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.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Gander Mountain and the STAR Bonds Project

It's been a few weeks since Gander Mountain announced plans for a new Marion store, and we're now getting more details about the deal.

At the time, they announced it would be a 52,000 sq. ft. store employing up to 100 associates, of whom about a quarter would be full-time employees. The building will be built behind Menard's on a 4.824-acre lot carved out of the southeast corner of the vacant land located there owned by Marion Heights, LLC, the original developers of The Hill.

Officials declined to say at the time how much they paid for the land. However they finally filed the deed and other paperwork with the county last Friday. They paid $1,470,896 for the 210,128 sq. ft. of property, which if those numbers seem hard to fathom that's okay. The price was $7/sq. ft., less than half the $15/sq. ft., the price property has been selling on Halfway Road.

Realty Income Properties 4, LLC, a Delaware corporation based in Escondido, California, took possession of the property on Nov. 13, which they will apparently lease to Gander Mountain.

Comparatively speaking the price seems low, but in real estate development, that's the benefit of getting in on the ground floor so to speak. Gander Mountain sets the stage for the first new major commercial development in Marion since the recession, not only do they get a cheaper price, they also get to set the rules for further development.

Like most major retailers they requested, and received, deed restrictions on other future development on The Hill. While there are a variety of rules, the key one prohibits any key competitors:

... no portion of the Restricted Property may be used by Academy Sports and Outdoors, Cabela's, Bass Pro Shops, Dick's Sporting Goods (including Field and Stream), Scheels, Sportsman's Warehouse and any owned or controlled affiliate of the foregoing companies (collected the "Specific Competitors").

There's nothing sinister about this, as those stores, particularly the larger ones, would require the same restrictions if they were the first to locate here. As to department stores such as Walmart, they would be allowed but only if they kept their hunting/fishing/camping sections to less than 10,000 sq. ft.

The interesting part, particularly as it relates to the future of the STAR Bonds project, is that these restrictions aren't just for the adjoining property behind Menard's, but for all of Marion Heights' land on either side of Interstate 57.

Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops are two of a very small number of retailers that would qualify as a destination retailer for the STAR Bonds. There needs to be at least one of those involved before the STAR Bonds incentives could even be activated.

Does this signal the end of the effort to use the STAR Bonds legislation, or do the developers have something else up their sleeve? The development west of Kansas City, on which the legislation is based, utilizes another big retailer, Nebraska Furniture Mart. Although the former developers of the STAR Bonds district were trying to secure them, it's not clear if they had any interest as they only have two locations in the entire country.

The 38 or so acres left north of Menards remains in the STAR Bonds District awaiting the arrival of additional retailers or other developments. But back to Gander Mountain, the chain has been aggressively opening new, larger stores around the country. Marion appears to fit in that trend.

As part of the deal, we'll see more roadwork take place on The Hill. The day before they signed the deed, Marion Heights LLC dedicated Home Run Drive will be a new street that runs behind Menard's. It will connect Blue Heron Drive which runs along the interstate on the east, to Miners Drive which runs between Rent One Stadium and Menards. Down the road we'll also see the development of Stadium View Drive on the north side of the development and Miners Drive be extended north as well.

According to the sign out on the property, Gander Mountain expects to open sometime in April 2015.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Updates in Marion Development

Today's post is a hodgepodge of updates from the last month.

Casey's General Store at 2314 W. Main St. in Marion, will open for business Friday. It's the first new development on the east side of Exit 53 in years and takes the place of the old 1940s-era Marion Bowl.

The store helps cleanup the corner of Main and Seventh Streets which had been the site of two gas stations in addition to the bowling alley. Both stations have been demolished as well.

Farmers State Bank's new building in front of Walmart is well underway. It will be the bank's second location in Marion. It appears they will get a new neighbor as well.

Dennis and Lisa McDonald of Kevil, Ky., purchased the adjoining 1.06 acre tract from Walmart for $260,000 on Aug. 5, but the deed wasn't filed until 10 days ago. There's no word what they plan to build, but Dennis operates The Mattress Guys store in Cape Girardeau.

The purchase price comes to $5.63/sq. ft., a bit cheaper than the $15/sq. ft. which is the going rate for property nearby on Halfway Road. Deed restrictions require that any building be no more than 7,000 sq. ft. and must be used for an office, restaurant or retail.

In residential development the city approved the plat for Phase X of Morningside Subdivision on the northeast side of down. This 10-acre addition will extend Dew Drop Drive south from where it ends south to the first curve on Broeking Road.

Barnett bought the tract in June from Morningside developer Dave Thompson for $150,000. The city council annexed the acreage (along with a number of other parcels in that area) and approved the plat in August. The new addition will add 26 residential lots a little more than a quarter, and less than a third of an acre.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

STAR Bonds Updates Includes New Retailer

There's signs of life in Marion's dormant STAR Bonds project, or at least in the city's search for new development.

The city council is expected to name Doug Bradley, lead partner in Marion Heights LLC, as the STAR Bonds District's new master developer. He would take the place of Bruce Holland of Holland Construction who backed out a while ago. Saturday's Southern Illinoisan has part of the story.

The council will make the selection Monday night at a special meeting set for 5 p.m. at Marion City Hall. The Marion city clerk made the announcement of the special meeting at the close of business Thursday.

Bradley's group has been responsible for The Hill development on the northwest side of the Interstate 57 and Morgan Avenue, and had started focusing on the northeast side after the city and state extended Morgan Avenue across the interstate and made a limited interchange at the crossing.

When Bruce Holland approached the city with the STAR Bonds District proposal back in 2010 much of Marion Heights LLC's tracts on both sides of the interstate were swept up in the larger project. Now, Bradley has a retailer with plans for a 50,000 sq. ft. store looking to build behind Menards on the west side, but first, he needs the property to be taken out of the STAR Bonds District so the developers can benefit from the earlier tax increment financing (TIF) district first created for The Hill.

Under state law, developers can use either STAR Bonds or TIF, but not both.

Prior to the establishment of that TIF district the area on the northwest consisted of abandoned mine lands and strip pits, some dating back to the 1930s. The first elements of The Hill opened in 2003 and includes Fairfield Inn, South Pointe Bank (now MidCountry Bank), Rent One Park, Holiday Inn Express and Menards up on top, and additional restaurants and offices down below on 17th Street.

The STAR Bonds District can't be activated by the state until a master developer lands at minimum a major destination retailer and a major entertainment user such as a theme park to anchor the development. They have to then submit a master plan showing at least $100 million in investments that would generate at least $100 million in annual sales taxes as well as the creation of a minimum of 500 jobs.

With Holland out and no one stepping up, Marion Heights LLC wants to move forward at least on some of the smaller projects that have been circling their land. Since at least 2007 they have had plans for a strip center with retail stores behind Menards that would face the interstate to the east. Now, according to City Hall, at least an anchor store, or a standalone store, wants to call the Hub of the Universe home.

One of the delays in the STAR Bonds development according to statements made by both Marion Mayor Robert L. Butler and state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, over the last few years has been the ongoing road construction projects totaling more than $100 million.

Both have said a major tenant interested in coming to Marion had wanted to wait until the construction was over. Although the Exit 54 rebuild is now finished, work continues on the Route 13 bypass over the Burlington-Northern and the widening of Route 13 to six lanes between Rt. 148 and Crab Orchard Lake. However, much closer to the STAR Bonds District, the work has finally begun on the widening of Morgan Avenue to four lanes, the addition of a second overpass and the expansion of the exit to a full interchange with access to the south.

Monday's agenda calls on the council to first name a new master developer, then get the master developer's approval for amending the boundaries of the STAR Bonds District, and finally adopting the amendment changing the boundaries.

While these moves would smooth the way for the new retailer, and possibly a whole strip mall it doesn't address the larger issue of what will happen to the STAR Bonds District that's gone without any progress for at least two years now.

Here's a few questions that hopefully will be answered Monday, but probably won't.

1. While the naming of a new master developer is necessary in order to the smaller project to proceed, does Marion Heights LLC have plans to develop the entire STAR Bonds District, or a larger partner in the background that can move the project forward? In other words, is this just a temporary move to get the smaller project off the ground? (Not that there is anything wrong with that!)

2. While we're shifting boundaries of the STAR Bonds District will there be any movement to expand the district, particularly south of Morgan Avenue, on the east side of the interstate?

Over the last few years The Hill developers have been aggressively adding to their property portfolio, going as far as buying from the bank the mortgage of one mobile home operator. With the operator behind in payments they filed for foreclosure and finally received full title to the 15 lots this past Tuesday on Sept. 9.

The area between Morgan Avenue and Route 13 consists of the old Morgan Heights development platted a century ago that's two blocks deep and consisting mostly of tiny lots just 50' x 150' with only some of the streets actually paved and some never built out at all. The developers have been targeting the area between Morgan and Princeton Avenue, the only east-west street between Route 13 and Morgan. It's an area that desperately needs to be re-platted and designed for modern developments.


The orange lots show what they've had for a few years and the pink color what they just completely acquired this past week. The red lands to the north represents their original purchase on the east side of the interstate. There's still about 13 or 14 property owners that represent the remaining tracts between Princeton and Morgan, Carbon and the interstate.

Only two or three of the tracts are publicly available for sale at the present time, it would be difficult to see this area redeveloping up to its potential without further consolidation.

UPDATE 1 - The council did took action as expected. However, only 5 acres out of the 43-acre tract behind Menards was removed. No public discussion was made as to the name of the store.

Friday, August 22, 2014

State to Re-Open Fort Defiance at Confluence


I had to do a double-take reading today's Fort Defiance headline in the Southern Illinoisan. I read Fort Massac in place of Fort Defiance, and thought the state of Illinois was finally going to rebuild the fort which is currently condemned. Instead, they're focusing on the site of the Civil War fort at Cairo.

Technically, the site of the fort is more still inside Cairo rather than the actual confluence of Ohio and Mississippi Rivers as the confluence has moved downstream in the last century and a half. As an example of the constant changing nature of the rivers the old boat ramp sits underneath six and eight feet of silt.

Joey Thurston, site superintendent at nearby Horseshoe Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, added Fort Defiance to his portfolio July 1 at the start of the state's new fiscal year. The incredibly impoverished, yet rich in history, city of Cairo had operated the site barely since the 1980s, not the 90s, as the article notes.

The site has some issues as Thurston outlines, but I've got to say it's been a long time since I've seen an IDNR employee sounding gun-ho at fixing issues and restoring a site to public use.

By the way, if you go visit the park, don't forget to take a ride in Cairo's subway. It's still there.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Herrin Massacre Bus Tours Offer Something New

The infamous barbed wire fence inside the Power House Woods where four dozen men were lined up and shot on June 22, 1922. Williamson County Historical Society photo.

After two successful tours in July and a long waiting list the organizer of the new Herrin Massacre Bus Tours has announced four more dates for August.

Amy Erickson of Carbondale, my former intern at the Williamson County Tourism Bureau, and later interim office manager at the Southern Illinois Tourism Development, came up with the idea earlier this year and is operating the tours out of the educational non-profit group CAPS (Connecting All Parents to School) with support from the Williamson County Historical Society.

The dates are this Friday, August 8, which still has some openings; Saturday, August 9, which is full; Friday, August 16 and Saturday, August 23. The tours are $45 per person, but there's a Family Friday discount where extra family members can join the tour for just $25. Get your tickets at HerrinMassacreTour.com or call Amy at (618) 751-2924. The price covers the bus tour, admission to the museums and lunch as well as souvenirs and giveaways.

Both tours are the same, but due to parking issues Friday tours start at the Williamson County Airport and the Saturday tours from the Williamson County Jail Museum behind the Marion Civic Center at 105 S. Van Buren St. I, Jon Musgrave, will once again be serving as the historical guide for all four tours.

The bus tour follows the events of the two-day outbreak of violence on June 21-22, 1922, from the ambush of guards and replacement workers at Fozzard Bridge, now under Crab Orchard Lake on the morning of the 21st, to the all-out battle outside the mine later that afternoon that would fatally injure three union men.

The next morning four dozen men inside the mine surrendered with the understanding that they would be marched to Herrin and put on a train. Instead, increasingly larger mobs would stop them on the way into the city, eventually leading to an order to line them up against a barb wire fence and start shooting.

Some got away only to be shot and hung in the Harrison Woods immediately southeast of the city while six others were recaptured and taken to the Herrin City Cemetery where they were repeatedly shot and cut with knives in the presence of witnesses including big city reporters who had just arrived to cover the violence from the day before.

Another 20 men would die that day or later from their wounds received on the death march.

Barring a funeral taking place the bus will stop at the cemetery where recent research and excavations have confirmed the location of 17 of the original burial sites of the victims in the city’s former Potter’s Field in what was then Block 15 in the southeast corner of the original cemetery. Twelve of the victims are believed to be still buried there.

The tour also includes a stop at the Miners Memorial in downtown Herrin with a presentation from the Herrin Area Historical Society before returning for lunch and a tour of the Williamson County Jail Museum where the defendants were held later that year.

Personally, I think it's amazing what happened that day back in 1922, but even worse was the travesty of justice that took place afterwards when two trials ended with nothing but acquittals due to outright bribery of the jurors and the purchase of alibis for the defendants.

That breakdown of the rule of law led to an easy journey setting up the stage for the Klan War and Gang War that followed which eventually left more than six dozen deaths in its wake over the next five years.

One of the July tour participants recently e-mailed Erickson with a review.

"I'm from a coal mining family, a coal miner's daughter, and so connected to coal industry through my husband, my dad and mother's family. We are all involved. A friend read the article, and I immediately called, I wouldn’t be alive without U.M.W.A. It's a continuing struggle. I was enriched by taking the trip. Someone [who] hasn't read the book (Bloody Williamson) would really benefit."

I will also have my books and posters available for sale at the end of the tour or from my website at IllinoisHistory.com/Books.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

$250,000 in Horse Trail Upgrades Set For Shawnee

Visitors to some of the most scenic parts of the Shawnee National Forest will soon have better access thanks to a $200,000 grant announced by the state this week.

The grant provides 80 percent of the funding for four projects that will cost around $250,000 when complete. The projects include two new parking lots and trailheads near One Horse Gap in Pope County and Garden of the Gods in Gallatin County. A third trailhead will be expanded and more than five miles of trails for hikers and horseback riders rebuilt and improved.

The Governor's office and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources made the announcement.

Eighty percent of the funding comes from the federal Recreational Trails Program grant administered by DNR. The U.S. Forest Service will match the 80-20 grant with $37,500 of their own trails funding for the Shawnee National Forest and $12,500 from the Shawnee Trails Conservancy, a local equestrian trail group. Earlier this year that group had received their portion as a grant from the Illinois Equine Industry Research and Promotion Board, which distributes funds from an voluntary assessment on equine feed purchased in the state.

"Improving our infrastructure for recreation on public lands is an important step as we work to connect more people with nature and the outdoors,” IDNR Director Marc Miller said in the release. "These grants will help communities and government agencies do a better job of making public spaces available to all."

Amanda G. Patrick, public affairs officer for the Shawnee, told Southern Illinois Tourism News the forest leadership, "is excited about this successful cooperative effort between the U.S. Forest Service and the Shawnee Trail Conservancy."

The Conservancy wrote the grant application and guided it through the process, she added.

The new trailheads will be located near One Horse Gap and just outside the Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area. The one to be expanded will be the East Trigg trailhead on the River to River Trail.

"All three trailheads will be large enough to accommodate multiple horse trailers as well as passenger vehicle parking to serve all trail users," explained Patrick.

The second new trailhead between Garden of the Gods and High Knob will be located close to the rock formation long associated with the Civil War era Confederacy supporting Knights of the Golden Circle.

The grant will also fund approximately 5.4 miles of work on USFS hiker/equestrian trails, including some portions of the River to River Trail, in the One Horse Gap area.

"These trails are heavily utilized and in many cases are not well-constructed or well-located for the heavy impact," Patrick explained. "Sections of trail will be relocated on the landscape to minimize resource damage from erosion and sedimentation and to avoid sensitive features while other sections will be reconstructed in place."

While Forest Service personnel will complete the planning and layout, Trails Unlimited, a team that specializes in trail work will perform the construction.

The One Horse Gap trail work will be a continuation of a project funded by a 2010 RTP grant to reroute and reconstruct approximately 7 miles of hiker/equestrian trail in the same area. About 5.5 miles of this work is complete to date; the remainder of the work is expected to be done in fall 2014.

Patrick said planning has already begun for the trailheads and trail work associated with the new grant. Actual construction may not begin until spring 2015.

"The Forest is very appreciative of the time, energy and investment provided by STC as this project would not be possible without their continued support. [We're] also grateful for the state of Illinois's consideration and selection of this project that promotes the development of trails and the opportunities they provide for visitors to the Shawnee. This level of support is exciting as it brings capacity to all involved in addressing trail reconstruction and maintenance, needs that are critical to the long-term sustainability of local trail systems that protect unique places while also increasing the safety of our visitors," she added.

The project in the Shawnee was one of four announced this week by Gov. Pat Quinn. The three other Recreational Trails Program grants announced this week were $151,000 for a special parking area for vehicles and snowmobilers along the Pecatonica Prairie Trail in Winnebago County, $616,000 for the development of the Hanna City Trail in Peoria and Fulton Counties and $200,000 for the development of the Freeman Kame Horse and Hike Trail in the Freeman Kame - Meagher Forest Preserve in Kane County.