Mermet Springs, downtown Marion and Vienna, the Goddard Chapel in Marion, a school in Grand Chain, the Williamson County Jail Museum in Marion, a bar near Olmstead, a house near Mill Creek and the moonshiners shack near the lower Big Muddy River.

The production also used the homes of two former Southern Illinois Congressmen, the E. E. Denison House in Marion, now Mimosa Manor gift shop on Cherry Street, and the A. J. Kuykendall House in Vienna. Denison served during Prohibition in the 1920s. Kuykendall served during the Civil War.

For more on the film, which is a tale of the woes of vengeance, check out their Facebook page which has all the latest updates, the website, as well as their IMDb page to check out some of the Southern Illinoisans who joined the cast and crew.

The film takes place during 1977 (with frequent flashbacks to 1947) in the fictional town of Egypt, Illinois. There's even a Charlie Birger reference early in the film, although the Miss Cheeserilla pageant that takes place is one of the few references to the director's native Wisconsin and the North Woods where the film was originally set.

Walkers Bluff Casino?

In an apparent effort to attract downstate votes for a new Chicago casino a new wrinkle in the proposed legislation would allow casino gaming at Walkers Bluff and as well as a second place in Decatur.

Until last month, the general outlines of a plan included the new Chicago casino, as well as smaller casinos in southern Cook County, Rockford, Danville and Lake County.

But as the spring legislative session wound down last week, a new plan emerged that would bring smaller “satellite” casinos to central and Southern Illinois.

Each of those would have between 400 and 600 gaming positions.

Kurt Erickson of the Southern Illinoisan's Springfield bureau has the story.

I would link to the actual legislation, but it doesn't appear to have been filed yet. At least I could not find it on the General Assembly's website.

Walkers Bluff features Legends restaurant, gift shop and music venue. It has long claimed to be very much more than just a winery, but Southern Illinois' premiere entertainment venue. The article did not include any comment by the establishment's owners, Cynde and David Bunch.

In the interest of full disclosure I should point out that The General Store at Walkers Bluff is now carrying my books and others published or distributed by

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Budget War Claims First Casualties

Two days after Democratic lawmakers passed a budget some $4 billion out of whack, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced plans to shutter the Illinois State Museum and its five facilities as part of a series of wide-ranging cutbacks for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

In Southern Illinois that would mean the closing of the Southern Illinois Art and Artisans Center at Rend Lake off of Exit 77 on Interstate 57, as well as similar facilities in Lockport and Chicago, as well as the main state museum in Springfield and the Dickson Mounds museum and historic site.

The Rend Lake center's hours had already been cut to five days a week, open on just Wednesday through Sunday. The 15,000 square foot facility includes Artisans Shop and the Southern Illinois Art Gallery.

Greg Hines of Crain's Chicago Business has the full story.

The other regional site on the cutting block is the Hardin County Work Camp in the Department of Corrections which houses 180 inmates that are toward the end of their terms as well as 60 staff. Because it's a work camp, the impact will also be felt by area communities and local governments who rely on the free labor for cleanup projects. The inmates have been credited for helping save the village of Old Shawneetown more than once with their sandbagging.

Lawmakers are expected to return to Springfield in about two weeks for a summer overtime session to deal with a number of major issues including the budget, pension reform, various ways to improve the state's job climate to counter the needed tax increases that are expected to pass in the end, a capital projects bill as well as possible expansion of gambling.

Tuesday's move by the governor is just the latest skirmish in the budget battle, and is not likely to actually go into effect if a new balance budget is passed. However if lawmakers don't compromise then expect the cuts to stay and more to follow as the latest move only tallies up to $400 million in saving, just a tenth of what's needed.

The move comes two days after lawmakers passed SB 1728 over the weekend that would establish the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum as a separate agency and move the Illinois State Museum sites to Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Doug Finke and the State Journal-Register has the story.

More on that proposal can be found over at Lawmakers had passed that version of the bill over a similar bill that would have moved the remaining parts of IHPA over to a new division of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity that would also include the state's tourism and film offices.

Another part of Tuesday's announcement included deferring any actions on new film production tax credits until the state's budget situation improved. It's a reasonable move that may or may not withstand the scrutiny of the state's courts considering the credits are part of the state's tax code.

The governor's announcement of all the cuts follows below:


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Legislation Would Move Historic Sites to DCEO

Plans could impact future of Old Slave House

While on WJPF-AM this morning talking about the new Twin Wars of the 20s tour from SI Treasure Tours, host Tom Miller asked about any updates on the Old Slave House.

There's nothing new locally that I can talk about, but at least in Springfield there's legislation that will shift the state's historic sites from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency into a new division within the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity that will include tourism, historic sites and the state's film office.

The bill would also spin off the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum into its own separate agency and allow DCEO to create a new public-private non-profit partnership to promote the state's economic development efforts.

The legislation (House Bill 574) has the support of Gov. Bruce Rauner as well as House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. It's expected to pass though it's currently in the House Rules Committee.

Some agency folks in Springfield disagree with the move and I respect their positions, but the legislation offers a lot of possibilities for future improvement.

One thing I told Tom this morning about the new move is that the state tourism director, who I also think will be the head of this combined division, already knows about the house. More importantly, he knows how historic sites and tourism can intersect for economic development (and as a Springfield alderman, he's seen this firsthand.)

About a month ago I was in the Capitol in Springfield and had a chance to speak with Cory Jobe, the state's new tourism chief. He formerly served as chief of staff for Judy Baar Topinka in the state comptroller's office.

He remembered meeting me a number of years ago when I gave him a tour of the Old Slave House back when Ron Nelson, Gary DeNeal and I were still researching the site. I knew his name was familiar and that we had crossed paths somewhere else as well.

Back home I checked my notes and discovered that in December 2009 while working for the Southern Illinois Tourism Development Office, I was called to a meeting in Springfield with my regional counterparts, two people from the state tourism office as well as Cory and Maynard Crossman of Peoples Economic Development Corporation and Peoples National Bank to discuss a new historic preservation tax credit legislation that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration was planning to back in the next session of the General Assembly.

Cory had come from Topinka's state treasurer office where he had worked on a tourism related program, and Crossman was the former director of IHPA for the last year or two of George Ryan's term.

I remember the meeting vividly because on the way to Springfield I turned on the radio and learned that FBI agents had been seen taking the governor out of his Chicago home in handcuffs. Talk about the elephant in the room an hour later during our meeting, or in this case, a donkey.

Needless to say the Blagojevich administration didn't push the tax credits bill very much that year so it didn't go anywhere. Over the years various versions of the legislation get re-introduced, each year a bit more watered down than the last. I sat in on a presentation last year at the Herrin Chamber of Commerce offices about the then latest version.

The current version of the legislation is House Bill 240.

One more item on the Old Slave House, for those who need a visible  reminder of the site, check out Ghosts  of Old Shawneetown's page of pictures from the house back in  the 1990s. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

Governor Names New State Fair Director

For the first time ever the DuQuoin State Fair will not have a separate fair manager.

Rather than appoint managers for Springfield and DuQuoin state fairs, Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration named Patrick Buchan, a Fulton County native, to oversee both state fairs in Springfield and DuQuoin.

Although it's a loss for Southern Illinois, considering the state's fiscal crisis, we're lucky to only lose the manager position rather than the entire fair.

The good news is that also for the first time an Illinois governor has actually appointed someone with experience in state fairs and producing major shows.
Buchen previously served as Executive Director of the Indiana State Fair, President of HSI Show Productions, and Executive Director of the Texas Longhorn Cattle Breeders Association.  He is certified in Exposition Management from the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, and the past chair for the International Association for Exhibition Management Foundation.  Buchen is a graduate of Monmouth College, where he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics.  Buchen has a track record of boosting revenues while trimming unproductive expenditures. 

“As an event professional I have dealt with all facets of show management.  I truly believe to meet the demands of the event industry, creativity is paramount in order to present something new and fresh year after year while still delivering familiarity,” said Buchen.  “I love agriculture and the fair business, so becoming manager of the state fairs in Illinois is a dream come true.”
The above quote comes for the official news release from the Department of Agriculture.

Even more amazing, the governor is not quoted at all, the agency director is.

"I am confident that Patrick Buchen can effectively manage both state fair operations.  In this day and age of shared sacrifice, we at the Illinois Department of Agriculture are tightening our belts where we can, but at the same time preserve the traditions that Illinois residents enjoy at both state fairs,” said Ag Director Philip Nelson. “Patrick has both the agriculture experience and the fair experience that will really help him to showcase Illinois, specifically the state’s rich agricultural roots.”

The quote is too long for a proper news release. It should have been split in at least two paragraphs, however it's a marked improvement in agency communications. It also has two spaces after each period suggesting that the writer isn't familiar with the AP Style Guide and hasn't worked for a newspaper before.

In my experience dealing with state news releases they've been going downhill since Jim Edgar left office. Each succeeding administration has made an increasing number of gubernatorial quotes mandatory on almost every release. Everything the state did had to look like the governor cared and acted, when in reality, the man in office didn't even know anything about the subject matter being released.

Worst case - Rod Blagojevich being quoted extensively by the Department of Natural Resources when the man never visited a state park during his entire term of office. Someone in his administration even decided that the governor's name should be top and center on every state park brochure, even above the name of the state park rather than on the back like it had been for decades.

I'm off my soapbox now. Back to the subject at hand. Overall, this has every potential of actually working out in favor of DuQuoin and the region.

According to the State Journal-Register the DuQuoin State Fair lost $630,000 in FY 2012 and $595,000 in FY 2013, significantly less than the fair losses at Springfield.

Now if DNR can find similar management, or privatize the World Shooting Complex at Sparta, Southern Illinois might see better results at both state-owned sites.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

New Life Coming to Town and Country

The former Town and Country Cinema building as of April 29, 2015

The old Town and Country Cinema which has sit empty for around two decades will soon see some new activity. Yesterday representatives of the Brooklyn, New York-based owners could be seen talking with their local long-time Realtor, J. David Thompson of Coldwell Banker Realty in the parking lot of the shopping center. Thompson later confirmed that the owners plan on remodeling the cinema.

Although he didn't share any details, the building is in the relatively new Hub TIF district the city created which encourages redevelopment of existing structures.

The last few years have not been kind to the structure. Part of the brick fa├žade either fell down or was taken down after it separated from the block wall on the west end of the north side.

Kerasotes opened the west half of the building as the Town and Country Twin Cinema on Friday, April 11, 1975, to take the place of the old Orpheum Theatre downtown that the city restored and reopened as the Marion Cultural and Civic Center.

Bill Ivy managed the cinema at the time. On opening night patrons had their choice between the now-classic Young Frankenstein or the Four Musketeers. Tickets were just $2. Both theaters seated 240.

Two years later on March 13, 1977, Ivy, now a district supervisor for Kerasotes announced that the company would add two more theaters on the west side. At the time it would be the only four-plex Kerasotes operated. The two new theaters were planned to seat 238. The expanded complex opened later that summer.

The building suffered a small electrical fire on one of the men's restrooms in April 17, 1998, which caused theater-goers to be evacuated during the opening night of the "Babe" and "Beethoven"films.

Following the construction of the Illinois Center Mall, Kerasotes bought ground for a new theater in July 1992. The next summer in June 1993 Kerasotes started on their new 8-plex complex behind the mall with a planned opening date of Dec. 1, 1993. At the time Kerasotes planned to keep the old theater open, though that didn't last long.

The Town and Country Shopping Center first opened in stages in 1973. The May 29, 1982, tornado leveled the complex and it was rebuilt and a grand reopening was held early in 1983.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

More Developments Aiming for Marion Besides IHOP

On Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, the parcels in red shifted to pending.
Put down that maple syrup for your anticipated IHOP pancakes, Marion may be getting another two new restaurants and a strip mall on the west side according to a rumor that came from a source who heard it second hand, and who wasn't connected with the city, the real estate industry, the construction business, let alone the actual developers.

Now normally, I wouldn't run with something this thin, except that last Monday the land in question went from active to pending in the Egyptian Board of Realtors' multiple listing service used by local Realtors such as myself. (I'm associated with Paul Wilson Realty, LLC here in Marion.)

That means it's under contract and likely to close.

I've put a few calls around today and apparently something is coming separate from the IHOP deal announced last month. Today's calls also indicated a fourth restaurant may be in the works though no one in the know is talking about actual names.

I've heard a few names over the last few weeks, but never anything concrete, or supposedly connected with this proposed development.

The land in question is 6.06 acres of Wolohan property on the east side of Halfway Road and south of Morgan Avenue The Hill Drive. It's listed for just under $3.96 million, or $15/sq. ft. which has been the going rate for that stretch of Halfway Road. Whether that stays true will be interesting. Gander Mountain's recent acquisition only came to $7/sq. ft., although that appears to have been a discount in order to get new attention to the area behind Menards.

In comparison, the original developers of the Fairfield Inn have recently listed their vacant land to the north of that hotel and to the west of Rent One Park. They're asking just under $1.6 million for the 3.66-acre tract which comes to $10/sq. ft.

The reputed new developers apparently are not interested in Wolohan's remaining 1.7 acre outlot across the new Volunteer Drive access road to the east. That listing is still active, rather than pending. Also not known is whether the developers have approached the owners of Marion Chevrolet-Cadillac about their vacant 2.2 acres immediately north of their dealership and immediately east of the concrete pad where the old Wolohan's Lumber building used to stand. It's acquisition isn't necessary, but it would square up the property lines to a point and bring the total land in play to just over 8 acres.

The land now pending would have access to Halfway Road on the west, The Hill Drive (formerly Morgan Avenue) to the north and Volunteer Drive, the new access road built last year to the east.

A few years ago Denny's had optioned the corner of Morgan and Halfway, but never closed on the deal.

Meanwhile as we wait on these developments we do know of one new restaurant that's definitely coming to Marion. It's a new Chinese eatery at the corner of Court and Boulevard across the street from Taco John's. It will be the seventh restaurant on Court.

Wei Chen LLC purchased the 14,000 sq. ft. tract at the corner on May 21, 2014, for $120,000, or $8.57/sq. ft. At just 0.32 acres, it was too small for most chain restaurants, even fast food establishments. Court Street had a traffic count of 11,500 vehicles a day on the stretch in front of the future restaurant. Boulevard had 5,300 vehicles.

Construction has been ongoing for the last few months and the parking lot is almost completely paved. No word yet on an opening date.

Down the street, A 'Lill' Taste of Cuba has switched up its menu and is now known as Ray's Cafe specializing in breakfast and lunch. According to their Facebook page, owner Loray Lill changed the name in January because of an upcoming move. Her brother is the new owner, hence the new name. They're still offering "the same authentic Cuban cuisine, gyros, Philly's, pastas, salads, sandwiches," but have added breakfasts. The new hours are 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday with breakfast served all day.

Back on the west side of town Sonic took out a building permit late last month for a $400,000 expansion and renovation to its existing location on Walton Way.

On the negative side of the economic development equation the Illinois Centre Mall continues to shed stores under the current slate of owners. Locally owned The Country Porch/Country Gourmet is closing its door at the end of the month with Sisters Three next door planning to follow. In addition the corporate chain of Deb Shops are closing all their stores, including the one in the Marion mall.

Vigiano's II Fitness Center also closed in January on the east side of the interstate. However that appears to be under contract with a new owner. Last Monday the Marion city council approved a recommendation from the city's revolving loan committee for a $175,000 loan to Gabe Parker and his father James Parker, to purchase the gym and reopen it under the name Raw Fitness Center. The loan is part of a financial package being prepared by Farmers State Bank.

The move comes at the same time the city's new Hub Recreation Center hit its goal of 2,000 memberships. Apparently, it's time for Marion to get in shape up in the most literal sense possible.

IHOP Expanding at Least Twice in Southern Illinois

Pancake Holdings, LLC, of Chino Hills, Cal., an IHOP franchisee hasn't announced their expansion plans yet in the region, but we now know where two of their new restaurants will be locating.

Marion Mayor Robert L. Butler announced the Marion location last Jan. 17 at the Marion Chamber of Commerce annual dinner, which he later confirmed to WSIL-TV. Developers of The Hill, Marion Heights LLC, also confirmed the Marion location as the empty lot on The Hill immediately east of Holiday Inn Express.

The lot's bounded by Blue Heron Drive on the north (from which it will have access), Morgan Avenue, now The Hill Way, on the south, the existing Miners Drive on the east (going towards Menards) and a new access road on the west connecting The Hill Way with Blue Heron Drive that's now under construction.

The site's been connected with rumored restaurants for the last few years, including Olive Gardens at one point, but this is the first time a restaurant has been publicly announced. It follows the announcement late last year of a new Gander Mountain opening behind Menards.

Molly Parker of the this morning's Southern Illinoisan has the story on the new Carbondale location IHOP is eying.

Both Gary Williams, Carbondale's assistant city manager for economic development, and Hiren Patel whose MK Lodging LLC owns the UniCity Inn, confirmed that the troubled motel property will be torn down and replaced not only with an IHOP, but a second "3,000 square feet of space for another 'fast-casual' themed restaurant and 10,000 square feet of retail." Patel said he finalized the deal Thursday.

Patel's company bought the former America's Best Inn next to Steak 'n Shake last February after it had been closed by the city for code violations. Although he invested thousands into it to reopen and re-brand it, he said after a month of contemplating, the best business decision was to sell rather than pour thousands more into it.

Although deals have supposedly been reached for both parcels no deeds have been filed as of yet. If Patel just signed the purchase agreement Thursday, it would still take a few more weeks for deeds to be prepared, signed and filed. Even with signed deeds it still takes time. When Gander Mountain bought its property last Nov. 13, they didn't file the deeds and other documents for three weeks until Dec. 5.

Up until last fall the nearest IHOP restaurants were in the St. Louis area and Paducah, Ky. A new franchisee, Apple Investor Group, opened an IHOP in Cape Girardeau last October in the former Pasta House restaurant that closed last May.

The new Carbondale, and most likely Marion IHOPs will be new construction and will be among the first to feature the chain's new restaurant design.

Butler told Parker that as far as he’s aware, “there’s not been any change” in the Marion plans. “They told me they were looking at several locations in Southern Illinois.”

Patel's MK Lodging also owns the Comfort Suites in Marion.