Friday, December 28, 2007

'My Deadly Valentine' Stikes Pavilion Love Birds

“Bloody Williamson” takes on a whole new meaning this Valentine’s Weekend when the Williamson County Pavilion hosts “My Deadly Valentine” murder mystery dinner theater on Friday, February 15.

Vendettas and valentines may not seem a likely match-up for a romantic dinner but we’ve wanted to host a murder mystery for quite a while. In addition to the dinner and entertainment local lodging operators are offering special room rentals for the weekend.

As part of our promotions we will encourage couples to extend an overnight into a two-day stay. They can check out one of the many wineries in the area on Saturday and stay for some country music at the Southern Illinois Opry Valentine’s Dance Saturday night in the Expo Hall of the Pavilion.

The Random Acts thespian troupe of Ohio will provide the entertainment at the dinner Friday night. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the elegant dinner starting at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $40 per person which includes a catered dinner, glass of wine and the performance. Group table discounts will be offered for tables of eight.

The dinner will also include dinner music and wine tastings from area wineries.

For more information contact the tourism bureau at 618-997-3690.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New Year Brings New Fishing Season

I know it's just the day after Christmas, but it's never too late to start planning those late winter fishing trips to Williamson County as Don Gasaway notes in his latest column sent out this week as a news release.
MARION, Ill. - Groaning through the mists, the bass boat slips away from the ramp and out on to the lake. The driver gives it more throttle and the boat goes up on plane and disappears into the pre-dawn fog. Long after it is gone from sight, one can hear the roar of the big engine carrying the anglers to a meeting with Mr. Largemouth Bass.

Bass fishing in southern Illinois begins to heat up in March. Warming temperatures, tending to average about 10 degrees warmer than the northern part of the state, spark the activity of both fish and angler. Williamson County contains several prime bass lakes. They contain many fish in the 2- to 6-pound class.

Crab Orchard, Little Grassy, Devils Kitchen, and Lake of Egypt all hold good populations of trophy size largemouth bass. Together they provide some 11,200 acres of water available to the angler in search of fishing recreation.

There's more online at, just click on news.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Maid-Rite Seeks Suitor For Marion Franchise

The Marion Daily reported yesterday that long-time restaurant chain Maid-Rite whose closest restaurant is in Christopher is now seeking franchisees for a new store in Marion.

It's part of the company's aggressive expansion of the established brand that's been around since 1926.

MARION — Maid-Rite, famous for its ground beef sandwiches, has targeted Marion as a priority city to open one of its franchisee-owned sandwich shops.

“In our opinion, a Maid-Rite Sandwich Shoppe restaurant in Marion would be very successful because of the population size of the city of approximately 17,000 residents, plus with the traffic from Interstate 57, along with your city council’s recent approval for a new major retail distribution center,” said Bradley Burt, President and CEO of Maid-Rite.

“The entire community would enjoy our famous sandwiches, thick Blue Bunny malts and shakes and our homemade pies.”

For more information check out the story.

Herrin Chamber Seeks Fireworks Sponsor

The Herrin Chamber of Commerce is seeking a new entity to produce the "Fireworks in the Park" event next July 4th. The chamber produced it in 2006 and 2007 using donated funds.

Their board has decided not to sponsor the event in 2008 so they're calling on all civic organizations in Herrin to see if another entity would like to take over the sponsorship.

They have $1,357.70 in donated funds to give to that organization if one steps forward. Interested organizations should contact the chamber office at 618-942-5163.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Boat and Fishing Show Returns Feb. 1-3

MARION – The Southern Illinois Boat and Fishing Show sponsored by Marion Toyota will return to the region during the first weekend of February.

The Williamson County Events Commission, in partnership with the Youth Outdoor Education Foundation, will produce the event at the Williamson County Pavilion behind the Illinois Centre Mall in Marion on February 1-3.

“The first show we did last February turned out great with nearly 7,200 people flocking to the event,” said Jon Musgrave, executive director of the Williamson County Tourism Bureau which operates the Pavilion.

“Last year we promised a hard-core boat and fishing show for the sportsmen of Southern Illinois and their families and it’s still going to be a hard-core boat and fishing show this year, just bigger and better,” promised organizer Ron Allen.

“We’re expanding a bit this year. We have some boat dealers from Kentucky coming up. One of the most important things we are proud of is that it will still be free to the public,” Allen added.

The 2nd Annual Southern Illinois Boat & Fishing Show is the only such show south of the St. Louis MetroEast. Hours will be 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 2; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3.

There will be a $500 cash drawing on Friday night and bluegrass entertainment on Saturday afternoon, in addition to a number of seminars throughout the day.

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

The Youth Outdoor Education Foundation is a non-profit, charitable organization, the mission of which is to assist in providing free or low cost programs to educate youth in the safe and responsible use of the outdoors.

The Williamson County Events Commission is a non-profit, charitable organization organized to build and develop the city-owned Williamson County Pavilion conference center and exposition hall.

For more information on the event check out the show’s website at

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is Target Targeting Marion?

The Southern Illinoisan is reporting today that Target is apparently the corporation looking to build a regional distribution center east of Marion southwest of Route 13 and Crabtree School Road.

Last night the Marion City Council annexed the property for the new center after the city engineer Glenn Clarida publicly provided more details about the project.

The property - 149.5 acres - is owned by Marion attorney Ron Osman. On Monday, the council, at Osman's request, annexed his property from the county into the city. That makes the city responsible for infrastructure improvements at the site, including road, water and sewer.

"The site development plan calls for a 1.3 million-square-foot warehouse with a 35-foot ceiling and 253,000-square-foot shipping center with a 24-foot ceiling," Clarida said. "Combined, that's 200,000 square feet larger than the Circuit City distribution center."

To measure it another way. That's more than 35 acres under roof.

Other details revealed included a new entrance off of Route 13 into the new industrial park as well as improvements to Crabtree School Road; plus new water and sewer lines, all totaling around $2.2 million. Clarida and the city expect the state will help on the roadwork and additional grants or low interest loans will likely be made available for the other infrastructure.

The city still isn't releasing the name, but apparently the contact number passed out to the media last night is for Target Communications of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

To give an idea of how active a distribution center might be consider the new one Target is building near Allenwood, Pennsylvania. There the company plans to send "have a truck in or out of the facility every seven minutes each day except Christmas."

According to the company's 2006 Annual Report Target built 113 new stores last year in 36 states, closed some older ones for a net gain of 91. At the time they planned another 100 net new stores each year for the "foreseeable future, potentially doubling" the current store base by 2021.

As to distribution centers they added three in 2006 for a total of 25 and planned to open two more this year. The company had 79 stores in Illinois in 2006. Based in Minnesota the company has been around since incorporating in 1902.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Old Executive Inn May Reopen

The shuttered Executive Inn may reopen in 2008 as a Garden Inn with 100 rooms, but major hurdles remain.

The city has started the process of condemnation and major health and life safety issues remain in the building shut down by the courts after numerous fire code violations.

The owner, Dr. Yuseph Tai, told the Southern Illinoisan last week a $4 million two-phase renovation will begin soon.
"We're starting soon," Tai said of the remodeling effort. "The first phase is to get the building in compliance (with city fire and county health codes) and get 100 rooms open to the public."

Tai said phase one will cost him about $1.2 million. The next step would be to get the additional 100-plus rooms and banquet hall up and running. Total cost is projected at upwards of $4 million.

Tai said his hope is to open next spring possibly in connection with the Hilton Garden Inn chain, but he said he hasn't worked out a deal with the corporation.

Built as the first motel west of the interstate in Marion as well as the largest motel with 200 rooms, the building first housed the Holiday Inn before it first lost its franchise and the owners picked up the Travelodge brand. After losing that national brand it became the Executive Inn.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Perry County Development Still Alive

The Southern Illinoisan is reporting this afternoon that plans for a new Branson-like development in Perry County are still underway despite the lack of formal public progress.
Jacquie Vick, senior vice president for the Glen Carbon-based Toney Watkins Company, said “it’s just a manner of trying to finalize some things” before the company will be able to announce more details of its plan.

Published reports have suggested that the development near Pinckneyville, about 70 miles southeast of St. Louis, would be a recreational theme-park tourism destination featuring music entertainment venues, golf courses and a BMX bike-racing area.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch last the last update on the venture back in September.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Workshop Tonight on Smoke-Free Illinois Act

The Carterville Chamber of Commerce sent out this e-mail today regarding the new law banning smoking in public places that will take affect in a few weeks:
The Smoke-Free Illinois Act will require all workplaces in Illinois to be smoke-free beginning January 1, 2008. You can view the entire act by visiting the Franklin-Williamson Bi-County Health Department website at

A workshop will be held to clarify the law and enforcement issues as well as possible. The Illinois Joint Committee on Administrative Rules is busy developing the specifics of the rules on enforcement and clarifying issues with the law. There is a possibility they will be finalized this month. This workshop will address questions regarding: whom the law affects, signage, enforcement, and cessation resources. The date and time is listed below:

Monday, December 10, 2007 6 – 7 pm John A. Logan College, Room F119

Illinois Department of Public Health is currently developing a website to assist workplaces in complying with the law. There will also be an online complaint system accessible through the website as well as a toll free number for complaints.

The website will also have signage available to download that meets the requirements of the law. The website is The website is currently under construction and will be online soon.

IDOT Puts Route 13 Plans Online

The public apparently likes what it sees when it comes to the Illinois Department of Transportation's plans for Route 13 widening and expansion between Marion and Carterville.

Today's Southern Illinoisan reported feedback from last month's public unveiling of the plans here at the Williamson County Pavilion proved to be mostly positive.
According to IDOT, about 170 people attended and 226 comments were submitted with 115 supporting the project, 38 supporting with suggestions for revisions, 63 opposing the project and 10 who were neutral.

"We were pleased with the overall results from the public meeting," said Carrie Nelson, program development engineer at IDOT.

The biggest complaints came from the Crainville area which would lose their four-way intersection at Main Street and Route 13 (Pioneer Log Cabin restaurant), but would gain a diamond interchange at Wolf Creek Road and Route 13.

The proposal for the highway expansion is also now online at the agency's website.

Part of the website shows the updated 2007 traffic count for Route 13, as well as what it projected by 2025.

Route 13 and Halfway Road, the first stop light west of Interstate 57 sees 38,100 vehicles a day. With a projected 3 percent growth rate, IDOT is projecting 64,800 vehicles on average to be pulling through there in 2025.

Down the road at the next stoplight at Williamson County Parkway where the Pavilion has its sign in front of Steak 'n Shake sees 29,800 vehicles passby each day and is expected to grow to 50,700 daily by 2025.

Father west the traffic count stays pretty steady. Even at the west end of the project at John A. Logan, 28,100 vehicles pass by daily with a 2.5 percent growth coming out to 43,800 vehicles daily by 2025 at Route 13 and Greenbriar Road.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Federal Funding Announced for Scenic Byways

Southern Illinois will receive a good chunk of $2 million in federal funds announced yesterday for scenic byways in the state. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin's office released the details Thursday.

According to Durbin's office the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has awarded the following National Scenic Byways Discretionary Grants to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) for the Ohio River Scenic Byway.
  • Pulaski County — $262,561 in funding for the design and construction of an overlook of the Ohio River including parking, a walkway, an overlook platform, landscaping, interpretive signs and directional signs.

  • Cairo — $275,000 in funding for the re-creation and re-construction of Fort Defiance as it existed during the Civil War. Fort Defiance was used by General Grant to lead the great Western Campaign of the Civil War. This funding will be used as part of a $2.6 million park improvement program by the City of Cairo.

  • Southeastern Illinois — $25,000 in funding for the implementation of the Corridor Management Plan which will enable the byway coordinator to coordinate and manage initiatives and projects while developing a marketing plan to promote the byway.

In addition to these projects funds were awarded to the Historic National Road byway which runs through Vandalia and three projects for the Meeting of the Great Rivers Byway in the St. Louis MetroEast area.

Improvements Set for Cairo

Monday's Southeast Missourian had a good story about some of the improvements taking place in Cairo.
CAIRO, Ill. -- This community once envisioned to become a great Midwestern metropolis has suffered from an economic depression for at least half a century. But flickers of life have appeared recently. Biodiesel and coal gasification are two of the industries considering locating in Cairo. There's talk of relocating the airport to make room for other industries.

Another sign of life can be found in attempts to preserve Cairo's history. In a few weeks, construction is scheduled to begin on a design that will rehabilitate and expand the vacant tollhouse next to the Ohio River bridge into a museum that will reflect Cairo's Civil War and transportation history. The $1 million project is being funded through a variety of sources but primarily the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Cairo's history offers tremendous potential for tourism development. It's good to see a new administration in the city working toward that goal.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

New Convenience Store Opens Below Hill

The new FiveStar Food Mart convenience store opened yesterday at around 2 p.m. located at the northeast corner of Route 13 (West DeYoung) and Halfway Road just west of Exit 54.

The store is the first Illinois location for Newcomb Oil Co., a Bardstown, Kentucky-based company.

It's also the first of what will hopefully be several new projects on the former site of the old Wolohan Lumber Co. The parent company sold most of its stores and morphed into a real estate development company focusing on its real estate holdings such as the Marion land.

The convenience store is just one of several projects underway on the city's west side.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Big New Industry Targeting Marion

It's not on their website yet, but WJPF News Radio is reporting a large national retailer may be just weeks away from announcing the selection of Marion for a new regional distribution center employing hundreds.

Marion Mayor Robert L. Butler told the station he's not been given the go-ahead to identify the name of the company but added that an announcement could come before the end of the month.

The new plant is a distribution center that could employ between 300 and 400 workers. Marion is already home to the large Circuit City distribution plant.

The Circuit City building is so big it's measured in acres rather than square feet. The new distribution center could very well be on the same scale. If so, that will be good for the hospitality industry. Construction jobs that big often involve specialized workers who come in and stay at area motels.

The new plant would be located east of Marion in a new industrial park on the south side of Route 13. The city council authorized a Phase I archaeological survey on the grounds earlier this summer. Later when U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello announced a multi-million dollar grant to extend a water line from Rend Lake to Marion Butler again commented about the number of jobs this would initiate.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Eagle Tours Registration Begins Dec. 10

Reservations open next week for the Bald Eagle tours at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. The tours take place the third and fourth weekends of January and begin at 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and last 2.5 hours. The dates are January 19-20 and 26-27.

Reservations open on December 10 and may be made by calling 618-998-5933.

Each Eagle Watch tour begins at the refuge visitors center on Route 148 with a brief overview of the species and what visitors might expect to see on the tour. The tours use the refuge's vans and travel to places where bald eagles have been visited in the past.
Last year, of the six nests on the Refuge, five had at least one chick fledge. The new nest in Crab Orchard Campground was successful and hatched two eaglets. Eagles were seen at the other new nest on the east side of Little Grassy Lake near thedam, but they didn't actually produce any eaglets.

With six nests on the refuge, there should be at last 12 eagles on or near the refuge year round. Immature bald eagles usually remain near their nest for a couple of years after they've hatched, too. Wolf Creek Causeway near the fishing piers is a good places to spot one of the young eagles.

Bald eagles that winter at Crab Orchard NWR spend their summers in the northern United States and Canada feasting on fish. In the midst of the Southern Illinois winter, eagles often feed on sick and injured waterfowl.

According to the refuge's newsletter "Wild Times" every Eagle Watch tour over the last decade has seen at least one bald eagle.

Agritourism Conference Set for January

The Illinois Specialty Crops and Agritourism Conference is set for January 9-12, 2008 at the Crowne Plaza hotel & Convention Center.

Wendesday will be for workshops for specialty crops. There's one on using high tunnels and greenhouses to extend seasons and the other is on growing grapes in Illinois.

Sessions on Thursday and Friday are split into five tracts: Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs, Agritourism and Cross-Cutting Issues.

I attended this conference last year and it offered a number of good ideas and discussions.

Check out the group's website for more information.