Friday, June 25, 2010

Mount Vernon Tourism Numbers Up from 2009

Despite all the hoopla between Mount Vernon and Marion over the new STAR Bonds law, it's the King City who's had a better start to 2010 in terms of tourism than Williamson County.

Bed tax collections are up 3 percent for the first four months of 2010 in Mount Vernon compared to the same period in 2009. Marion and Williamson County has seen a 15 percent drop during the same time period.

Mount Vernon saw collections rise from around $176,000 to $182,000 while Williamson County suffered a drop from more than $235,600 down to just over $200,400. (However, one operator, Motel 6 has not paid January, March and April payments which should be at least $6,000 based on past years).

Mount Vernon Tourism Director Bonnie Jerdon told the Register-News that when compared to the same time in 2008 before the recession hit the tax receipts are down only $1,200.

Going back two years show receipts in Williamson County down just over $13,500 or about 6 percent compared with the first four months of 2008, though if the delinquent hotelier pays, then that amount would be cut by more than half.

The City of Mount Vernon charges a 5 percent bed tax which is split 60/40 with the tourism department and the city. The city also uses its home rule power to impose another $2 a night surcharge on room rentals.

(I believe that the 2 percent the city keeps is used for operate the city's west side municipal building near Holiday Inn where the tourism bureau and chamber of commerce have their offices.) By state law all of the 5 percent is supposed to go to tourism efforts. Historically, Mount Vernon has barely skirted around such requirements and occasionally has completely ignored them.

In Williamson County, the 5 percent bed tax is split 40/60 between the Williamson County Tourism Bureau and the Williamson County Events Commission, with the latter's share going to pay off the bonds used to finance the construction of the Williamson County Pavilion.

Marion hotel operators contribute the 2010 drop to the national economy, the colder-than-normal temperatures in Florida that discouraged some of the snow birds to travel south, or at least delay their travel; and a surge of business during the winters of 2008 and 2009 when ice storms caused major power outages in southernmost Illinois and western Kentucky and sent hundreds of residents north searching for places to stay with electricity and heat. This year's winter proved to be much milder.

Hotel and motel operators within the city limits of Marion earn about 85 percent of the bed tax revenue generated in the county.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Marion Daily Rips Mount Vernon in Online Headline

As a journalist working in the newsroom of small daily paper I would often be called to suggest a headline for my story. Usually, the closer the deadline the more likely the first suggestion would be one not fit for print, or at least too edgy for a community newspaper. After we got the zinger out of the way, we could then focus on the "real" headline.

I'm thinking that might have been the case today at the Marion Daily Republican, except that they went with the zinger for the online edition, republishing a Mount Vernon Register-News article on the King City's reaction to today's bill signing in Marion.

In the same vein of thought as Marion Mayor Bob Butler's comment last month that Mount Vernon should "stop whining", someone at the paper came up with this New York Post-style headline — King City cranky over STAR Bond signing.

Marion, Ill. — Gov. Pat Quinn would sign STAR bond legislation in Marion didn't sit well in Mt. Vernon. King City leaders had lobbied to be included in the bill, but it appeared the city would be left out.

Mayor Mary Jane Chesley sent a letter to Gov. Quinn earlier this month asking him to impose an amendatory veto on the STAR Bonds bill to include Mt. Vernon. That he did not is disappointing, she said.

“It defies logic,” Chesley said of the city’s exclusion in the bill. “But what it does not defy is politics.”

In other news, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday that the latest population estimates show Mount Vernon losing another 62 residents between 2008 and 2009 with a current estimated population of 16,269, as of July 1, 2009.
Gov. Pat Quinn has just signed SB 2093.
Quinn has made it.
A children's choir just finished singing - I'll never come down again from Cinderella. The governor's on his way now. The crowd is even bigger today.

'Life-Changing Exciting,' Unions Back Jobs Bill

The Marion Daily Republican nabbed the best quote yesterday explaining union support for the STAR Bonds bill.

Rick Hilliard, business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 318, anticipated thousands of construction jobs awaiting the region.

"This is life-changing exciting. I can't wait to get machinery in the dirt," he said. "For business looking for a place to prosper, city officials helped them figure ways to prosper. This will be an explosion of that."

WSIL-TV backed up the sentiment the stats from the Laborers.

At Local 773, the Marion-based chapter of the Laborers International Union of North America, man hours dropped from around 1.1 million in 2001 to around 412,000 in 2007.

As the recession continued that number shrank to around 380,000 in 2009.

New Census Estimates Show Williamson Growing

Williamson County's incorporated communities gained 424 residents from 2008 to 2009 according to the latest census population estimates released Tuesday.

The Census Bureau estimates Herrin grew the most with a net gain of 154 new residents, followed by Carterville with 110 new residents. Marion, which is up 1,425 residents for the decade grew by just 71.

For the decade, population estimates for Herrin are up 1,152 residents, and for Carterville by 902.

  • Bush - up 1 (263)
  • Cambria - up 8 (1,354)
  • Carterville - up 110 (5,518)
  • Colp - up 2 (231)
  • Crainville - up 35 (1,362)
  • Creal Springs - up 5 (721)
  • Energy - up 11 (1,195)
  • Freeman Spur - up 1 (280, includes Franklin Co. portion)
  • Herrin - up 154 (12,450)
  • Hurst - up 5 (792)
  • Johnston City - up 19 (3,491)
  • Marion - up 71 (17,460)
  • Spillertown - up 2 (225)
  • Stonefort - up 1 (292, includes Saline Co. portion)
  • Whiteash - up 2 (277)

Overall, the Census Bureau pegs Williamson County's population as of July 1, 2009, at 65,169, or an increase of 3,935 people since the 200 census. It was the only county in the region that recorded population increases in 2009 in all its communities.

Throughout the region, most communities continued to see population declines. Only a handful proved otherwise.

Carbondale was up 194 in 2009 to an estimated population of 26,094. Others with slight growth in 2009 included Benton, up 6; Brookport, 8; Cypress, 1; Goreville, 5; Marissa, 9; New Burnside, 1; Olney, 38; Red Bud, 6; Sesser, 1; Thompsonville, 1; Valier, 4; Vienna, 6; and Zeigler, 1.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Everyone But Quinn Turns Out for Bill Signing

Officials from Cairo up to Mount Vernon (okay, maybe not Mount Vernon, but at least Franklin County) turned out in Marion this morning to witness Gov. Pat Quinn sign Senate Bill 2093, the STAR Bonds incentives legislation that would stimulate the development of thousands of jobs in Southern Illinois.

The Carterville marching band entertained the crowd, veterans manned a color guard and a children's choir sung the Star Spangled Banner at the Operating Engineers Local 318's union hall on Marion's west side.

The governor's staff and state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, had the legislation laying out on the head table with plenty of pens available for the governor to use. All that was missing was the governor himself.

Wicked weather forced the cancellation of 375 flights out of Chicago O'Hare this morning and delayed hundreds of others at both O'Hare and Midway, including the state plane scheduled to fly Quinn to today's event.

Bradley first announced a delay of one hour following the Pledge of Allegiance and the invocation. The governor had canceled the rest of his schedule this afternoon and would arrive eventually. Minutes later Bradley provided another update inviting the crowd of around 200 to come back tomorrow after flight officials told the governor he was looking a delay of 5 or 6 hours before being able to take off.

Wags in the crowd were quick to point out two things. First, if the governor resided in Springfield he could have made it as it was nothing but blue skies over the Executive Mansion this morning. Second, since he's such a big advocate of Amtrak he could have come by train (and still made it quicker).

In the end it won't matter though. He'll be quickly forgiven. Barring wind and wild weather he should make it to Marion and sign the bill in 12 hours or so and the wait will be over.

Now that we know he's going to sign it, the next question is how much developer Bruce Holland will be able to say tomorrow on what's actually coming. Word is dirt should start flying almost immediately on at least some aspects of the project.
Signing delayed one day due to the weather in Chicago. Quinn coming at 11 tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Quinn Expected to Sign STAR Bonds Bill Tomorrow

The wait is almost over. Gov. Pat Quinn is set to visit Marion tomorrow to sign SB 2093, the STAR Bonds development bill that could lead to thousands of new jobs created in Southern Illinois.

Quinn's set to be at the Operating Engineers Local 318 meeting hall at 11 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Quinn vetoed a similar bill last year sending it back to the legislature with a change in the language to limit state incentives to 50 percent of the eligible costs. This time the bill includes the language Quinn wanted.

The bill would use the state's portion of the new sales tax revenue generated by the project to fund bonds to pay for the development.

In testimony last month Bruce Holland, the lead developer behind the proposal, admitted that no companies had signed on yet, but were waiting for the bill to be passed. No word yet if Holland will make any announcements along those lines.

Already he has met the first June 1 deadline in the bill to secure control at least 50 percent of the land in the proposed development. The district will include 45 to 50 acres west of Interstate 57 next to Rent One Park and behind Menards, as well as least 350 acres east of the interstate and north of Morgan Avenue.

In order to secure a STAR Bonds district the developers must show they have at least one large retailer (a destination user as defined by the bill), and one entertainment user (an entertainment center or theme park). What and when they announce those two developments will go a long way in indicating just how big this development will be.

Tourism Development Meeting Set for Harrisburg Wednesday

Saline County Tourism, the Southern Illinois Tourism Development Office and the Southeast Illinois Regional Planning Commission will host a tourism development meeting Wednesday, June 23, at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held in the faculty dining room off the cafeteria at Southeastern Illinois College.

O’Dell will give an overview of tourism development. Executive Director Russell Ward of the Southern Illinois Tourism Development Office and Julie Patera of Southeastern Illinois Regional Planning will given an outline of grants available from the state to launch new businesses related to tourism such as lodging, restaurants and cafes.

“What we’re hoping to do is bring people together. We know how many things Southern Illinois has to offer,” Patera said.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Quinn to sign SB 2091 on Wednesday at Operating Engineers Local 318 in Marion.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Illinois Centre Mall Latest Landmark to Change Hands

Kokopelli wasn't the only Marion landmark to change hands this week. Less than 24 hours after the Green Grass Group LLC closed the deal on the region's premiere golf course, a new owner took over the Illinois Centre Mall next door.

Although the new owner(s) are still not publicly identified, the old management team in the mall office is already out. Two meetings are set for next Wednesday, one between the new owner(s) and remaining staff, and a second with the mall tenants.

The challenge for new owners will be how to turn around the struggling mall that's now in its 19th year of operation with major new competition on the way.

Officials with the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., and Antonia Investments, Inc., announced the development of the Illinois Centre Mall in 1989. Construction started the next spring with steel work underway by the fall of 1990. The mall opened the following year in early October 1991.

The mall was to the 750,000 square-foot centerpiece of a 260-acre development. However, a fifth anchor store planned for the front of the mall at what's now the center entrance never materialized.

For the last two decades the Illinois Centre Mall has both competed with, and mutually complimented the older University Mall down the highway in Carbondale.

The University Mall began with a stand-alone JCPenney store in 1971 with the first phase of the mall built three years later to the west with a new Sears store anchoring the other end. Later a second wing to the south led to a third anchor store, Meis (later Elder-Beerman).

During the development of the Illinois Centre Mall, developers added another wing to the east of JCPenney with an 91,000 square foot Famous-Barr and an 80,000 square-foot Venture store. Overall, the $35 million project added 266,000 square feet of retail increasing the total size of the mall to 690,162 square feet.

But what's on the way could more than double the combined size of both malls. The new Millennium Development proposed for Marion would greatly expand "The Hill" with one or two major "destination users", or retailers of least 150,000 square feet each.

The Cabela's store near Kansas City, Kansas, is part of a development cited by the Marion developers as an example of what they want. That store offers 180,000 square feet of shopping. The chain's largest store is 250,000 square feet. That said, the company is now generally planning 80,000 to 125,000 square-foot stores according to their corporate website.

Another possible anchor mentioned for Glen Carbon was a Nebraska Furniture Mart. The Southern Illinoisan described the company as building a 1 million square feet store in the Kansas City STAR bonds development. Actually, the store is just (yeah, just) 420,000 square feet. The remaining 600,000+ square feet is a distribution center.

In addition to the two destination user anchors the legislation allows up to another 900,000 square feet of additional retail to be built within the STAR Bonds district. At least half of that will be needed to entice a Cabela's, as they want to anchor growing retail developments (discounters and franchise stores don't count).

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Mount Vernon Urges Quinn to Amend Destination Bill

King City officials are asking Gov. Pat Quinn to amend SB 2991, the STAR Bonds bill to add Mount Vernon to the mix. The Southern Illinoisan's Caleb Hale reports Mayor Mary Jane Chesney sent a letter to the governor last Friday.

In a frank give and take discussion with me this afternoon City Manager Ron Neibert stressed his city's position wasn't as much in opposition to the incentives for Marion, but in favor of granting the same economic development tools to his city.

"We are not opposed to Marion," noting that as written, the bill would place Mount Vernon "at a competitive disadvantage... Why shouldn't we have an equal opportunity?"

Quoting both the legislation and area sales tax statistics Neibert also clarified a point Chesney had partially made during the Senate committee hearing last month.

Section 5 of the bill outlines the legislation's purpose as "to promote, stimulate, and develop the general and economic welfare of the State of Illinois," etc., etc. It's this part that makes it a "jobs bill" as the bill specifically uses the phrase "creating new jobs" in terms of its purpose.

In subparagraphs (J) and (K), the bill refers to the "stagnation of local tax bases" and the "loss of job opportunities" that exist currently (J), and that could get worse (K), if the bill doesn't pass.

Chesney noted the following sales tax stats in her committee testimony and Neibert drove the point home today.

According to the May edition of the Southern Business Journal (p. 12), sales tax receipts from 2005 to 2009 have grown 23.8 percent in Marion, versus just 0.3 percent in Mount Vernon for the same time period. Carbondale suffered a 2.4 percent drop.

Neibert wonders how a nearly 24 percent growth in sales shows a stagnation of a local tax base. Mount Vernon's barely positive 0.3 percent growth better defines stagnant.

Although a new Kohl's store is under construction, Neibert feels the STAR bonds incentives would preclude Mount Vernon from ever landing a Cabela's or other major retailer of that size.

Personally I agree with him on that, though based on demographics and location, I think Marion would always have the competitive advantage, everything else being equal.

He did point out that Mount Vernon had a higher traffic count at Exit 95 in Mount Vernon than Marion did at Exit 54 in Marion. IDOT's Getting Around Illinois shows an average annual daily traffic count 35,700 vehicles south of the Mount Vernon interchange and 37,700 north of it. In Marion the figures are 33,700 north of Route 13 and 22,100 vehicles daily south of it.

Neibert notes the similarity between the STAR bonds and early versions of Illinois' tax increment financing districts that allowed cities to use the state's portion of the sales tax increment, something that is now longer allowed.

As a former city manager in Vandalia he saw how a city could be at a disadvantage when a neighbor up the interstate, in his case Effingham, had the tools in place and the funds generated to land new developments thanks to the sales tax increment that flowed to the city.

It's not just the potential for lost retail opportunities that concern city leaders, Neibert says the legislation has already cost, or at least delayed, a new hotel in the works. If it's not built in Mount Vernon, the developers may bring it to Marion.

[If it is who I think it is, he's right, they've had their eye on Marion for a while.]

I still think Mount Vernon leaders made, and continue to make a strategic mistake in trying to delay the bill, as an amendatory veto would keep the bill in limbo until the fall veto session set for November after the election.

With polls indicating a good chance of a different party in the governor's mansion next year, Neibert feels Mount Vernon's chances are best this year as there might not be an opportunity next year.

However I agree with Rich Miller of Capitol Fax and other statehouse watchers who think SB 2093 will only be the tip of the iceberg. If not next year, then the year after, Miller expects (actually worries about) more legislation for STAR bonds. Miller doesn't like the bill and keeps referring to it as the "worst bill ever".

I think what's missed is the fact that the developers behind the Millennium Development have continually pushed the "destination" aspect of the bill. It's for both tourism and retail, and that it's only justified due to the tourism component, something Mount Vernon in particular isn't going after. Chesney said so in her committee testimony and Neibert echoed that today.

Most residents of the region wouldn't support giving state tax breaks for retailers. I would have a hard time supporting that, simply because like Miller fears, it becomes almost impossible to draw the line.

But it's a different story when you're talking tax breaks for a theme park. The equation changes, at least for me. The retail is "needed" or at least justified, as it's the sales tax that will help pay for the park. It's this entertainment/theme park complex that would make Marion, and in turn, Southern Illinois, a destination far greater than we are now.

Quite frankly, Neibert doubts a $25 million theme park would do that much for the region, but that's just the minimum investment required. The developers were going after a much larger park in the MetroEast, something well over the $100 million investment as required in the Glen Carbon legislation from last year.

The developers are still aiming high and I hope they get their prize, but even a Plan B would be a major boost. Keep in mind Branson got started with the Shepherd of the Hills outdoor play and a Silver Dollar City theme park. Everything else came later.

There hasn't been a whole lot of jobs bills come out of Springfield in the last decade, not since the EDGE program early in the century, something Neibert describes as just helping Illinois catch up with Indiana and Kentucky.

Politically, Quinn almost has to sign the bill. He needs it to carry Southern Illinois and he needs state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, on board, to keep his chances alive. He doesn't stand much of a chance in the region come November without the bill, but with it and a few big announcements from the developers the game changes completely.

The 59th Legislative District is the last rural district the Democrats control. That should be reason enough for Quinn.

As for Mount Vernon, now that Republicans represent Jefferson County in both the House and Senate things might change in 2011 if state Sen. Bill Brady wins as governor, and Williamson County's legislators may then be on the outs.

Personally I want to think Neibert for taking the time to talk with me today. This was our first time speaking. When I described our conversation as frank, I was not exaggerating. It was nothing like a typical interview like I've done in the past as a journalist.

I'm a former Mount Vernon resident and high school alumnus. Two of my classmates sit on the city council and the mayor is a good friend from her days as the high school's art teacher. I want to see Mount Vernon succeed, I just think this isn't the best way.

For Southern Illinois to be strong, all of it has to be strong, Marion and Mount Vernon, and Carbondale and every other county seat and trade center.

Meanwhile as the debate continues, we all wait word on what Quinn will do.

Local Teachers' Unions Come Out In Favor of STAR Bill

Unions representing 4,200 educational employees in Southern Illinois have joined the chorus in calling on Gov. Quinn to sign into law Senate Bill 2093 passed last month by lawmakers.

The bill would allow the creation of sales tax and revenue bonds (STAR bonds) to help pay for development of a destination attraction of tourism and retail on Marion's north side.

Regions 1 and 2 of the Illinois Education Association are backing the bill.

"The STAR bond legislation could be the best economic development tool that state government has ever passed for our regions. We enthusiastically support the Star bond legislation and we urge Gov. Quinn to sign it," said Region 2 chair Mary Bess Williams.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Quinn Says Good Things About Destination Bill

Gov. Pat. Quinn called the Marion destination legislation that passed the General Assembly last month "very important" when asked by reporters last night in Charleston, Illinois.

He also described it as a jobs bill but still needs time to study it before signing.

Quinn, who was speaking at Eastern Illinois University, told reporters the legislation "is a jobs proposal" and that jobs are the "No. 1 issue."

The bill, SB 2093, would create the state's first STAR Bonds district, in order to land a major tourism destination and retail development on Marion's north side.

As it's an election year and he needs the support of Southern Illinois voters, so it's expected that he will sign it.

However opposition is growing from the state public employees union, AFSMCE, proving once again that what's good for public sector unions are usually bad for everyone else.

Opponents have argued the state's financial problems make it a questionable time to divert public funds for a private development.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union is urging Quinn to kill the measure, saying the state cannot absorb the loss of tax dollars.

"This is the worst possible time for a tax giveaway to a private corporate developer," said AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall. "Its terrible timing and the governor should veto this bill."

Apparently a terrible recession with high unemployment is a bad time to try to create jobs in this state, jobs, which when taxed, provide the funds to pay the wages of said public sector unions.

AFSCME on the other hand would rather the state raise income taxes 50 percent, or more.

As to diverting public revenues, there's almost no way it will divert a dime of public revenues in the next fiscal year, as Marion will be lucky to see a groundbreaking that soon, let alone see the development up and running by that time.

Secondly, you can't divert what isn't there, which would be the sales tax increment generated from this development.

Back in 1966, the State of Florida bent over backwards to provide incentives to the Walt Disney Company in the form of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

How did that work out? I think we all know.

Although newspapers keep repeating Cabela's and Great Wolf Lodge as possible tenants, they're forgetting the important aspect of the "entertainment user", or theme park, that's a requirement to get the STAR Bonds district created in the first place.

This thing is bigger than most people realize. If successful, it's bigger than the Southern Illinois Miners and the mall development. It's bigger than the '82 Tornado. It's all those things and the coming of the interstates combined. Mayor Butler knows it (hence the tears in his eyes when it passed). John Bradley knows it, and so do a few others. The potential for Southern Illinois is off the scale.

Kokopelli Deal Closed This Morning

The Green Grass Group LLC closed on its long-suffering effort today to secure the Kokopelli golf course in Marion, one of the top-rated courses in the state.

Dutch Doelitzsch gave a Marion Chamber of Commerce a brief update at today's luncheon, telling the group the new ownership signed all the paperwork closing the deal this morning at 11:20 a.m. Yesterday they had met with club members and Kokopelli residents about their plans.

Kokopelli Golf Pro Jesse Barge outlined the new owners' plans for the course this afternoon. Changes will be made to the club house, grounds and some upcoming events.

  • The restaurant will re-open later this month under the name Koko's. After additional renovations are complete, the restaurant will be able to seat 300 for a wedding reception or other large gatherings.
  • The pro shop will move to the lower level just inside the current lobby area. This will allow all of the golfing operations on one level while creating more space for the restaurant above. In order to do this the grand staircase will be removed and a new ceiling/floor installed to create more dining area above.
  • The former pro shop area will become the new Koko's Sports Grill. The current bar which sits in the main dining space will be removed to the new sports grill.
  • A new parking lot will be built on the north side of the club house at the same level as the restaurant.

Course and Grounds
  • The remaining debris from last year's storms will be removed. Barge said last year they removed enough debris to make the course playable, but more needs to be done in order to help define the course in terms of margins and out-of-bounds.
  • Champions Drive which now ends in the current club house parking lot will be extended south to Halfway Road which now ends at the north edge of Rent One Park. This will allow direct access to the clubhouse from area hotels and the interstate.
  • A new 48-lot upscale housing development will be platted along the new extension which will also be calls Champions. These will be single-family homes and not condominiums. [Although he didn't mention it, many of these lots may face the lake that's on the north side of Rent One Park.]

In addition, Kokopelli will host the 2012 Men's Illinois State Amateur Championship in August of that year. Barge said it's the first time since 1995 that Southern Illinois has hosted the tournament when it was played at the Rend Lake Golf Course.

According to the Southern Illinoisan's early online coverage of this morning's news conference, roadwork will begin this fall.

...and will necessitate the shortening of Hole 15 by 78 to 150 yards and reducing par by a single stroke that will increase the course rating's difficulty.

For more on Barge, the Marion Daily did a nice profile on him in March.

State Parks to Accept Online Reservations, Maybe

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is finally entering the 21st Century with an online reservation system for campsites and picnic shelters, at least according to the Associated Press. I guess it's so long phone and snail mail.
Instead, the department says that starting July 7 reservations for 2010 can be made online for most campsites and other facilities, including 67 Illinois state parks and other state sites. Online reservations for shelters can be made online for 51 sites.

Too bad no one told the agency's webmaster.
Campsite Reservations are made at the site level. Each site maintains it's [sic] own campsite availability as well. Please contact the site you are interested in directly for mail-in and telephone reservations. E-mail reservations are not accepted.

Nothing like confusion to help bring tourists to Illinois.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Southern Calls on Quinn to Sign Development Bill

Today's Southern Illinoisan calls for Gov. Pat Quinn to sign Senate Bill 2093, the STAR Bonds bill needed to kick off a new destination development deal for Marion's northwest side.
This region not only needs private-sector investment and the traffic that comes with it, but it is well prepared. Forgive the cliché, but the iron is hot; it's time to strike.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Kokopelli Details to be Unveiled Tuesday

Now that Kokopelli has new local owners, area residents await details of their plans which will be announced Tuesday at a news conference in Marion.

The premier golf club has suffered from non-local ownership over the last few years and a year-long process to sell the course and restaurant held up by the federal government.

David Hays and Michael Koller, principal owners of Green Grass Group LLC, will let everyone know more in three days.

Already previous hints indicate more residential development. Other ideas over the years have included condos and some short-term tourism rentals on the golf course.

In April the owners let some of the details slip to the Southern.

Green Grass has big plans for the club's future, which include the development of a planned community, "The Club at Kokopelli," Green Grass Vice President Mike Koller said.

The community is planned for the area around what will be a new entrance to the club on Halfway Road. The road will tie the club from its current parking lot to Halfway Road near Rent One Park.

"This is going to be a long-term project. Our goal is to have up to 90 units," said Koller, who will be heading up the company's development plans.

The extension of Halfway Road north of Rent One Park up to the clubhouse. That was part of the original Hill development plan.

From a tourism standpoint, it would make the clubhouse and course much more accessible to travelers wanting to golf or sample the fine dining.

Hays also owns Mary's Restaurant and Bed and Breakfast in Herrin.

Green Grass Group LLC purchasd the course from Kokopelli Master Partners, a Florida consortium based in Gainesville. They had acquired it from Dutch native and Zimbabwe-national John Bredenkamp. The Times of Johannesburg, South Africa, has more on him.

Marion Destination Bill Sent to Governor

The Illinois Senate sent SB 2093 to the governor's office yesterday. Now it's up to Gov. Pat Quinn to sign or veto the bill designed to create a STAR Bonds district in Marion.

Thursday's action starts the clock for Quinn who now has 60 days to make a decision. His staff though has given no public indication of what he'll do.
"We'll be reviewing it," said [Quinn spokeswoman] Annie Thompson.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Developers Meet First Deadline, Quinn Waits for Bill

Today's Southern Illinoisan notes that developers of the proposed STAR Bonds district in Marion have met their first deadline, as reported yesterday in this blog.

Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn's office is still awaiting delivery of SB 2093 from the Senate before they can take action. The Senate has 30 days to deliver the bill and the governor 60 days after delivery to act.

The proposed district will be between 250 and 500 acres located mostly east of Interstate 57 and north of Morgan Avenue, and will likely include another 45 to 50 acres undeveloped as part of The Hill adjacent to Menard's.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Two Loft Rentals Under Construction in Alto Pass

A northern Illinois teacher is investing time and capital on a new lodging opportunity along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.

Brian Stone is converting the old Alto Pass General Store into two two-bedroom loft rentals for tourists. He told the Southern Illinoisan he hopes to be ready for tourists late this summer.
"It's just been my dream to have a business like this on the wine trail. I just always believed in Southern Illinois," said Stone, a teacher in northern Illinois. "People have always been doing cabins down there. I thought to do something out of the box and com-pletely different to give an alternative."

The Alto Wine Trail Loft will be located at 5 Elm Street in downtown Alto Pass.

Stone joins about 50 other independent lodging operators in the western Shawnee Hills.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Mount Vernon Defines Regionalism

There's another interesting tidbit from the Mount Vernon version of the STAR Bonds legislation — SB 2881 that shows a bit of how the King City defines regionalism.

In Marion, as part of the concerted effort to build support from surrounding communities, the developers tweaked the original legislation and created a School Improvement Fund that would take 15 percent of the property tax increment generated by the multi-million dollar investment and distribute it to area schools.

According to the legislation Franklin-Williamson Regional Superintendent Matt Donkin could a) distribute the funds proportionally to the schools in Franklin and Williamson Counties based on fall enrollment figures, or b) toss out that formula and come up with something else.

Based on statements by superintendents in support of the project outside Franklin and Williamson Counties, they seem to be under the impression that Donkin would do "B". A fair proposal would be to proportionally distribute the funds say to every school district within a 25 or so mile radius of Marion based on student enrollment.

Either way he hadn't decided as of last Thursday, and in any case, he has a couple of years before the investments will generate any increment to distribute.

What's interesting about the bill amended by state Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon, is that only schools in Jefferson County would have benefited from a STAR Bonds District.

The regional superintendent in Mount Vernon would not even have, or apparently be able to distribute funds to schools in Hamilton County which is part of his regional office's boundary, let alone in surrounding communities like Centralia whose mayor provided the second and only other vote in support of Mount Vernon Mayor Mary Jane Chesney's motion at the last Southern Illinois Mayors' Association on a resolution opposing the Marion STAR Bonds legislation.

Today's First Deadline for Big Marion Development

Developers are still waiting for Gov. Pat Quinn's signature on Senate Bill 2093, but their first deadline is in less than 8 hours.

Before midnight tonight, Bruce Holland and his development team must "own or have control of, through purchase agreements, option contracts, or other means, not less than 50% of the acreage within the STAR bond district," according to the legislation.

Most of the land being targeted is already owned by Marion Heights LLC, developers of The Hill. In past statements Holland has described his project as 300 to 350 acres, but the bill allows room for expansion, allowing from 250 to 500 acres to be included.

Ironically, this clause is also found in State Sen. John O. Jones' last minute amendment to SB 2881, his version of the STAR Bonds bill which would have allowed for the creation of a second STAR bonds district in Jefferson County at Mount Vernon's new Exit 94 on Interstate 57.

Neither Jones nor King City Mayor Mary Jane Chesney ever identified a developer interested in the parcel, which makes it unlikely the city could have found a way around this requirement.

During the hearing at the Senate's Labor Committee last Thursday, Chesney specifically stated her city was not interested in the tourism component of the bill. Despite her statement the legislation stipulates tourism as one of the key purposes for creating such districts.
It is further found and declared to be the policy of the State, in the interest of promoting the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of all the people of the State, to provide incentives to create new job opportunities and to promote major tourism, entertainment, retail, and related destination projects within the State.

There would have been another hiccup for Mount Vernon as well. In order to apply for the creation of a STAR Bonds district the master developer has to show a plan to secure not only a destination user, but an entertainment user as well.

The "destination user" is a major retailer with a building of at least 150,000 square feet, no other store within 70 miles and attract at least 30 percent of customers from more than 75 miles away, or at least out of state.

The "entertainment user" is more interesting. The short definition is theme park, but here's the long version as well:

"Entertainment user" means an owner, operator, licensee, a co-developer, subdeveloper, or tenant that operates a business within a STAR bond district 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, occupies at least 20 acres of land in the STAR bond district, and makes an initial capital investment, including project costs and other direct and indirect costs, of not less than $25,000,000 for that venue.

The biggest hurdle for a Mount Vernon STAR Bonds district would have been the area itself. In order to qualify for a STAR Bonds, it has to be blighted. As Marion found out a quarter century ago in the Mall Wars, just because a parcel of land is undeveloped it does not mean it's blighted, especially when it's at a new interstate interchange.