Friday, May 28, 2010

Sports Fan Wants Great Wolf Lodge

A Southern Illinois sports enthusiast by the handle of 618Football wants a Great Wolf Lodge in Marion so bad, he's started an online petition.
Here is a petition to let Great Wolf Lodge know that we want them to come to Southern Illinois. We went last year to Kansas City and had a blast. The kids ask every week to go back.

So Just How Big a Deal is It?

Bob Butler cried tears of joy tonight as the Illinois Senate gave him what will likely be the crowning achievement in his nearly five decades as mayor.

That's just how big a deal this evening's vote in favor of Senate Bill 2093 was.

Never could Marion's fiesty mayor of 47 years be described as speechless, but when the Senate Labor Committee approved the bill this afternoon, all he could do was grin as he left the room afterwards.

Tonight, he cried, when the Illinois Senate passed the STAR Bonds bill on a 2-to-1 margin with 34 ayes, 17 nays and 3 voting present.

Never one to shy away from emotion in a city council meeting or an interview with reporters, Butler's usually known for his quick wit or sharp retort like his "stop whining" comment to Mount Vernon at a recent Southern Illinois Mayors Association meeting.

City Hall followers have seen him mad, angry, exasperated, enthralled, engaged, and in any number of emotions, but tears of joy may have been a first.

The STAR Bonds bill, otherwise known as the Innovative Development and Economy Act, represents more than just another economic development tool for the city. As critics repeatedly pointed out today, it could be as much as $400 million in rebates to developers over the next few decades if all goes as planned.

All being more than 6,000 construction jobs and nearly 5,000 permanent positions.

To put those incentives in perspective that's 100 times the amount the state kicked in for the Southern Illinois Miners stadium at Rent One Park five years ago.

That's around 10 times more than the state-funded improvements on Route 13 and the new upcoming I-57 interchange in Marion that's now just starting.

Potentially it's a bigger impact than the coming of the mall and the first use of tax increment financing districts 20 years ago. In a word, it's huge.

Historically, it's like getting the interstate finished and open with two interchanges at the edge of your city — something that happened to Marion during Butler's first term.

And it almost didn't happen.

The Senate's Committee on Assignments sent the bill to the State Government and Veterans Committee for a 10 a.m. scheduled hearing this morning. But opponent and Mount Vernon state Sen. John O. Jones sits on that committee. Apparently, the votes weren't there, or at least represented too much of a risk.

So back to the Assignments state Sen. Gary Forby carried the bill. It could be sent to the Executive Committee some thought which didn't meet until much later. In the end, it went to Labor, a committee normally chaired by Forby himself, for mid-afternoon.

He opened the committee for business then turned over the gavel to another so he could testify on his bill's behalf. Supporters, opponents, lobbyists and media packed Room 212, the ornate hearing room on the second floor of the Capitol that once housed the Illinois Supreme Court.

Dozens signed slips stating their support or opposition. Forby and developer Bruce Holland testified in favor. Mount Vernon Mayor Mary Jane Chesney spoke in opposition to SB 2093, but in favor of another bill that would add Mount Vernon to the mix.

Forby's two state Reps, John Bradley and Brandon Phelps, started the session with last minute lobbying of the committee members themselves. For 15 minutes Forby delayed the start as the crowd continued to draw its way inside.

During the testimony, Bradley repeatedly left his seat crouching at Forby's side with an answer or suggestion to an opponent's remark. An expectant father in a maternity ward couldn't have been more anxious. This was their baby. It was time to deliver.

The committee voted 8-2 in favor and sent it to the Senate. Another committee took over the room. Forby needed a breather and headed back to his office. They'd passed the first challenge. Now he had just an hour to prepare for the next.

When the Senate opened for its final session Forby took to the floor and argued his case. Opponents of the bill split between those who thought it went too far, and those who argued not far enough. Include Mount Vernon at the very least, they pleaded, if not the entire state.

After 40 minutes the acting Senate President called for the roll. Backers had hoped for 36 votes, the super majority needed to override any vetoes, but settled for the 34.

Still afterwards,the developers felt satisfied. If needed there might be some ayes in those who voted present, not to mention the vote of the Senate leader himself, John Cullerton, who was not present and didn't vote. The moves today through the committees, not to mention the almost last minute vote on the bill itself wouldn't have happened without his blessing.

As the supporters and opponents left for their long drives home, the question for the developers and lawmakers became what to do next.

With President Obama arriving in Chicago today, Gov. Pat Quinn had left for the Windy City prior to the vote. He wasn't in town, but his staff remained, and Bradley and others immediately reached out.

Then there were calls to others who had helped, letting them know the joyous news. For the younger Hollands, the developer's son and nephew, they told the same message but to a different audience — the companies that had been interested for months in the plan.

While it's true as Forby and Holland often had to admit today, that no one had signed on to the project as yet, it didn't mean no one was interested. The calls went out; the bill has passed. Let's get together and talk.

They'd been to this point before the previous year when lawmakers passed the bill for Glen Carbon, before Quinn's amendatory veto. They made some changes and addressed his concerns in the new bill that passed today. And now they wait.

And so do we all.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bill passes 34-17.
Senate now debating the bill. Opposition vocal, but outlook good.
Bill passes committee 8-2 in favor.
Committee hearing begins.

It's Official, Labor's the Committee, 2:30 p.m. is the Time

The Senate has just posted that the Labor Committee will meet at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon in Room 212 of the Capitol. The only bill is SB 2093, the Innovative Development and Economy Act, otherwise known as the Millennium Development bill.

Still Waiting, But Here's More on the Labor Committee

Still waiting for a time to be set on a hearing for the Millennium Development bill for Marion. With it being yanked out of the committee that state Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon, sits on, it's now supposedly set to go to Labor.

The first committee had a 5-4 split between Republicans and Democrats. The Labor Committee, which is chaired by the bill sponsor, Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, has a partisan split of 7-4. We can only assume it will pass in that committee.

Meanwhile, the Senate has stalled on the pension borrowing bill and the House on the cigarette tax hike. The more delays on the big items, but more time for SB 2093 to make it out of committee and onto the Senate floor for a final vote.

Latest Update on Millennium Development Bill

Senate leaders have decided to have another committee hear SB 2093 today. Rather than the State Government and Veterans Committee, which state Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon, is a member. Plans, supposedly, are to bring it before the Senate Labor Committee.

However at this time, a committee hearing has not been set.

In other action, state Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, has requested a Fiscal Note on the bill be provided by the Department of Revenue. The same thing to place in the House, and it's not known if Revenue would have any more details now than they did three weeks ago.

A number of Marion, Williamson and Franklin County officials are present in the Statehouse awaiting action.
Bill has been moved to a different committee. Still waiting for a hearing time.

Bradley, Forby Says No to Mount Vernon,

State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, and state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, both are rejecting Mount Vernon's attempt to be added to SB 2093, this year's bill creating STAR Bond Districts in Illinois for the first time.

Today's Southern reports state Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon, has drafted an amendment which would allow a second district to be created off of Exit 94 on Interstate 57. Forby though remains opposed to an amendment at this time, as today may be the last day of the session.

Meanwhile the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce has come out in favor of the bill.

"It is the board's desire that this bill, which has already passed through the state House of Representatives and will soon come up for vote in the state Senate, will be instrumental in bolstering growth and revenue with spin-offs and benefits for the entire region," the statement said. "It is our hope that this powerful economic development tool will open the door for increased cooperative efforts in future development projects with mutually beneficial advancements that cross both county and city lines.

"While we understand that there are various factors involved with this development that could be cause for concern, it is our hope that a joint, regional effort will mitigate the concerns and capitalize on the collective, strengths of the region's economy, to ensure the project is a success for all of us."

The bill for the Millennium Development project in Marion will be heard in committee later this morning at 10 a.m. A vote in the full Senate is expected later today.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hearing Set for 10 a.m. Thursday on STAR Bonds Bill

The Senate's Committee on Assignments has sent SB 2093 to the State Government and Veterans Affairs Committee for a hearing tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. in Room 409 of the State Capitol Building.

Senate Bill 2093, the Innovative Development and Economy Act would authorize the creation of a STAR Bonds district in Marion for the proposed Millennium Development project.

The House of Representatives passed the bill earlier this month.

The committee's other business includes two Senate resolutions (SR 782 and SR 860) and SB3739, the Save Our Neighborhoods Act, which focuses on reducing the impact of home foreclosures in Illinois.

With a committee vote expected before noon, the Senate is expected to vote as early as that afternoon.

As the Marion Daily Republican reported in its latest on the plan, the project is expected to generate the following:
  • Create 6,000 jobs during construction and earnings of more than $174 million,
  • Create 5,686 full-time jobs (both direct and indirect) upon full completion with payroll to exceed $250 million,
  • Generate a "total market impact of goods and services produced in the region as a result of the development" by more than $395 million, and
  • Result in a $757 million positive impact on the region's economy.

In Mount Vernon, efforts to slow down/jump on board the idea of the STAR Bonds legislation took a hit when the Jefferson County Board declined to back the city's efforts.

... board member Dr. Pat Garrett countered that the board doesn’t know if they have anything to lose by supporting inclusion in the STAR bonds bill.

“I think you’d want to know the particulars,” Garrett said. “I don’t support this, because I personally don’t know enough.”

Garrett by the way is the former high school principal and later superintendent of the Mount Vernon Township High School district where current mayor, and former art teacher, Mary Jane Chesney taught before her retirement.

Garrett's reluctance to commit and Board Chairman Ted Buck unwillingness to fight irritated another board member who thought the board should take a position.
“To have such a noncommittal display from the board chair or Pat Garrett is a disgusting display of arrogance or ignorance,” he said.

Unions Join Supporters of Millennium Development

Add a growing number of unions to the list of groups publicly backing SB 2093 for the Millennium Development project in Marion.

Today's Southern Illinoisan names the Illinois Pipe Trades Association; International Union of Operating Engineers Local 318; Laborers International Unions of North America Laborers Local 773; and the Southern Illinois Laborers District Council, as well as a number of area chambers of commerce and other economic development organizations joining in support.

The Capitol Fax Blog is reporting this afternoon that the Senate will not take action on any bills tonight and committee assignments and hearings will be made in the morning.
Committees will not be scheduled for this evening and there will be no major floor action. Tonight, the Senate we will read in messages from the House, the Governor. Additionally, we will file all concurrence motions and read in any new Senate bills and resolutions.

After a Committee on Assignments meeting, we will make committee announcements. We plan to start committees around 9:30 on Thursday morning.

The Assignments committee has to assign the SB 2093 to a committee which will hold a hearing on the bill sometime tomorrow morning. Assuming a positive vote, the full Senate could hear the bill as early as tomorrow afternoon.

The Senate has sessions scheduled on the calendar for tomorrow and Friday, but is not expected to stay in session once all the budget bills are finished in both chambers.

Another major piece of tourism legislation in the hopper is an expected override of SB 28, the McCormick Place reform bill Governor Quinn vetoed today. A companion bill designed to address some of his concerns is already making its way through the House.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Quinn Plays High Stakes Game of Chicken with Chicago Tourism

Rich Miller of Capitol Fax and others are reporting that Gov. Pat Quinn will file an amendatory veto of the McCormick Place reform bill. The bill covers a lot of ground in the operations of Chicago's main exposition and conference center.

While those trade shows don't directly affect Southern Illinois tourism, it's the convention market in Chicago that funds the lion share of the state's bed tax collections, that in turn funds tourism throughout the state.

In other words, if Chicago suffers, we too will suffer eventually. Having both attended conferences at McCormick Place as well as worked as an exhibitor I've heard plenty of horror stories to know that reform is needed.

Now major trade shows that have been in Chicago for decades are threatening to pull out for bigger venues in Vegas or Orlando. The reform bill passed unanimously in both chambers, yes there is bipartisan votes on major issues in Springfield, they're rare, but they do occasionally exist.

Now Quinn wants changes in labor rules to the benefit of the unions (which lost in the bill), better succession rules in place (which isn't a bad idea), and a repeal in the doubling of the taxi tax on cab fares originating at O'Hare or Midway airports.

The existing tax already funds McCormick Place operations. Three-quarters of the new tax will fund Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau promotions for big conventions and trade shows and the remaining to fund promotions of the big shows at the Rosemont Convention Center near O'Hare, which is the region's second major exhibition hall.

Miller says lawmakers will likely override the veto. The question is whether the governor will go through with the veto and return it back to the legislature in time for a second vote.

It's a big enough economic deal for Chicago that the Democratic leadership are expected to keep lawmakers in session to deal with it. The big trade shows have already thrown down deadlines for action before they take their show elsewhere.

Mount Vernon Officials Continue Efforts to Kill Bill

Today's Mount Vernon Register-News highlights the King City's efforts to kill SB 2093.

City and chamber officials hope to take a busload to Springfield to protest the bill and somehow get it amended so it would include Mount Vernon.
Mayor Mary Jane Chesley said from the city’s point of view, no one wants to deny Marion the destination development, but instead, wants to promote “true regionalism” when it comes to hotels/motels, restaurants and retail development.

“It’s about competitive business and it’s regionalism,” Chesley explained. “That will be good for both communities and the counties they reside in for the creation of jobs. This is about retail, hotels, motels and restaurants, because we have 600 acres out there for potential growth and development. I don’t have a problem with Marion and STAR bonding. Good for them. They brought the idea in. The problem I have is, level the playing field and allow Mt. Vernon to have that incentive also. That would create that corridor between Marion and Mt. Vernon for economic development. That’s the message I’m taking (to Springfield).”

The bottom line is that if it's not passed this week, it probably won't happen. The House voted tonight on major aspects of the budget. When the House and Senate finish their votes on the budget, they're going to be out of there.

In their efforts to delay the bill, Mount Vernon officials are showing they would rather have no economic development take place in the region than some.

Forby Confirms Thursday

Just got off the phone with State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton.

He says Thursday's the day for SB 2093. He talked with the Senate leadership "a few days" ago and as of now, plans are for the bill to go through committee Thursday morning and a full Senate vote that afternoon.

SB 2093 would create a STAR Bonds District in Marion that would help finance the Millennium Development project pushed by Bruce Holland.

The Clock Starts Tomorrow on Development Bill

The fate of the Millennium Development bill now rests in the hands of the 59 members of the Illinois Senate which reconvenes tomorrow at 4 p.m.

Senate Bill 2093, the Innovative Development and Economy Act, would authorize the creation of a STAR Bonds District in Marion, Illinois.

State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, is the chief Senate sponsor of the bill. As of this afternoon his office believes the bill will have its committee hearing sometime Thursday.

Meanwhile, the number of public officials supporting the project is now up to 54, according to Herrin Mayor Vic Ritter who gave a rousing endorsement at the recent Herrin City Council meeting.
If we're going to talk the regional economic talk, we've got to walk the regional economic walk.

Ritter noted that before Maytag closed its plant in his city, it employed residents not only from Herrin and Williamson County, but from 15 other surrounding counties. He expects the same from this plan.
Marion will come out smelling like a rose, but the entire area will benefit.

Ritter plans to join other public officials in Springfield Thursday.

Monday, May 24, 2010

SI Edge Joins Others in Support of Millennium Development

Southern Illinois EDGE members voted last Wednesday to endorse SB 2093 the legislation awaiting action in the Illinois Senate to authorize the creation of a STAR Bonds district in Marion.

Member Larry Woolard made the announcement today to the Southern.
"SI EDGE believes the proposed STAR bonds concept is vital to the economic health of the southern Illinois region and supports the efforts to move the concept from the drawing board to reality."

The Senate returns to session this Wednesday.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mount Vernon Senator Wants STAR Bonds District Too

If a Mount Vernon state senator gets his way, the proposed Millennium Development project for Marion could be delayed.

State Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon, wants to amend SB 2093 to allow a STAR Bonds district for the King City as well.

Chances of it actually happening are right up there with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich telling the truth at his upcoming corruption trial (or ever).

State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, told the Southern Illinoisan it's too late. With the Senate expected to be in session only one to three days next week, there's little time for following to take place.

1) Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, as the chief Senate sponsor of the bill actually agreeing to it.

2) Jones writing the amendment and bringing to a vote in some Senate committee.

3) The legislative staff in the various agencies getting the sure-to-be-expected-requested impact notes filed on time. This is what delayed the vote two weeks ago when Jones' House partner state Rep. David Reis, R-Olney, requested them to slow down Bradley's bill before it passed the House (here and here.

4) The Senate passing the amended version, sending it back to the House.

5) The House receiving the legislation and referring it to the Rules Committee.

6) The Rules Committee referring it back to the Revenue and Finance Committee.

7) The Revenue and Finance Committee holding another hearing on the once-again amended bill.

8) The Revenue and Finance Committee voting to pass out the bill to the full House.

9) The full House of Representatives voting for the bill again.

All of this has to be done before House Speaker Michael Madigan can figure out a way to pass a partial budget that's relatively balanced and getting his Democratic caucus out of Springfield before they do something electorally devastating like pass an income tax hike six months before an election.

Bradley is right. There's barely enough time for the current bill to be passed by the Senate, which still has to be referred out of the Assignments Committee and into another committee to hold a hearing on the bill. That committee then has to vote to pass the bill out to the full Senate for a vote.

If Mount Vernon wants a STAR Bonds District, they should first find a developer who wants to use it, then introduce their own legislation, not hold up this one.

Here's something that most people don't know. A few years ago, Mount Vernon lawmakers introduced a bill creating a Southeastern Illinois Economic Development Authority which included all the counties in Jones' district plus Franklin and Williamson Counties.

Before the bill could be passed the Mount Vernon lawmakers amended the bill removing Franklin and Williamson Counties from the mix.

I'm sure the behind the scenes deal was simple. We'll remove Franklin and Williamson this year and next year we'll support the creation of the Southern Illinois Economic Development Authority which includes the remaining counties in Sen. Forby's district.

The following year that is exactly what happened.

The problem though is simple. That first economic development authority received state funds for operations thanks to state Rep. Kurt Granberg, D-Carlyle. Granted, they were mostly for his proposed Abraham Lincoln Golf Trail, but it was funds nevertheless which allowed the board, which the governor actually did appoint, to hire an executive director, and actually go to work.

The Southern Illinois Economic Development Authority is just sitting there on paper in the law books. Neither Gov. Blagojevich nor Gov. Pat Quinn have appointed any members to the board of directors as required by law, nor have any county chairman made their appointments. It's a terrific economic development tool with up to $250 million in bonding authority that's going to waste.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Vote No Earlier Than Wednesday

Although the Illinois House will return to work Monday on the budget, the Senate doesn't plan to reconvene until Wednesday, according to the State Journal-Register.

That means a vote on the new Millennium Development plan for Marion remains at least five days away.

Democrats which control both chambers are expected to pass a budget by the end of the week to avoid going into overtime in June. At that point budgets require a super-majority vote which would empower the Republicans which have been virtually shut out of the budget process.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Support Builds for Marion's Millennium Development Project

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan has called for the House to return to session on Monday and the Senate is expected to return next week as well.

When they do, state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, plans to bring up SB 2093, the Innovative Development and Economy Act, for a vote. The Illinois House passed the measure May 7 sending it back to the Senate for a final vote.

The Edwardsville Intelligencer has one of the best wrap-ups of the progress so far with appropriate comparisons of the similarities and differences with the now-defunct University Town Center plan for Glen Carbon.
But one of the starkest differences between the Millennium Development and the UTC battle is the amount of mayoral support it has received.

Whereas the UTC was fought by roughly two dozen area mayors outside of Glen Carbon, a statement Wednesday released by Holland spokesperson Rebecca Rausch cites the support of retired U.S. Congressman Ken Gray of West Frankfurt, together with more than 25 area mayors, three county board chairmen, a county commissioner and a county supervisor.

Since then a number of school superintendents have also come out in favor of the bill, even a few that wouldn't benefit directly from the School Improvement Fund being funded by the development.

SB 2093 started off as a Senate bill on a completely different subject that passed the Senate and moved onto the House side for approval. With the support of the original sponsors, State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, amended the bill to create the STAR Bonds district for Marion. In parliamentary terms, the Senate now has to concur, or approve, the changes made by the House.

Forby formally filed the motion to concur on May 7 and bill now sits in the Senate Assignments Committee which will need to send it to either another committee for approval or could possibly approve it themselves and send it to the full Senate for a vote.

The local officials supporting the bill include the following:
  • Anna Mayor Steve Hartline
  • Benton Mayor Gary Kraft
  • Cairo Mayor Judson Childs
  • Carterville Mayor William Mausey
  • Cypress Mayor Neil West
  • Dongola Mayor Teddy Earnhart
  • Du Quoin Mayor John Rednour
  • Galatia Mayor David Harrowood
  • Goreville Mayor Larry Vaughn
  • Grayville Mayor Joe Bisch
  • Harrisburg Mayor Valerie Mitchell
  • Herrin Mayor Vic Ritter
  • Jonesboro Mayor Ken Blandford
  • Johnston City Mayor Ryan Horn
  • Marion Mayor Robert L. Butler
  • Mcleansboro Mayor Dick Dietz
  • Metropolis Mayor Billy Mcdaniel
  • Mounds Mayor Waymen Butler
  • Mounds City Mayor Sam Johnson
  • Murphysboro Mayor Ron Williams
  • Olmsted Mayor Curtis Marshall
  • Shawneetown Mayor Terry Williams
  • Stonefort Mayor George Jackson
  • Vienna Mayor Jon Simmons
  • West Frankfort Mayor Marion Presley
  • Zeigler Mayor Dennis Mitchell
  • Denning Township/Franklin County Supervisor Nancy Bundy
  • Gallatin County Board Chairman Randy Drone
  • Saline County Board Chairman Jim Fowler
  • Union County Board Chairman Randy Lambdin
  • Williamson County Commissioners Brent Gentry, Tracey Glenn and Ron Eillis
The superintendents showing support include:
  • Benton Consolidated High School District 103
  • Benton School District 47
  • Carterville Community Unit School District 5
  • Christopher Community Unit School District 99
  • Frankfort Community Unit School District 168
  • Marion Community Unit School District 2
  • Pinckneyville Community High School District 101
  • Sesser-Valier Community Unit School District 196
  • Zeigler-Royalton Community Unit School District 188

Groundbreaking Set for Metropolis-Brookport Bike Trail

Groundbreaking for the George Rogers Clark Discovery Trail will take place tomorrow, Friday, at 1 p.m. next to the interpretive center at Fort Massac State Park.

The 8.8-miles trail is roughly half shared roadways and half former railroad right-of-way from Metropolis to Brookport.

Backers secured $3.2 million in funding last September.

For more information, check out this PowerPoint presentation.

The name honors Revolutionary War Gen. George Rogers Clark who secured the old Northwest Territory for American forces in 1778-1779. He and his men first landed in Illinois at the mouth of Seven Mile Creek, just upriver from the fort which is still located in the state park.

Metropolis and Massac County officials have been working on this since the early 1970s. Congratulations on the breakthrough.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hundley House reopens as Carbondale bed and breakfast

The Southern Illinoisan featured Carbondale's historic and possibly haunted Hundley House in the paper this weekend.

The home's original owners' former Carbondale Mayor John Charles Hundley and his wife Luella were murdered there in 1928. Ghosts sightings and strange noises has long been part of the two-story brick home's mystique.

Dan Jones bought the property last year and converted it from the more recent uses as offices and retail to the bed and breakfast.

The inn offers three suites. Guests can check availability and make reservations online.

For more information check out the inn's website at

Thursday, May 13, 2010

State Tourism Director Tours Cedarhurst

Jan Kostner, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and state tourism director, visited Mount Vernon this week touring the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts.

Kostner says the King City is "ripe" for tourism development in terms of location.

Candace McCoy has the story.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Illinois House Passes IDEA Bill

The Illinois House of Representatives has voted 76-39-1 in favor of SB 2093, the IDEA bill that would allow STAR Bonds financing of a new tourism and retail development in Marion.

It was a quite vigorous debate. Going into it there was word that State Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, would vote no. Instead, he voted for it and called on his fellow House members to support the bill in this video thanks to Capitol Fax.

Next stop is the Illinois Senate.

Meanwhile budget negotiations have broken down with the House voting down various aspects of it. That means the General Assembly won't be ending their session tonight as planned which gives the bill more time.

The deadline for final action on the bill has been extended to May 28. Both chambers have adjourned for the day.

Over in the Senate, state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, has formally filed a motion to concur with the House's amendments which added the Marion incentive plan. The motion to concur has been referred to the Assignments Committee, whose chairman, state Sen. James Clayborne, Jr., D-Belleville, was the former sponsor of the bill when it focused on Glen Carbon.

In another late change, state Sen. Dan Reitz, D-Steeleville, has joined the bill as an alternate chief co-sponsor. He's got to be looking at the STAR bonds and how they could be used for the proposed Music City Illinois destination and convention resort in western Perry County.

Debate Begins in House on Bradley Bill

The live audio and video streaming of the House of Representatives is down, but the Capitol Fax Blog is reporting that the House is currently debating Bradley's bill.

Fiscal and Budget Notes Detailed, Somewhat

The following is the Fiscal and Balanced Budget notes that were filed earlier today on state Rep. John Bradley's IDEA bill for the Marion development.
Fiscal Note, House Floor Amendment No. 4 (Dept. of Revenue)

The Department of Revenue was not provided with a plan or detailed description of the proposed development, its precise location, or any financial details. This information is critical to provide a comprehensive analysis of the proposed STAR Bonds development. Thus, the estimate below is limited in scope. SB 2093 (H-AM 4) would cost the State $12,500,000 per year over a 23 to 35 year period totaling between $287.5 million and $437.5 million in future sales tax revenue as estimated by the Department of Revenue. These funds would be diverted to the STAR Bond district. Based on the information provided by the developer, the Department is unable to forecast the impact on existing sales tax revenue.

Balanced Budget Note, House Floor Amendment No. 4 (Office of Management and Budget)

The Department of Revenue was not provided with a plan or detailed description of the proposed development, its precise location, or any financial details. This information is critical to provide a comprehensive analysis of the proposed STAR Bonds development. Thus, the estimate below is limited in scope. SB 2093 (H-AM 4) would cost the State $12,500,000 per year over a 23 to 35 year period totaling between $287.5 million and $437.5 million in future sales tax revenue as estimated by the Department of Revenue. These funds would be diverted to the STAR Bond district. Based on the information provided by the developer, the Department is unable to forecast the impact on existing sales tax revenue.

The thing to keep in mind is that much of this sales tax revenue would not exist in the first place for Illinois if it wasn't for the project.

Balanced Budget Note Filed, No Details Yet

Staff have filed the Balanced Budget Note which is the last of the 10 impact notes requested last night on state Rep. John Bradley's IDEA bill.

Details still await on this note as well as the fiscal impact. Neither have been posted, but with them filed, the House can now take a vote on the bill which is expected within hours.

Fiscal Note Filed, Details Await on IDEA

The Fiscal Note, or how the bureaucrats at Revenue think the bill will affect the state's finances, has been filed for the IDEA bill, leaving the bill still waiting for one note - how the bill will affect the state's unbalanced budget.

The details haven't been posted yet.

Movement only appears slow on this until you realize the announcement for the project was last Saturday and the actual bill language wasn't filed until Wednesday.

So far the various notes shows that the legislation will not do the following:
  • Impact the Department of Corrections either financially or in terms of prison populations,
  • Require any appraisals because there are no land conveyances included in the bill,
  • Impact any public pension fund or retirement system in Illinois,
  • Change the amount of state-backed bonds authorized in the system as STAR bonds would not be an obligation of the State of Illinois,
  • Either increase or decrease the number of judges need,
  • Pre-empt home rule authority,
  • Create a state mandate, and
  • Have any effect on the cost of constructing, purchasing, owning or selling a single-family residence.

Marion's Hotel Industry Surges in 2009

Some thoughts on 2009 lodging in Marion

Despite the bad economy last year, tourism grew in Marion and Williamson County at least in terms of hotel taxable receipts.

Bed tax collections for the 25 active lodging establishments in the county grew by 15.5 percent last year over 2008 to $791,741.06. That was the best since 11.3 percent growth in 2005.

The bed tax receipts show tourists and travelers spent more than $15.8 million directly on lodging last year in the county with all but about 15 percent of that spent directly with establishments inside the Marion city limits.

In both 2005 and 2009, much of the growth could be attributed to a major new hotel being added to the mix. Country Inn & Suites opened in December 2008. Previously, Fairfield Inn had been the last player added.

With Country Inn, the Big 6 hotels in Marion became the Big 7 and collectively increased their market share from 78.2 percent to 79.1 percent, but the new hotel didn't cannibalize its competitors as some had feared. The other six major hotels collectively saw their taxable receipts grow by 6.6 percent in 2009 versus just a 1 percent jump in 2008.

All sectors but the oldest motels in the county saw growth last year.

Overall the Big 7 were up 16.8 percent, the mid-level motels (both the small chains and independents) were up 19.1 percent, and the specialty lodging category of bed and breakfast inns, cabins and vacation rentals grew by 41 percent thanks to new units being added.

The lodging operators inside the Marion city limits attributed for 84.8 percent of the market share.

All lodging operators in the county from the smallest vacation house rental up to the largest hotels pay a bed tax equal to 5 percent of their receipts to the county which is split 40/60 between the Williamson County Tourism Bureau and the Williamson County Events Commission (the funds to the latter group goes to pay the financing costs for the Williamson County Pavilion). The actual receipts taken in by the hotels are actually greater than the taxable receipts as rentals for more than 30 days are not covered by the bed tax.

More Impact Notes Filed, Votes Set Later Today

More of the "notes" have been filed on the IDEA bill that state Rep. David Reis, R-Olney, had requested. We're still waiting for the last two.

So far most of these notes or impact statements from various state departments show that there would be no impact, evidence of stalling technique.

What's left is the Fiscal and Balanced Budget reports. These are the two big ones and are legitimate considering the proposal involves STAR bonds for the Marion project, an incentive that's never been tried in Illinois.

In order to pass, the bill has to be brought to the floor of the House of Representatives. They have to pass it and then it will go to the Senate for a vote. All of that needs to be done today.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are meeting with Gov. Quinn this morning about the budget.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

House Expected to Take Up IDEA Bill Tonight

Rich Miller at the Capitol Fax Blog is reporting that the House is expected to vote on Bradley's IDEA bill tonight.

Miller is still describing it "as the worst bill ever".

He noted that the Democrats substituted two members of Bradley's committee for the hearing tonight implying that they were needed for the vote. Still, it was 11-2 to move forward.

He also notes that the St. Clair Record is reporting that Mount Vernon's mayor Mary Jane Chesney is opposed to the bill.

“We have a new interchange and are in the process of building infrastructure on approximately 600 acres around the interchange to attract businesses to the area,” she wrote on May 6.

“What are our chances of attracting these businesses when only 40 miles down the interstate lies Marion with this proposed added development tool?

Actually, Mount Vernon's chances are not very good. The city is already on record for not wanting any lodging establishments to go to the new exit which will be dominated by the new Good Samaritan hospital.

This is the first time I've heard of any effort to market the interchange for hospitality or retail, which they obviously should.

Also, Marion has a much better population base within an hour drive that likely to come to it, than Mount Vernon.

I'm not opposed to Mount Vernon, I'm a MVTHS grad and know Chesney well from when she taught at the high school. I support her efforts to turn around the city's declining population. What used to be the region's second largest community, is now the third, according to census estimates. The Hub has simply surpassed the King City this decade.

As to the legislation, State Rep. David Reis, R-Olney, has requested 10 various staff notes to be filed on the Bradley bill. These are impact statements of what the bill will do to certain areas such as the state's fiscal situation, state mandates, balanced budget, corrections, home rule, housing affordability, judicial impact, land conveyance appraisal, pensions and state debt.

I'm not sure what the rules are for these. There's a few that seem legitimate and actually deal with the bill. Others seem more like a parliamentary delaying tactics.

So far the Correctional Note and Land Conveyance Note have been filed.

Lawmakers Consider Other Tourism Bills

The IDEA bill for Marion isn't the only piece of legislation winding its way through the General Assembly today that will affect tourism in Southern Illinois.

Lawmakers in the House Executive Committee are reviewing a proposal tonight to revamp the Chicago trade show business at McCormick Place.

The dirty little secret downstate is that it's Chicago tourism dollars that fund our state's tourism program. When they hurting, the rest of us get to feel the pain.

I'm not sure what the bill number will be yet, but expect it to pass. Chicago's about to lose some long-time trade shows if they don't make changes.

While the focus this week has been on the IDEA bill there are other pieces of legislation that would have greatly benefited tourism that are stuck for now in the Rules Committees of either the House or Senate.

Senate Bill 2559 would have created the Historic Preservation Tax Credit Act. This would have offered a powerful tool that's been used with great success in Missouri. It would have provided an income tax credit equal to the amount of 25 percent of qualified expenditures for restoration and preservation of qualified historic structures. It passed the Senate 48-6 but has been stuck in Rules since April 23. HB 4823 is the House version of the bill. It too is stuck in Rules.

Senate Bill 3458 would have created the Tourism Task Force Act to figure out what direction the state should take in its tourism efforts. According to insiders, this really hasn't been done since serious efforts began in the early 1970s. State Sen. Bill Brady who's running for governor sponsored this bill last year which explains why it's not going anywhere in the Democratic-controlled House.

HB 2556 would allow conservancy districts to create TIF districts, as well as counties to create TIF districts for tourism-related projects located outside municipalities. Bradley introduced this last year on behalf of Rend Lake Conservancy District in an effort to attract developers to their land near Exit 77 on Interstate 57. This bill ended up in Rules last year and has never left.

House Committee Approves IDEA Bill

The House Revenue and Finance Committee voted 11-2 to recommend to the full House of Representatives state Rep. John Bradley's IDEA bill (SB 2093) for Marion and Southern Illinois.

The next step is the House of Representatives which could come later tonight or tomorrow morning.

Hearing Begins on IDEA Bill

The House Revenue and Finance Committee has presumably begun their 5:30 p.m. hearing. The IDEA bill for Marion is the third one on the agenda.

As to the changes in Bradley's second version of the bill filed earlier (House Floor Amendment #4, they don't seem to be major, or at least directly affect the Marion plan.

The new amendment appears to be the same as to language for the Marion project. There's a new Section 63 (p. 74) of the latest amendment which amends part of the New Markets Development Program Act increasing the level of tax credits to $20 million from $10 million.

Then, Section 64 of the new amendment appears to be the Section 65 of the old one. Both expand the jurisdiction of the Auditor General to cover the various funds created with this piece of legislation.

IDEA Bill Set for a Hearing at 5:30 p.m.

State Rep. John E. Bradley, D-Marion, has introduced House Floor Amendment #4 to SB 2093. This is amending his main amendment (#3) for the Marion site. Not certain what the changes are at this point, but they seem to have helped the situation.

The House Rules Committee has forwarded the bill to the Revenue and Finance Committee which Bradley chairs. A hearing is set for 80 minutes from now.

The only other bill on the agenda is SB 377, which deals with a proposed tax amnesty period designed to get some more revenue flowing into the state. This has been talked about in the last few days as a one-time revenue generator to deal with the state's budget crisis.

I'm assuming the large delegation of Southern Illinois officials will be on hand for the hearing.

Bradley Answers Questions on Bill

State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, answers questions last night on the legislation for the new Marion development.

Forby Added as Chief Sponsor of IDEA Bill

Here's the latest on the IDEA (Innovation Development and Economy Act) legislation.

While he's been publicly onboard since Saturday, state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, made it official today. He's now the chief sponsor of SB 2093, taking the place of Sen. James F. Clayborne, Jr., D-East St. Louis, who had been shepherding the bill for the Glen Carbon location.

On the House side, State Reps. Brandon W. Phelps, D-Norris City; Ed Sullivan, Jr., D-Mundelein, and Mary E. Flowers, D-Chicago, have all been added as alternate chief co-sponsors.

According to the General Assembly's website, the bill is still sitting in the House Rules Committee.

More on the New Tourism Proposal for Marion

I've now had a chance to read most of state Rep. John Bradley's House Amendment 3 to Senate bill 2093 which is the vehicle being used for this IDEA — the Innovative Development and Economy Act.

Here are some additional thoughts basically in the order that I read and compared Bradley's amendment to the previous version of the bill designed for Glen Carbon.

Glen Carbon's project had to be at least 600 acres. Marion's has to be 250 to 500 acres. It also has to be adjacent to an interstate highway and within one mile of two state highways, and within one mile of an "entertainment user, or a major or minor league sports stadium or other similar entertainment venue that had an initial capital investment of at least" $20 million.

The fifth requirement is that it includes land previously stripped mine. See "Abandoned Mines to Tourist Attractions" for the history of mining in this area.

Both amendments define an "entertainment user" as a business that "has a primary use of providing a venue for entertainment attractions, rides or other activities oriented toward the entertainment and amusement of its patrons". The MetroEast project would have required it to cover 50 acres and cost at least $100 million. The scaled-down version for Marion is just 20 acres and an investment of no less than $25 million.

I don't think the existing ball park can be the "entertainment user" for this district as there would be virtually no new taxes generated there over what has already been generated. I think this refers to something new.

Like TIF districts, the incentives can be used for a whole host of public improvements like streets and roads, parking lots, etc. Unlike a standard TIF, the STAR bonds could also be used for "vertical improvements" which normal persons would call buildings.

The legislation allows for the use of the STAR bonds to pay for construction of two "destination users" which are 150,000-plus square foot retailers that attract at least 30 percent of their customers from at least 75 miles away (or out-of-state). Think Cabela's or Bass Pro Shops rather than a Wal-Mart.

STAR bonds could also be use to build a "destination hotel" which is defined as at least 150 rooms and a venue for entertainment attractions, rides or other amusements, i.e. indoor water park. This is the Great Wolf Lodge-type establishment.

The bonds could also be used to cover the costs of one "entertainment user", i.e. theme park, specifically, "costs of buildings; rides and attractions, which include carousels, slides, roller coasters, displays, models, towers, works of art and similar theme and amusement park improvements."

In what appears to be different from last year's version of the legislation, rather than take 100 percent of the state's sales tax increment for everything in the STAR development, only 100 percent of transactions from up to 2 destination users (big retail attractions like a Cabela's), 1 destination hotel (Great Wolf or something similar), and 1 entertainment user (Legoland or another theme park). For everything else in the district, the state would be pledging only 25 percent of the tax increment.

Another limiting factor is that the state sales tax increment pledge to pay the STAR bonds cannot exceed 50 percent of the total development costs.

Before a STAR bond district can be created, the developer will have to submit a plan that includes at least $100 million in capital investments, at least $100 million in annual gross sales revenues and 500 new jobs.

Despite Holland's spokesperson's downplay of a Legoland, the legislation still requires a "potential entertainment user" or theme park as part of the initial plan as well as the retail "destination user". The language is not "either or", it's an "and".

Section 33 of the act (p. 60 of Amendment #3) outlines the STAR Bonds School Improvement and Operations Trust Fund, otherwise known as the reason why surrounding communities are backing this project, particularly schools. It's also why Regional Superintendent Matt Donkin is driving back to Springfield tonight or early tomorrow morning.

This fund is created in the state treasury. The moneys in the fund will be used to make "payments to school districts in educational service regions that include or are adjacent to the STAR bond district." This is later defined as the Franklin-Williamson Regional Office of Education.

Basically, 15 percent of the property tax increment generated from the development each year would go into this fund. Each fall, the regional superintendent would allocate the moneys to the various schools districts in proportion to the districts' fall enrollments.

What I don't see defined is a "qualifying school district". Even more loosey-goosey is a phrase that allows the regional superintendent the power to use "any other method or formula" he "deems fit, equitable, and in the public interest."

He would also be able to allocate "moneys to school districts that are outside of his or her educational service region or to other regional superintendents". However, politically, I don't think that will be case.

This weird language may be due to the simple fact that school district boundaries don't follow county lines. Thus there are schools in neighboring counties that include students from Franklin and Williamson counties.

In the Glen Carbon proposal, this fund was the "STAR Bonds Community Improvement Trust Fund" and the 15 percent property tax increment was to be distributed to municipalities within a 12 mile radius of the project. A third went to communities within 5 miles of the project and two-thirds went to communities in the 5 to 12 mile radius.

Section 45 in both amendments deal with restrictions. Both state that "no portion of a STAR bond project shall be financed" with basically existing TIF districts. I'm not sure how that would work out with the Hill, as TIF was used already for that development, and I believe that a TIF district has already been established for their undeveloped land on the east side of the interstate which will be included in this STAR bond district.

The Glen Carbon plan would have prohibited car dealerships and a minor or independent league baseball stadium to locate in the district. The Marion plan includes the ban on car dealerships, but not the stadium, which is probably not an issue since Rent One Park will be adjacent to the district.

The Marion plan also states that the developer can't use any land in the STAR bond district for a movie multiplex with more than 12 auditoriums or contain more than 900,000 square feet of floor space devoted to traditional retail use (that's the equivalent about about four super Wal-marts or Menard's.)

The theater bit is interesting. I guess we could see a new 12-screen complex to compete the existing 8-screen one behind the Illinois Centre Mall. Although still a very decent theater it's among the oldest 10 percent of properties owned by Kerasotes (and in the process of being sold to AMC). It's likely that AMC would be looking at a new complex sometime in the next few years anyway.

It's 12:39 a.m. Thursday morning and Bradley and state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, have less than 48 hours to get this passed before the legislature adjourns.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Theme Parks and Destination Hotels

The spokesperson for developer Bruce Holland told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this week in a story published yesterday that Legoland may not be in the cards for Marion.
...landing a LegoLand amusement park — one of the much-touted possibilities for the Glen Carbon site — is probably off the table, as those businesses tend to seek more urban settings. "That seems less likely in Marion," said [Rebecca] Rausch.

A more likely possibility, Rausch said, would be a venue like Cabela's at Village West in Kansas City, Kan., a hunting and outdoors store and museum, or similar large-scale venues that won't directly compete with existing Marion-area businesses.

While it certainly isn't a dead idea — Legoland certainly isn't the first theme park proposed for Southern Illinois — the others parts of the proposed destination plan shouldn't be overlooked.

Despite the story set to be published in tomorrow's paper that Great Wolf Resorts may or may not be looking at this project, such as facility would offer a tremendous boost to the region's tourism economy.

If you're not familiar with the chain, Great Wolf promotes itself as "North America's Premier Family Entertainment Brand".

Their first quarter report issued yesterday describes their resorts as "family-oriented destination facilities that generally feature 300 – 600 rooms and a large indoor entertainment area measuring 40,000 – 100,000 square feet. The all-suite properties offer a variety of room styles, arcade/game rooms, fitness rooms, themed restaurants, spas, supervised children’s activities and other amenities."

The main feature consists of a 40,000 square feet indoor water park.

So far they have 12 resorts with none closer than the Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; Kansas City, Kansas; and Kings Island theme park at Mason, Ohio.

The latest-announced resort will be one in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania adjacent to a major shopping center. The company signed a letter of intent to license their brand and take a minority stake in the new venture.

A smaller version of a Great Wolf Resort is Illinois' first indoor waterpark — Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Resort just outside Starved Rock State Park near Utica, Illinois. Its waterwork is 24,000 square feet and their three-story lodge offers 92 over-sized guest rooms. In recent years they've added vacation villas and cabins to the mix as well.

I've never been inside, but I drove by it a few years ago while attending a conference at Starved Rock. The parking lot was packed and it looked a whole lot more fun than the tired CCC-era lodge and generally crappy cabin I was staying in.

[To be fair to the concessionaires of Starved Rock, I've been told DNR has updated those cabins since I stayed there. They needed to be, they were a disgrace to the state.]

As far as I can tell there are only three other indoor water parks, all in northern Illinois - CoCo Key Water Resort at Rockford, Key Lime Cove's Lost Paradise at Gurnee and the Mayan Adventure at Holiday Inn Chicago-Elmhurst.

Missouri only has one indoor waterpark and that's another CoCo Key Water Resort at Kansas City.

The closest one in Indiana is Big Splash Adventure at French Lick and I can't find any indoor parks in Kentucky.

Marion offers a good location with little competition. Combined with golf at Kokopelli and baseball at Rent One Park there's a core group right there, particularly if the developers can attract Cabela's or Bass Pro Shops, which have already been mentioned as possible tenants in the development.

Update on Marion Tourism Projects

In what's very possibly an inaccurate supposition based on quotes in their story, the Southern Illinoisan is reporting tonight online that "Cabela's, Great Wolf aren't planning for Marion project."

In fact their spokesman never say such a thing (at least they're not quoted as such).
[Great Wolf] however, isn't necessarily on board.

"Our development team currently has no plans for a Great Wolf Lodge in Illinois," said Steve Shattuck, a spokesman for the Wisconsin-based water park operator.

Similarly, a spokesman for outdoor outfitter Cabela's say he hasn't heard about a possible southern Illinois location.

"That's not one that I'm aware of," John Castillo said Wednesday.

Note that Shattuck said his company's "development team" has no plans. According to their website, they do franchise which could be a lodge not actually developed by Great Lodge, but by another outfit.

Also, Castillo of Cabela's provided an honest answer when he said "that's not one that I'm aware of," in regards to Marion. Later he added, "I'm not aware of any discussions with the developer."

Both spokesmen remind me of Target's spokesmen 20 years ago during the "mall wars" between Carbondale and Marion. The then-new Illinois Centre was in its earliest phases; maybe not even under construction yet.

The Southern ran a top story one day that clearly stated that the company was not coming to Marion. They quoted the company spokesman and there was no buts about it, Target was not coming and the implication was it had never considered coming.

In reality of course, they were. No one had told the spokesman. If the real estate and development people in the company tell the spokesmen before a deal is final but before they're ready to announce, it forces the spokesmen to lie. In order to give them plausible deniability they're usually not told.

I'm willing to bet that the spokespeople for Great Wolf and Cabela's aren't told about projects until they're ready to go, which the Marion one obviously is not since the legislation itself has not passed.

Also, as publicly-traded companies both operate under strict rules about publicizing corporate moves in order to protect their investors' interest. In other words, they are lawyers involved.

Legislation filed for new Marion development

State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, filed House Amendment 3 to Senate Bill 2093 earlier this afternoon.

At first glance there's a couple of differences between the University Town Center development bill originally sponsored by Sen. James F. Claybourne and the Marion one.

1) The former bill was the "STAR Bonds Financing Act". Bradley's bill is the "Innovation Development and Economy Act".

2) While a destination hotel has been part of both plans, specific language is found only in the Marion bill. A "destination hotel" means a "hotel complex" of at least 150 rooms that also "includes a venue for entertainment attractions, rides, or other activities oriented toward the entertainment and amusement of its guests and other patrons.

Both versions of the bill targets the development of "destination user" retail attractions defined as at least 150,000 square feet of sales floor area, does not have another Illinois location within 70 miles, has at least 30 percent of customers traveling to visit from at least 75 miles away or from out-of-state, and includes an initial capital investment of at least $30 million.

As of 2:17 p.m. when I last checked, Bradley had filed the amendment and it had been assigned to the Rules Committee. Also, the alternate chief sponsor was changed to Bradley.

This bill was originally introduced last year and dealt with mental health issues. It passed the Senate but stalled in the House. Claybourne had amended it to use as a vehicle for the Glen Carbon development.

The bill is currently in the House of Representatives and would have to pass the House and then go to the Senate for passage. If lawmakers adjourn as planned, there's less than 80 hours for this thing to pass.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Legoland Egypt?

Saturday's announcement of a new destination shopping and entertainment center on Marion's north side did not mention Legoland, but that was part of the deal in its previous incarnation, and city officials believe it still is.

Up until last Thursday, April 29, Bruce Holland had been pushing the University Town Center development at Glen Carbon, Illinois, in the St. Louis Metro-East area. After opposition to the use of STAR bonds, the local state Rep. Tom Holbrook, dropped legislation that would create the state incentives.

At some point last week Southern Illinois lawmakers state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, and state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, jumped on board. After a rash of meetings with the lawmakers, area mayors and economic development officials, Holland announced plans for the Marion project.

The clock though is ticking. House Speaker Michael Madigan wants to adjourn at the end of this week.

So what's the history on Legoland and the Midwest?

Four years ago Nick Varney, CEO of Merlin Entertainments Group, announced that his company was "actively engaged" in finding partners and a location for a fifth Legoland theme park. They already operated three in Europe and one in North America at Carlsbad, California.

The Theme Park Insider reported the news on Jan. 19, 2006, under a headlined time frame of "3 to 5 years":
Varney said that the company's goal is to develop its Legoland parks as "mini Disney Worlds," destination resorts attracting visitors over several days, rather than just destinations for local day-trippers. As a result, Varney suggested that Merlin might build new installations of its SeaLife and Dungeon amusements next to Legolands, as well as working with local governments and developers to encourage more tourist development around the parks.

Important for Marion and Southern Illinois is the following quote.
"We have three parks in Europe. Looking to the future, in the blue sky, I could see three parks in North America, too. With a Legoland here in Southern California, it does not take a genius to see the Midwest and the East Coast as potential new sites," Varney said.

Merlin Entertainment found its East Coast location at Winter Haven, Florida last year when it acquired the legendary Cypress Gardens site.

In the Midwest, they first looked at Kansas City before targeting the St. Louis region.

In June 2007, the city council at Columbia, Illinois, learned that St. Louis developer G. J. Crewe, which they had been working with since 2004 to develop the Columbia Crossings site, had landed the interest of Merlin to locate a Legoland as part of the proposed 2,000 acre development. Amazingly, the city backed out of the plan.

Skip forward a couple of years with a new developer, Holland, this time, and the idea of a suburban St. Louis Legoland resurfaces at Glen Carbon, Illinois, on the northeast side of the MetroEast.

Holland was able to work with his local lawmakers to get the STAR bonds incentive legislation through the General Assembly in 2009, but Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the bill with a change that only half of the state sales tax increment could be used rather than all of it.

Plans were to address that this year, but opposition grew from other MetroEast mayors over the retail development which they feared would threatened their own retail areas. That opposition killed the Glen Carbon proposal last week.

While Legoland officials have officially "downplayed" an Illinois location, company officials did approach Quinn last October while he visited Copenhagen to lobby the International Olympic Committee in support of Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics. For those who don't know, Lego is based in Denmark.

Holland probably didn't mention the park because he was still trying to sell Merlin Entertainment on Southern Illinois. Still the possibilities are tempting for area tourism. Holbrook's legislation provides an idea of the minimum investment on a theme park needed to qualify for the bonds - $100 million. That's an investment we can take to the bank.

On the lighter side, here's something we probably won't see in a Land of Lincoln Legoland.