Friday, December 29, 2006

AP Covers Year's Progress on Ballpark

Jim Suhr of the Associated Press wraps up the progress so far in the construction of the new ball stadium in Marion and unveiling of the Southern Illinois Miners

The Southern Illinoisan has the full story online and the Marion Daily has a nice aerial shot as well.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Airfares Set for Marion to Chicago Flights

Williamson County Airport's second commercial air carrier will begin operations Feb. 1 with flights daily to Chicago's Midway Airport via Quincy, Illinois.

Airline officials announced today flight schedules and fares for Mesa Airlines new Chicago service, according to the Marion Daily Republican.
Flights from Williamson County Airport to Chicago Midway will depart at 6:10 a.m., 10:45 a.m. and 3:20 p.m. daily. Return trips will be 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 1:05 p.m. and 8:25 p.m.

Tickets from Williamson County Airport to Chicago Midway will be $138 roundtrip if purchased 14 days in advance; $158 roundtrip, if purchased seven days in advance and $198 roundtrip for walk up service.

Tickets can be purchased through Mesa Airlines online at, by phone at 1-800-MESA-AIR, or by calling the Williamson County Airport at (618) 993-3353.

Mesa Airlines joins American Express in providing passenger air service at Williamson County Airport.

Williamson County Goes Online

Williamson County officials unveiled the county's new website this morning. It's the county's first one.

The Marion Daily Republican has the story.

The web address is simple, it's

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

State Shelves Wireless Plans at Rest Stops

The state's idea to turn the interstate rest areas into Internet wireless hot spots has apparently hit a snag according to the State Journal-Register.
Only one vendor responded to an Illinois Department of Transportation request for proposals to provide free, wireless Internet access (known as WiFi) at the state's rest stops. However, the vendor's offer was rejected because the company missed a mandatory pre-bid meeting conducted by the agency in October.

Consequently, IDOT is back to square one in its efforts to provide WiFi to the motoring public. IDOT hoped to have the service available in 2007, but that timetable is uncertain now.

"Certainly, we knew this was aggressive in that we hoped we could provide the service with no charge to the state and no charge to the consumer," IDOT spokesman Matt Vanover said. "We will re-evaluate our options after the first of the year. We'll see if changes have to be made in order to get a better response."

Maybe, it would help if the state stopped trying to manage all the rest areas under one contract. Try splitting it up. Certainly the state welcome centers would be better off if it region ran their own operations.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Sao Asian Bistro Named in Top 100

It's just a bit old news, but congratulations are still in order to Linda and Te Xieng Sao for San Asian Bistro's placement in the Top 100 Chinese Restaurants in the USA at the All Asia Food Expo in October.

The first round of competition required the restaurant to score well in restaurant reviews which qualified 8,000 to the next level.

The second round required restaurants to meet the criteria of 40 percent of their menu items as Chinese cuisine, a minimum of three years in business and recipient of a minimum of two awards of local dining excellent. That cut the number down to 500.

In the final round additional public ratings on the web and voters by diners of nominated restaurants were combined with a final review by an panel of judges composed of industry leaders and experts.

Sao Asian Bistro made the cut. That's the Top 100 out of 43,139 Chinese restaurants nationwide. Way to go!

Sao's is located on Marion's new Restaurant Row at 2800 17th Street below The Hill.

Tourism Town Meetings Set For Input

The Williamson County Tourism Bureau is calling on area residents and business owners to participate in a series of town meetings beginning next month to help develop a county-wide tourism development plan.

The meetings will start in Marion on Jan. 11, and continue with town meetings in Johnston City, Carterville and Herrin. The tourism bureau will follow-up the four community meetings with a county-wide meeting in March at the Pavilion.

"This is about creating new jobs, improving our quality of life, community development, historic preservation, whatever," explained Jon Musgrave, Williamson County’s new tourism director. "These meetings will be as broad or as focused as the people of this county want them to be."

"You see, there’s not much difference between tourism development and community development. For the first we are putting together a plan to get people to come visit our communities. For the second, we’re trying to get people to stay and settle," said Musgrave.

The Williamson County Tourism Board set a goal in November for a 50 percent increase in tourism expenditures over the next five years.

In 2005, the latest year the statistics are available, tourists spent $84 million in the county. In terms of employment tourists already support 840 jobs in Williamson County according to state estimates.

"There’s a number of new developments taking place in the region and educating everyone about those will be the first part of the community meetings," said Musgrave. "Next we'll break into small groups and brainstorm, both to identify existing problems hampering or preventing tourism development, as well as generate ideas for new proposals."

"We won't be looking at feasibility or costs in the first round. At this point we're just looking for ideas, and that’s something in which everybody can participate," Musgrave added.

While the tourism bureau will be especially working to attract representatives of the area’s tourist service providers – lodging operators, restaurants, tour guides, artists, etc. – to the meetings, Musgrave stressed members of the general public should feel welcome to attend.

"We need that. We need input from everyone," said Musgrave. "The bike trail we might propose for tourism is also the bike trail that would be used and enjoyed by local residents every day."

Meeting dates and locations are as follows:
  • Jan. 11 – Marion, at the Williamson County Pavilion.
  • Jan. 25 – Johnston City at the Johnston City Community Building.
  • Feb. 1 – Carterville at the Carterville Community Center in Cannon Park.
  • Feb. 15 – Herrin at the Herrin Civic Center.
  • March 1 – County-wide meeting in Marion at the Williamson County Pavilion.

Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. with the meetings to start at 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

Following the first county-wide meeting a committee will be formed to help pull the proposals together for the overall tourism development plan. Once that is finished a second county-wide meeting will be held to unveil the proposals.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Historians Pleased With Trail of Tears Designation

The Southern Illinoisan's Dixie Terry follows up on the recent state designation of the Trail of Tears through Illinois with an interview with Gary Hacker, president of the Johnson County Genealogical and Historical Society.
Leaders in Pope, Union and Johnson counties joined together in the past year to write letters of endorsement to legislators encouraging passage of the bill. "This shows what can be done - it gives us an opportunity to preserve our history," Hacker said. "Future generations will be made more aware of the Trail of Tears, following the legislation."

Hacker and others anticipate an increase in tourism in the area, thanks to the recently passed legislation. "The story needs to be told," he added.

Check out the full story at website.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Motel Revenues Jump in October

Williamson County motel revenue rose sharply in October spiking $231,000 higher to nearly $1.3 million. That represents a 10.1 percent increase from the month before, 9 percent over last year's revenues for October.

This may be a record high for the local lodging industry, and is definitely the best month in the last 24.

Lodging owners collected and paid $64,793.96 for the county's 5 percent bed tax. Three-fifths go to Williamson County Events Commission for the debt and upkeep on the Williamson County Pavilion and two-fifths of the tax fund the Williamson County Tourism Bureau.

As October bed taxes are paid to the county in November and received by the tourism bureau in December that brings us halfway through our fiscal year which runs from July 1 to June 30.

So far the bureau's receipts for the first six months of FY07 are up 5.8 percent over the same period last year, or just under $9,000.

Marion's Newest Restaurant Opens

Marion's Restaurant Row adds a new tenant.

Burgers-n-Cream, Marion's newest restaurant apparently open yesterday. It definitely it open today according to the sign and I found a menu on my desk this morning.

As the name implies, their specialties are hamburgers and ice cream, and particularly frozen custard.

The restaurant is besides the new McAlister's Deli in the same building at 2407 17th Street.

The developers hope to make the Marion store a prototype for a new franchise.

Monday, December 18, 2006

MDR Converses With Miners Manager Pinto

Justin Walker takes the reins today in the Marion Daily's weekly conversation with somebody interesting. This week focuses on the Miner's new coach, Mike Pinto.
Justin: How will our location be a factor in drawing players?

Mike: It's a positive one. There are a lot of really good Midwest players and we're within driving distance of how many really good college programs? One of the questions I get asked a lot is "What kind of player are you looking for?" I'll tell you, I'm looking for the best player at a school. Not the No. 8 hitter or a guy who didn't get in the game very much, I'm looking for the guy who is a prospect. Guys who set records at their school. I'm not looking for the average, run-of-the-mill player. I'm looking for a guy who was exceptional at what he did and now let's see if he can move up a level and maintain that.

Justin: What about the local guy with a dream. You've said there will be a local tryout.

Mike: We'll have a tryout in the latter part of April. We'll try to get a location as to not disturb the stadium prior to us getting started, but we'll run a full major league tryout. I'll get some scouts to help me evaluate and we'll have a lot of guys come out. There will be some roster spots available and if a guy is qualified and possesses that kind of talent — maybe he got missed in the draft and every year there are high quality players that were either with the wrong school at the wrong time and got missed. Much of the Frontier League is based on giving guys their first chance.

Check out the rest of the interview in the Marion Daily.

The Bed Tax: Who Pays?

What's a hotel?

Seems like a simple question, doesn't it?

It's not though, particularly when you're talking about the bed tax and who's actually responsible for paying it.

Properly known as the Hotel Occupation Retailer's Tax at the state level, the bed tax is charged against lodging operators as a percentage of the lodging bill. The state levies a 6 percent rate. Counties and municipalities can levy a rate up to 5 percent. Most, if not all, lodging operators tack this tax onto the lodging bill rather than pay it out of pocket.

In Williamson County there's a two percent bed tax that funds the Williamson County Tourism Bureau and a three percent bed tax that pays off the financing of the Williamson County Pavilion.

For motels and hotels there's no question that they are covered and are supposed to pay. The only exception is for guest stays over 30 days.

For bed and breakfast inns it's more tricky. Generally they do pay the tax on the total amount, though if the breakfast is billed separately, they don't have to pay the bed tax on that. However, then they would have to collect the sales tax on the food.

Campgrounds and cabins are the next tricky stage. Campgrounds are exempt, but cabins on a campground are not.

According to the Illinois Department of Revenue, if it's a permanent structure rented as lodging, it's covered. If it's not permanent, such as a camper hauled to a campground and rented to various people over the summer, it's exempt. Likewise, RVs rented out for vacations are not covered.

The last two categories of lodging are usually the most surprising for the operators who long thought they were exempt. Hunt clubs that offer overnight accommodations are covered, even if it's just a bunkhouse and not a private room.

Tax-exempt organizations are also covered even though they are normally exempt from paying or collecting taxes in other situations. That's one of the reasons why SIU's Touch of Nature pays the bed tax on its cabin rental when they do corporate retreats. Even though they are a public university, they are still covered.

Even churches that run campgrounds and retreats are covered under Illinois law. I'm not certain if the three-sided cabins at Camp Ondessonk would be covered, but the motel-like rooms of the St. Noel Conference Center there would be. Likewise the cabins at San Damiano Shrine in Pope County should be paying bed tax.

There are times when the operators of smaller sites or otherwise tax-exempt sites argue that they shouldn't be covered, and that's their right. However the law is the law, and until it's changed they are obligated to pay.

It's also in their best interest to pay. Most of the problems occur in the smaller counties that struggle for every dollar they can get to promote tourism and create jobs. That's in everybody's best interest.

For more on the state bed tax check the Illinois Department of Revenue's website.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Trail of Tears Updates

The Cherokee Trail of Tears is a part of Southern Illinois' history that it not well-marked or widely known. That's due in part to the fact that we are the only state along the trail that does not have an interpretive center along the route to educate tourists to the history.

While there is an effort underway to rectify that situation, two recent developments should help in the future.

The first comes from SIU. Geophysicist Harvey Henson just received a $30,000 grant to search for unmarked Cherokee graves presumably near Campground Church in eastern Union County near Anna.
The National Park Service and the University are roughly splitting the cost for the study, which researchers hope will identify the graves of Cherokee who died in Southern Illinois during the 1838-39 Trail of Tears forced relocation.

Stories passed down through generations said German settlers allowed the Cherokee to bury their dead in the cemetery during the harsh winter that trapped them in the area. Some records indicate about 400 Cherokee died here, but other reports claim the dead numbered up to 4,000.

Last year, Henson began searching the two-acre cemetery with instruments that allow researchers to peer beneath the seemingly undisturbed ground for indications of gravesites. Using magnetic, electric conductivity and ground-penetrating radar instruments, the team confirmed the existence of up to three unmarked graves in a relatively small part of it.

For more information check out the entire news release.

The second event also took place over the fall veto session of the Illinois legislature when they made Route 148 the official state historic route of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. The Southern has the story.

The National Park Service designated this this official auto route of the national historic trail back in the 1990s, but the state had never followed suit. This will help with future grant applications.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I Converse With The MDR

First off I want to swear I was not making a grand pronouncement when this photo was taken.

Really. I mean it.


Tom Kane took this photo on my first day on the job. Cherri Flinn and I participated in the conversation last week.

I'm serious about this job, but just ask the folks who work here at the tourism bureau. They know I don't normally wave my arms.

Seriously though, the Marion Daily Republican printed today their weekly conversation with someone. This week it was me.

At one point during the interview Cherri asked how many destinations or attractions we have in Williamson County. It's a good question and one I'm ashamed to say we can't answer.

We haven't done a very good job of engaging with the local public over the last few years and keeping track of what's been developing here in our own backyard. Instead, the bureau has focused the vast majority of its attention toward the operations of the Williamson County Pavilion.

We let too many basic tourism bureau functions slip to a secondary position as the staff stretched to keep up with the day-to-day operations of the Pavilion, but things are changing.

This summer the Williamson County Tourism Board created the position of a full-time Events Coordinator which despite a broader job description generally focuses on the day-to-day operations of the Pavilion.

Stacey Pearce, who previously worked part-time doing just that, now handles the full-time position; and from what I've seen these last few weeks she does it well. She's the person to contact if you're interested in renting a small conference, a ballroom or the Expo Hall.

In the next few days I'll be announcing our next step as we reach out to the residents and local businesses here in Williamson County as we ask them to become active with us to develop tourism here.

In a conversation today with the folks from the Arthur Agency in Carbondale, I outlined my goals and made clear my position.

I am not satisfied with the job we've done with tourism in Southern Illinois. I'm not satisfied with the job we've accomplished in this office.

I write these words now not to be harsh, but to be honest.

If we can't see the truth, if we can't speak it. We can't get the job done.

Southern Illinois has seen a number of accomplishments in tourism over the decades. It's my desire to build on top of those even greater accomplishments for us as residents of this region.

We deserve better.

But if we want to get it done, it's time to roll up our sleeves and start.

Herrin Civic Center Lands Marvin Hamlisch

The Herrin Civic Center has landed award-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch to headline an Independence Day holiday concert next July 3.

The concert also features the Chicago Chamber Orchestra.

The Independent's Geoffrey Ritter broke the story last week.
While tickets are not yet on sale, Carl Ortale, executive director of the Civic Center, said they likely will cost between $155 and $175 each and that the admission price also will include a catered dinner. He said people interested in getting seats can begin contacting the Civic Center immediately.

Ortale and the Civic Center staff have been working for months to arrange the performance... He was excited at the sort of crowd the concert might pull in.

"He's just one of those huge mainstays," Orale said of Hamlish. "The guy's a genius and he's a nice guy."

For more info call the Herrin Civic Center at 618-942-6115 or e-mail the staff at

Old Restaurants Upgrade, New Ones Build

It's nice to see the owners of Arby's and Wendy's begin renovations on their eateries in Marion. That's how you stay competitive.

On the west side, Burgers 'n' Cream is hiring new staff and should open soon next to McAlister's Deli just below The Hill.

Wine Trail Updates

Since the designation last week of the Shawnee Hills American Viticultural Area I've been learning a lot about the local wine industry in Williamson County.

According to one report we have eight vineyards in the county, though I have not actually been able to identify all eight.

As for the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, it will be extending into the county in 2007. Plans are to take a spur north up Rocky Comfort Road from Blue Sky Winery to Grassy Road and from there east to Route 148.

Travelers coming up the interstate may have noticed that Blue Sky Winery is advertising at I-57 interchange with Route 148 at Exit 45 (Lake of Egypt). Look for Owl Creek Winery to do the same.

Also last week a local developer called me looking for partners for winery project in the Marion area. He has the property and location. Interested parties should call me here at the office at 618-997-3690.

Southern Covers West End's Growth

There once was a time when Marion's west end was the creek that flows around what's now the intersection of West Main and Court Streets. Now it's the area of The Hill and points west of Interstate 57.

The Southern Illinoisan highlighted the recent growth in this corridor in a John D. Homan article in yesterday's paper.

Marion's Mayor Bob Butler remains astonished at the development of The Hill.
"I never dreamed there would be any growth there at all," said Butler, who likened the area to a devastated wilderness for decades. "It was strip pits and spoil banks. The area looked like it had been bombed. Now look at it. Practically every day, retail-type establishments are contacting us and asking us about building there."

Butler said the credit rests squarely on the shoulders of land developers Doug Bradley, Lynn Holmes and G.A. White, who invested their money and effort into that location.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Napa Valley Watch Out

The Southern Illinoisan reported today that the U.S. Treasury Department just gave wine makers in Southern Illinois an important new marketing tool according to a news release from U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello's office.

The agency approved the petition of the Shawnee Hills American Viticultural Area which allows "vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in a area to its geographic origin"

Parts of Williamson County are included in the 2,140 square mile area as are portions of Randolph, Jackson, Union, Alexander, Pulaski, Johnson, Williamson, Saline, Gallatin, Hardin and Pope counties.

The article didn't describe the boundaries, but a check of the Federal Register notice did.

The northern boundary of the AVA in Williamson County runs along Route 13 where it enters from Jackson County east to Interstate 57 in Marion, then down the interstate to Exit 45, then down Route 148 to Route 37, then down to Pulley's Mill and the South Fork of the Saline River. The boundary follows the river downstream to the Saline County.

Basically, the southwestern quarter of the county is in the designated area as well as the Lake of Egypt and Creal Springs area in the southeastern corner.

The designation was made according to several criteria, including historical evidence supporting the boundary, distinct geographic features, and that the area is locally and/or nationally known by its name. There are eight wineries with 51 vineyards in the Shawnee Hills AVA.

"This is an important distinction for winegrowers in Southern Illinois and the entire Illinois wine industry," said Costello in his news release. "The AVA designation will boost the popularity of Southern Illinois wines and help bring more tourists to our area."

With today's article I started looking around for what grape growers we had in Williamson County. This morning I caught up with Bill McCartney, executive director of the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association, while he was driving to a meeting.

His website lists four vineyards, with one at least using "winery" in its name:
  • Cana Vineyards, Inc.
  • Pecan Garden Vineyard
  • Richey Farm & Vineyard, and
  • Stone Hall Farms Vineyard & Winery

A fifth site, Naurie's Vineyard, wasn't listed, but was one of two I knew existed in the county. I've been told of another possible vineyard near Hurst but haven't found out any more about it.

Cana Vineyards off of Cana Church Rd, and Stone Hall Farms along Wolf Creek Roads are definitely in the designated area. Richey Farm & Vineyard off of Dykersburg Road is north of the Saline River and wouldn't be, though I assume Pecan Garden would be in the area, but don't know exactly though it has a Creal Springs post office box for a mailing address.

McCartney agreed with the Congressman about the impact the new designation will provide to the area's vineyards and wineries.

"It's really important when you start marketing that wine," explained Bill McCartney, who compared it with California wine makers marketing their product under the "Napa Valley" label.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

So. Ill. Boat & Fishing Show Set for Feb. 2-4

From a WCTB News Release:

    A winter boat show will return to Southern Illinois next year with the development of the new Southern Illinois Boat & Fishing show slated for the first weekend in February.

    The Williamson County Tourism Bureau, in partnership with the Youth Outdoor Education Foundation, will sponsor the event at the Williamson County Pavilion behind the Illinois Centre Mall in Marion.

    “It’s been a few years since we had a show like this in the region,” said Jon Musgrave, the new executive director of the Williamson County Tourism Bureau. “Last week the tourism board approved a pitch from the foundation to co-sponsor the show.”

    The board approved the proposal at their Nov. 15 meeting and organizers finalized the exact dates this week.

    “This is going to be a hard-core boat and fishing show for the sportsmen of Southern Illinois and families,” promised organizer Ron Allen with the education foundation.
    The show will be open to the public with free admission.

    Tentative hours are set for 4 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 4.

    Interested vendors can contact Allen by phone at 217-787-8862 or 217-725-7602, or by e-mail at Interested persons can also contact Musgrave at the Williamson County Tourism Bureau at 618-997-3690 or

Bed Tax Receipts Drop Slightly

Williamson County bed tax receipts dropped slightly in September according to figures received this week at the Williamson County Tourism Bureau.

The county levies a 5 percent bed tax which generated $58,230.20 owed by lodging operators in September. That's down about a half a percent.

By county ordinance the tourism bureau receives 40 percent of that amount, or $23,292.08 in the latest check, to support the bureau's operations. The remaining 60 percent goes to the Williamson County Events Commission to pay for the Williamson County Pavilion.

By comparison in 2006 the 2 percent bed tax for the tourism bureau generated 23,417.45, though at the time two motels were delinquent.

September's bed tax receipts are paid by the lodging operators to the county in October, and the county transfers the funds the following month to the tourism bureau and events commission.

CORRECTION - 12/19/06
I made a mistake in the calculations. Rather than a half a point decrease, September's motel receipts dropped 5.9 percent compared to August, but rose 5 percent from the previous September.

Miners Manager Named, Season Opens May 29

The Southern Illinois Miners named Mike Pinto as their new field manager Tuesday and announced that the first home game at the new Minors Stadium would take place on May 29, six days after the team's season opener in Sauget.

Pinto comes to the team after two seasons at the helm of the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association and three seasons of coaching with the Joliet Jackhammers of the Independent Northern League. Mike also coached two seasons at Oakton Community College.

During his first official day on the job, Pinto signed the first two players for the Miners:

  • Chris Hall, a 6' 3", 220 lb 3rd Baseman, played at Indiana State University and hit .350 his senior year with a .470 slugging percentage. He started his professional career in Shreveport, Louisiana in the Central League in 2004 where he hit .260. He then went with manager Terry Bevington to Edmonton in 2005 and hit .277 while setting a Northern League record for assists with 203 as the leagues best 3rd baseman. Although he hit .239 in 2006 for Sioux Falls, Chris hit .323 in the final month of the season while continuing his sparkling play at 3rd base. He also hit 19 doubles, had 4 home runs and 7 stolen bases.

  • Jose Torres, a 6', 195 lb left fielder, drafted in the 39th round by the Texas Rangers, split the 2006 season with the Lincoln Saltdogs and St. Paul Saints of the American Association, hitting a combined .247 with 6 home runs and 37 RBI along with having 6 outfield assists.

The team also released the 2007 season schedule. Pinto and the Miners will take the field for the first time on May 23 against the Gateway Grizzlies in Sauget, Illinois, and for the first time at home on May 29th against the Evansville Otters.

The schedule includes 51 home games during 11 home stands. The team plans to have fireworks displays after the first home game and all Friday home games.

Inaugural season tickets and Miners team merchandise can be purchased by calling the team office at 618-998-8499, stopping by the office in the Illinois Centre Mall in Marion, or on the team website:

'Color It Pink' at Artisans Shop

The Southern Illinoisan had a good story last week on the new exhibit at the Southern Illinois Artisans Shop at Rend Lake.

Thanks Stephanie at SITDO for the tip.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Marion Campground Opens

The Marion Campground and RV Park won't be finished until next spring, but the first campers arrive this weekend.

Advertised as the "premiere RV park in Southern Illinois" the developers plan on 58 full service sites and 27 pull-through sites.

When everything is finished, the park will include a convenience store, laundry and shower facilities, plus amenities such as satellite television and wireless internet available at each site.

The new park is located off of Seventh Street just north of Main Street east of Exit 53 on Interstate 57.

The website is easily remembered as

Friday, November 17, 2006

And The Name Is...

... the Southern Illinois Miners.
We wanted a name that the people of the region could identify with in a personal way. We think the miner was an excellent choice because he represents the many great qualities of people in Southern Illinois - hard working, honest, and dedicated," said Erik Haag, spokesman for the Southern Illinois Baseball Group.

"Throughout the history of this region many miners labored under less than ideal conditions in an effort to put food on the table and improve the lives of their families," Haag added. "We think the name also reflects the recent renaissance in mining in the area which will serve as an economic catalyst for the future."

The team's new website is Team merchandise is already available for sale at the team's kiosk in the mall. Merchandise and tickets can also be purchased online.

Next on the agenda will be the announcement of the coach and the first couple of players hired as well as the 2007 schedule.

Games begin in late May and run to early September.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Area Beatles Site Gets New Owner

Congrats to Sarah Morrison, the new owner of a Hard Day's Nite and a future Beatles shrine/museum(?) in Benton.

The bed and breakfast inn is the house formerly belonging to Louise Harrison, sister to the famed George Harrison who visited Benton and performed in the area prior to the Beatles invasion of America.

Today's Southern Illinois has the story.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

First Day On The Job

The day started at 7:57 a.m. when I pulled into the Pavilion parking lot.

Almost 13 hours later it ended when I pulled out at 8:53 p.m.

Welcome to the life of the new executive director of the Williamson County Tourism Bureau, which would, uh, be me!

Actually, it was a very good day. Jeanette Sollami has been acting as interim director for the last two-and-a-half months will stay on for another couple of months to help with the transition.

The Williamson County Tourism Board held their annual Thanksgiving meeting for lunch with turkey and all the trimmings. Tonight for dinner Jeanette and I attended a meeting at Giant City Lodge where we had the family style chicken dinner.

Of course the meals did put us in a fowl mood.

Sorry, I've been making that lame joke all day. I hesitate to think how many times Jeanette has heard me use it.

Tonight's meeting dealt with the new Illinois Travel Guide with Joan Sharp, a representative of Madden Preprint Media on hand to highlight their offerings.

Had a chance to sit down and speak with Vickie Cummiskey, Harrisburg's new economic development director; Stephanie Rhodes, executive director of the Southern Illinois Tourism Development Office; Sheryl Durham, coordinator of the Illinois section of the Ohio River Scenic Byway; and Angelo and Janice Fiorino, owners of Murphysboro's Apple Tree Inn, which I learned tonight they purchased from Southern Illinois tourism pioneer Wayman Presley.

Earlier today the tourism board approved three main goals for me during the first year:

  • Bring the Williamson County Pavilion into the black (or at least very dark gray). We're close to breaking even, just not close enough some months.

  • Bring the website up-to-date and expand it.

  • Develop new attractions and events to expand Williamson County tourism.

I also made a short presentation on how we might go about accomplishing the third goal. Information on that will be announced next month, but I'll offer one hint now. We won't do it alone. It's going to require grassroots efforts.

In terms of the first goal the tourism board approved a proposal by Dwight Hoffard, John A. Logan College's representative on the board to co-sponsor a new late winter boat show the first weekend in March at the Pavilion.

I'll have more on the new Southern Illinois Boat & Fishing Show as details are announced. The Youth Outdoor Education Foundation will be the lead co-sponsor of the event.

The dates are March 3 and 4, which is the weekend after the Motorcycle Show (last weekend of February) and the weekend before the Home Builders Expo (the second weekend of March).

UPDATE: The newspapers have now covered the hiring. Cherri Flinn's for the Marion Daily Republican is here and Ashley Wiehle's for the Southern Illinoisan can be found here.

Few Hints Offered on Baseball Team Name

Today's Marion Daily Republican has two stories on the new Frontier League baseball team coming to Marion.

The first story covers the problems of all the rain is having on construction.
“We’re only getting two to three days a week of work because of the rain,” said Project Superintendent Pete Woolley, of Holland Construction Services. “We’ve been working Saturdays when it’s dry.”

The second story focuses on the team name.
Southern Illinois Baseball Group Spokesperson Erik Haag will be the first to admit that he has almost “spilled the beans” of the new minor league team’s name.

“We’ve been talking about it around the office so much, I’ve nearly let it slip at least once,” he said.

Officials from the Southern Illinois Baseball Group will reveal the new team name, logo and colors tomorrow at the center court of the Illinois Centre Mall at 6 p.m

Monday, November 13, 2006

Public Invited for Team Name Unveiling

Southern Illinois baseball fans will find out Thursday what the name will be for the new Frontier League team set to start play in Marion next spring.

Officials from the Southern Illinois Baseball Group will unveil the team name and logo at 6 p.m. this Thursday at the center court of the Illinois Centre Mall in Marion.

Last week construction finally grew above the street level on Blue Heron Drive. Work is planned to continued over the winter.

For more pictures of the baseball stadium's construction check out the group's photo gallery.

Alton Tourism Finds Slots Off Riverboat

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Amanda St. Amand writes about Brett Stawar's job and work as president of the Alton Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Ask the man whose job is luring visitors to the Alton area what there is to do, and he recites a laundry list of events and attractions. Ask Missouri residents what there is in Alton, and they likely will say a casino.

Amand focuses on Stawar's efforts to develop and promote other sites in the northern St. Louis Metro-East area.

We've got some of the same issues here in Williamson County and Southern Illinois.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Fulton Co. Tourism Summit Offers Blueprint

Today's Canton Daily Ledger includes a story on last Friday's tourism summit for Fulton County, home of the celebrated Spoon River.

Participants listed to speakers, gathered in small groups and hashed out ideas for tourism branding and development.

Having read the story I'm not that impressed with the summit's results, but I recognize the need behind it. Local residents and businesses have to buy into the idea of tourism. It's also something that can't be implemented top-down. It has to have grassroots support if it is to stick and spread.

About a decade ago Hartzel Black, then of Southeastern Illinois College, helped coordinate a series of four-county meetings for the Saline, Gallatin, Hardin and Pope County areas. I took an active part in those meetings and helped draft the tourism development plan that was generated from the discussion at those meetings.

Regrettably, little of those plans ever took effect, though the state did finally purchase the Old Slave House three years later.

Hartzel left SIC for greener pastures and Pope County decided to join the Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau. Hardin County and Gallatin County remain unalighted and left out of the state's CVB program and Saline County loosely affiliated with Williamson in order to receive state help.

I found an article in Google's cache of stories from The Daily Register that outlines the history of "Tourism Promotion Activity Since the 1920s" that mentions some of the problems that had to be overcome.

Airline Named for Marion - Chicago Flights

The long-awaited news that commercial air passenger service from Marion to Carbondale would resume is old news to us here in Southern Illinois, but it's made the Chicago Tribune now, so it must be real.

Seriously, the free publicity in the Tribune will trump the entire marketing budget for the Williamson County Airport Authority spends to promote flights to St. Louis, and soon, Chicago.

Although the new flights won't be non-stop to Chicago, Airport Manager Doug Kimmel has said publicly in the past he believes ridership will grow to a level that makes non-stop flights feasible.

Airport leaders made the official announcement this afternoon. I'm certain more details will be in tomorrow's Southern.

Air Midwest joins American Connection in offering flights out of Marion, the only airport in Southern Illinois with scheduled commercial air service.

There's only one detail unclear. The newspaper stories all described the name as Air Midwest, but the company's news release says Air Midwest will operate the flights under the name Mesa Airlines.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

State Eyes Free Internet at Rest Stops

State officials announced last week they are considering plans to make the interstate rest stops Internet hotspots.

Under the plans, still in the earliest stages, the state would offer free Internet service for travelers at the rest stops.

I thought IDOT Spokesman Matt Vanover's comment was appropriate for Williamson County.

Vanover said it could be particularly useful for motorists and truckers who are traveling on long trips. Someone crossing into the state from Kentucky could stop at the Interstate 57 rest area across the Ohio River from Paducah and look up which hotels are up the road in cities like Marion or Mt. Vernon.

The state is trying to figure out how to do this without any cost to the state. Likely, a private firm would offer limited free service and charge for longer times online.

Friday, November 03, 2006

New Businesses Eye Marion's Main Street

WBVN Radio announced they're moving their new studio to downtown Marion Thursday to the old Tony's Steakhouse across from the Civic Center just off the square.

WBVN is the region's largest contemporary Christian radio station and produces a number of concerts at the Civic Center. Though it's not directly tourism-related it's a boost to downtown Marion.

Also coming downtown is another business in the old Stylart building next to City Hall. I've been told what the business is, but I can't tell because the person telling me didn't know of the new business owners were ready to announce.

That something is coming is not a secret. A large construction-size dumpster has been sitting on the sidewalk mirroring the dumpster across the square in front of the old Marion State and Savings Bank building while it goes through a complete renovation.

Already they've ripped out the fake walls and drop ceiling of the dress shop and apparently plan on keep the space open up to tin ceiling.

The third project is down West Main Street with a new retail establishment going into the old CVS drug store building next to Borowiak's supermarket.

And meanwhile city officials hope that there's a real live prospect interested in the old Marion Memorial Hospital building.

Two weeks ago at the city council meeting Mayor Bob Butler did some of the worst one-sided negotiating I've ever seen, as he managed to get all five council members to say on the record what their bottom price would be to sell the building.

This is the type of negotiating usually done in closed session. It was pretty obvious the mayor was trying to send a very strong hint to someone.

New Log Cabin Opens in Williamson

I missed it last month, but Lynn and Jan Bush held an open house on Oct. 22, for their new Devil's Kitchen Cabins off of Grassy Road near Devil's Kitchen Lake.

The only have one pine log cabin but plan to build more on their wooded 80 acre tract. "Premier outdoor lodging," they promise, "deep in the woods of Southern Illinois.

I checked out their website at and they are already booked for much of November. Way to go!

Besides hunting and fishing at the nearby lakes and hunt clubs, their location near puts them near Giant City Lodge and State Park and the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.

Note: The picture above shows the cabin just before all the work on the site was complete in August. If the time stamp is correct then it was also taken on my birthday.

New Blog on the Street


For reasons that will become clear in the next few weeks I've decided to start this blog to cover the changes and happenings in the tourism industry of Southern Illinois, particularly Williamson County, where I live.

I've long been active in tourism development efforts, most particularly with the Old Slave House near Equality. For the latest updates check out a few of my recent posts on the house.

Much of what I've done falls under the category of heritage tourism, but I also was one of the original board members of the River-to-River Trail Society when it organized back in the early 1990s.

About that same I also published The Goshen Traveler in 1991 and early 1992. It was a monthly tourism newspaper that serviced the southern 15 counties of Illinois.

There's a lot going on right now in the region, but we're just scratching the surface of all that can be done here.

Meanwhile, check out the Williamson County Tourism Bureau's new website at