Wednesday, November 30, 2011

STAR Bonds Project Developers Reveal New Name

The STAR Bonds development for Marion has a new name — Boulder Creek at The Hill.

Brad Holland released a statement earlier today that's been posted on the City of Marion's website.

"When people hear the name Boulder Creek at The Hill, we hope they will consider, not just the shopping, but the many outdoor activities Southern Illinois has to offer. In Colorado, Boulder Creek is a popular recreational spot for many outdoor activities. It is surrounded by thousands of acres of open space, nature preserves, world class hiking trails and bike trails. In Southern Illinois, we hope that Boulder Creek at the Hill will become a destination location where families embrace the many activities that will surround this retail and recreational complex."

Chad Holland is one of the two nephews of Bruce Holland, CEO of Holland Construction that's the lead developer in the project. It was he, and not his uncle, that announced Monday the selection of Ryan Companies as a partner in the developement.

Don't know if it matters, but the uncle's name is not to be found on the web pages for the project on the Holland website. The younger Hollands have been involved in both the Marion project as well its earlier Glen Carbon incarnation, University Town Center.

"One of our objectives is to promote tourism throughout the region. Southern Illinois has an existing and established tourism base," Brad Holland explained Wednesday, "It is our desire to expand upon and draw attention to what's already here."

My first reaction to the Colorado reference wasn't overwhemlingly positive, but I just remembered that our Garden of the Gods was named after the Colorado landmark as well. We've managed to make that our own and will have Camel Rock on a quarter come 2016.

Therefore, I don't see any problems with Boulder Creek, even if our boulders were those excavated by the site's long history of coal mining. That just ties in with the Southern Illinois Miners across the road.

View Marion STAR Bonds District in a larger map

The company website includes a brochure for the project which was presumably prepared last May and has not been updated with the new name.

The brochure does include a site plan, but it's unclear if it is a real plan, or just preliminary drawings. It looks like the retail will be pushed westward to run from Morgan to Longstreet on the north and from the interstate east to Carbon Street extended north to Longstreet. Another major store or single building is planned for the area north of Menards on the west side of the interstate.

Not shown is an entertainment user, one of the necessary factors to get the STAR Bonds organized. It would presumably sit on land between Carbon and Russell, as well as the part of the development east of Russell.

There are pictures of the original Illinois Centre Mall project in City Hall and the mall office. The whole mall got turned around by the time it was built, so these plans will likely change as well.

One of the interesting tidbits in the brochure for the development — the Marion Menards is in the top 10 percent of all the Menards stores nationwide.

The Southern online has their version of the news release.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mount Vernon Considers Expo Center for Tourism

Consultants looking into the possibility of a new convention and trade center for Mount Vernon told the city council last night the project was feasible and more planning should be conducted.

The study’s bottom line assessment stated an active, well-run exhibition center would improve tourism numbers, add tax revenue, revitalize peripheral spending and attract visitors, who may later return to the city or even relocate to Mt. Vernon.

An exhibition center as a destination facility, according to the study, will typically host three types of events: Flat floor trade shows, consumer events and civic events. For these purposes, the study recommended a 60,000-square-foot facility with additional space for storage, offices, restrooms and a catering kitchen. Study organizers estimated local construction costs at an estimated $7.2 to $8.2 million, not including land, infrastructure and parking.

The issue is a perennial one for Mount Vernon. The Vernois Activity Center from the late 1970s or early '80s, called for a multi-purpose center built on the block behind Mount Vernon Township High School. The idea then was to build something the school could use on a daily basis, but also provide large convention space for other activities.

Former state Rep. Larry Hicks, pushed for a state-financed civic center project in the 80s.

The new plan is calling for something closer to the Pavilion in Marion. With that in mind Mount Vernon officials should take a much closer look and at least learn the lessons from the Pavilion in Marion.

The study's call for a 60,000 square foot building would probably be a 300' x 200' building, which at one time was the plans for the Pavilion. That building started out as 400' x 200', then shrank to 300' x 200' at the time the tourism bureau took bids. Once contractors returned their bids, it shrank some more to 300' x 172', a size that turned out to be one compromise too many for the building to be really effective.

Another part of the study that should be remembered is the catering kitchen. Without it the building's usefulness becomes seriously questioned. It's one of the amenities left out of the Pavilion.

A key line in the study is an "active, well-run exhibition center." That won't happen if you build and just turn it over to the tourism bureau to run. The tourism director Bonnie Jerdon doesn't have the staff to do all that's needed in tourism. Williamson County Tourism had the same issue when the Pavilion opened.

Any convention center needs its own staff. Paying for that staff becomes the issue. The Vernois Activity Center idea probably wouldn't have done that much for overnight stays and tourism, but at least the high school would have been able to cover the administrative cost and operations.

One key item not mentioned is the simple fact that convention centers don't do diddly for overnight hotel stays unless they can host conventions. Most of the business at the Pavilion doesn't generate overnight stays. When I was there we estimated only about 8 percent of the attendance ended up in hotels, generating about 1200 hotels stays. In other words, the Pavilion did the equivalent of filling up all of the hotel rooms in the county for one night out of the year.

If you want conventions, attach the building to a hotel, or better yet, a cluster of hotels. The people who plan conventions want to be able to walk from their rooms to the meeting rooms.

Another item not mentioned in the Register-News' article deals with the competition such a center would mean for the existing Holiday Inn, as well as the Rend Lake Resort and their convention space.

If the financials make sense to pursue a center, the city should look at attaching it to the Holiday Inn on the north side. Although it has the largest meeting space in the city, it's too small and doesn't have enough breakout rooms for even the small conventions that use Rend Lake.

New Irish Restaurant Opens on Strip in Carbondale

There's a new restaurant opening on the Strip in Carbondale according to the Southern.

Kelly's Irish Boxty House will hold a grand opening 11 a.m. Saturday at their new Irish-themed restaurant at 702 S. Illinois Avenue.

Kelly's specializes in the Irish boxty, which is a thin potato pancake first created in Ireland in the 17th century. Many different styles of boxty will be available at the restaurant, which is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hollands Hire Ryan Companies for STAR Bonds Deal

As mentioned last week, there's a new partner in the STAR Bonds development of Marion.

Chad Holland announced today that the Ryan Companies US, Inc., will assist with site planning and other project tasks fro the STAR bond development in Marion, Illinois.

Ryan Companies US, Inc. is a nationally-recognized builder, designer, developer and real estate manager specializing in fully integrates solutions. With a mission to build lasting relationships, Ryan delivers full-service customized solutions based on industry expertise and total collaboration - pairing customer's expectations with a specialized team of constructors, architects, engineers, developers, property managers and financiers. Ryan serves customers throughout the United States with offices in the Midwest, Southwest, Great Lakes and Southeast regions and employs nearly 550 workers.

"Having a great team is a key to success. Ryan has been in the real estate industry for more than 70 years. We have the utmost confidence in Ryan and look forward to working with them on this exciting project."

In 2007, Ryan was named the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties' (NIAOP) "Developer of the Year." NAIOP also honored Ryan Companies Tampa, Fla., office with the "Outstanding Developer of the Year" and "Outstanding Office Building of the Year" awards in 2010.

Ryan Companies are on the Web at

It's not tourism related, but Ryan has another potential connection to Marion that might interest city officials. For the last few years they've been building Target's new distribution centers.

Prior to the recession, Target was the all but officially announced company planning the new distribution center east of Marion on Route 13. The Marion city council annexed the 149.5 acre tract into the city four years ago in December 2007.

Back in April 2007, Target announced it planned to increase its presence by 25 percent of the next five-year period. At the time it wanted to add 100 stores a year, but the recession intervened.

The company pulled the plug on its expansions plans for the stores and distribution centers, including the one in Marion.

In 2010, rather than open a hundred new stores, they opened 13 and remodeled another 341 in the first nine months of that year.

Then, this past January, they announced plans to open 21 new stores in 2011 and remodel 400 existing stores, more in line with the slower economy.

Hopefully, as the economy gears up, and so does their expansion plans, they'll be back. They've been looking at Marion for a distribution center for at least six years if not longer.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

New Home-Style Buffet Opening Sunday in Marion

For everyone who misses The Refuge Restaurant in Marion (or for that matter the old Little Egypt Smorgasbord), a new Home Style Buffet will be opening Sunday, Nov. 27, in the Marion Plaza shopping center at 1000 N. Carbon Street behind Hardee's.

I heard more complaints about the truck stop selling and The Refuge closing than I did anything positive about the Pilot Travel Center that's currently remodeling the location. Apparently there's demand for home-style cooking in a buffet style. Replacing a buffet with Subway doesn't sit well with the Refuge's fans.

Now, just in time for the Christmas season, there's another option.

I don't know anything about the owners or the food. I just saw the lights in the old Nong Chen Buffet restaurant tonight after leaving La Fiesta. The note on the door just gave the name and the fact that it will open Sunday.

Major STAR Bonds Announcement Set for Monday

View Marion STAR Bonds District in a larger map
Expect a major announcement Monday from the folks behind the proposed Millennium Development project in Marion's STAR Bonds district.

No, don't expect the names of the major anchors for the project — the destination user and entertainment user necessary to get the project off of the ground. Instead look for the name of a partner with the heft to assist the Hollands in getting the overall project started.

The new partner offers 70 years of experience in designing, developing and managing real estate projects throughout the country, including recent projects in both the St. Louis and Chicagoland area. The firm has been "building lasting relationships" by specializing in "fully integrated solutions."

In terms of heft, they employ 150 people in their Chicago office alone.

Though there has been some griping about the speed of the project (or lack thereof), this step is a good sign. Especially, since keep in mind, this is the worst economic condition in decades in which to start a major commercial and retail development.

Can't wait to see what all Monday will bring, but for now, just know that the project is still moving forward.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chester Struggles With New Hotel Decision

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To build or to block — that's the question for the Chester City Council.

Developers James Best of Chester, John Bergfeld of Sparta and John Pawloski of Godfrey have proposed a project to build a $6.7 million 65 to 80-unit Microtel hotel on the highway above the Chester Mental Health Center and the Menard Correctional Center. The project would replace the shuttered post-World War II motel, the Hi-3, that's now closed.

To cover part of the redevelopment costs they want to use funds from future property tax payments to the city's existing TIF district.

The problem rests with the owner of the one remaining hotel, the Reid's Inn Best Western, who says there's no room for two in town, and that the city shouldn't be financing his competition.

The city went as far as hiring an expert to conduct a study. The expert though was a property appraiser out of the St. Louis market. That's a problem, the developers imply - he's not really an expert in their field.

The Randolph County Herald-Tribune has his complete report online.

As the council debates the issue they should consider two items not in the report.

First, do they really want to protect what appears to a 40-year-old ex-Ramada Inn now affiliated with Best Western over a brand new property?

In Mount Vernon, the former Ramada became a Best Western and is now shuttered. There's a reason for that, modern travelers not driven by the price will avoid those properties like the plague.

The report states that most of the furnishings in the existing Best Western are less than two years old. That may be true, but it still looks like an old Ramada Inn on the front.

That's not to say it isn't well run. Reviews at are generally positive and complimentary.

Second, if the Chester city fathers would look to Marion they would see that the last seven hotels (and the two now under construction) have all benefited either directly or indirectly from tax increment financing.

Up the interstate, Mount Vernon has created a new TIF district alongside it's new interchange. Presumably any future hotels that locate there will benefit to some extent from those efforts.

City leaders create TIF districts when they determine that blighted conditions are hurting their communities. Lines are drawn, then any development that takes place within those lines become eligible for tax increment financing.

A TIF agreement has to be reached between the developers and the city, but unless the proposed development is a public nuisance or will hurt the community in the long run, it's really not the city's business to start making value judgments.

To me, the difference between venture socialism (like Solyndra and GM) and the use of general tax incentives is the amount of government interference and political posturing that takes place.

Incentive programs like TIFs possess a clear-cut set of rules. If the developer meets the objectives, then they qualify for the incentives. The decision to offer the incentives has already been made when the city established the TIF district in the first place.

The local owner of the Best Western argues that it's not the city's role to pick winners and losers. He's right. It's not the city's role to block competition in the marketplace.

Another thing. The study rightly points out that both Chester and Randolph County lost population during the first decade of the 21st Century. The Southern Illinoisan pointed out that the site in question has been a closed motel for 20 years.

The Chester city council was right in taking steps to revitalize their community by creating a TIF district, but if they balk at local investors wanting to redevelop blighted eyesores, I'm not sure where they're going to grow.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Mount Vernon Targets Growth off of New Interchange

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The City of Mount Vernon has started a project to extend sewer service to the west of Interstate 57 at the new Veterans Memorial Drive interchange.
More improvements will take place next spring when the city undertakes a $9 million project that will include a continued extension of sewer and water infrastructure as well as a road that will connect Veterans Drive to Davidson Avenue, where recent retail growth includes a Kohl's department store.

The improvements will open up some 600 acres of land primed for development, Mount Vernon Mayor Mary Jane Chesley said.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Herrin Innkeeper Ann Hindman Dies

A former co-worker at the Williamson County Tourism Bureau just contacted me that Ann Hindman, proprietor of the Park Avenue Motel in Herrin died this morning.

Hindman and her late husband and Herrin contractor Paul Hindman had opened the motel back in the early 1960s. I served with her on the Williamson County Tourism Bureau board of directors twice, and then later as executive director of the bureau. I could always count on her to speak her mind if she felt the need, which I appreciated.

She and her husband broke ground for the Park Avenue at the beginning of August 1960.

"Construction will be concrete and fireproof throughout," [Paul] Hindman [told the Southern Illinoisan at the time].

Concrete slabs will form the room and Anna stone and aluminum decorative screens will be used on the walls. Each room will be 12 by 20 feet. The portion near the entrance will house a coffee bar, office, lounge and meeting room.

Rainy weather delayed construction as her husband worked to fit it into his schedule of other work. Finally, after months of delays, the Hindmans opened the motel on April 15, 1962.

A full-page ad from July 17 that year told tourists what they could expect.

The PARK AVENUE MOTEL is a new concept in downtown motel convenience. Mr. and Mrs. Paul Hindman, owners, believe in making every guest as comfortable as possible. In each of the 20 units are automatic telephones, electric heating and air conditioning, television, wall-to-wall carpeting, tile bath and showers. And something special ... courtesy coffee located in each unit! Truly, this is comfortable living.

Stop by the PARK AVENUE MOTEL the next time you’re in Herrin. Paul and Anna Hindman will be glad to show you how staying at the PARK AVENUE MOTEL will leave you rested and refreshed.

Located at 912 North Park Avenue, Phone WIlson 2-3159.

Mrs. Hindman was pretty particular who she let stay at her place. If you looked rough or ratty, she wouldn't hestitate to send you packing.

At least up to the last few years she cleaned the rooms herself. To make a telephone call, she would have to personally make the connection on the old-fashioned telephone operating board in the office.

Over the last few years I would get updates every once in a while about her condition as she struggled with some ailments. She will be missed. She was a Herrin institution.

Her husband Paul died Nov. 2, 2000, at the age of 77.

Funeral arragements are pending at Johnson-Hughes Funeral Home in Herrin.

Hardin County Weighs Options Over Hogrock

Hardin County should follow Sen. Gary Forby's advice.

That's not something I write often, but he's correct that Hardin County should consider Home Rule when it comes to covering the costs associated with the events at Hogrock and the Gathering of the Juggalos.

The Southern Illinoisan has another story today of county officials highlighting the costs to the sheriff department, ambulance services and unpaid hospital bills.

Previously, Sheriff Lloyd Cullison told the Southern back in August the event cost at least $10,000 in overtime for his department.

County officials want a law passed that would allow them to charge the promoters of such events. The trouble is that while the General Assembly could approve such a law, it's unlikely it would be available to them by next year. With the turmoil that makes up the General Assembly's relationship with Gov. Quinn, it's not quite clear a bill could even pass and get signed.

While area lawmakers have been able to get some local legislation passed in recent years, they've run into road blocks when it concerns taxation or other similar issues.

Meanwhile, there's another option. Home Rule counties and communities could pass such an ordinance, but first, voters would have to approve Home Rule for Hardin County. It's something that officials should put on the ballot for the spring primary.

For example, if the county voters approve home rule, the county board could then levy an amusement tax like the City of Chicago does.

If I've read the rules correctly the Windy City levies an amusement tax on tickets of 5 percent of admission receipts for live theatrical, musical and other live cultural performances in places where the maximum capacity is more than 750 persons.

Part of the opposition to home rule is that any new ordinance might snag other events sponsored by churches or other non-profits.

First, even Chicago's ordinance exempts amusements held by religious, charitable and not-for-profit organizations used for fund raising purposes.

Second, most local festivals and events would not be covered because there aren't any tickets sold anyway.

Third, the county could easily draft an ordinance that did not include sporting events such as anything at the high school.

Fourth, religious gatherings couldn't be taxed anyway under existing law, so no one would be going after the Baptist camp for their youth events anyway.

So what could the county do with an Amusement Tax?

Various accounts of this year's four-day Gathering of the Juggalos give attendance at more than 10,000. Let's do the math. Tickets were $175 a person, so 10,000 x $175 comes to $1.75 million. A five percent amusement tax would have generated $87,500 for the county.

That's more than eight times what it costs the sheriff's department. It's time for the county to take the issue to the voters.

Here's another suggestion. Use the funds not only to cover costs associated with the event, but make investments in other tourism that could pay off in years to come.

Designate 25 percent for law enforcement (including some for the municipal police departments in the county). Take another quarter for medical costs (ambulance as well as the hospital).

Designate the other 50 percent for tourism development. Send another 25 percent to the Hardin County Bed Tax Committee (the local tourism group in the county) for additional marketing and other projects as they see fit.

That would leave 25 percent for capital projects. Hardin County is full of state and federal sites that are suffering due to neglect and lack of funding, not to mention the impact of river flooding, wind storms and ice storms from the past couple of years.

One relatively small project could be to add interpretive and educational signage at Cave-in-Rock State Park. It's a historic site but the only interpretation is the park brochure on a bulletin board under a piece of broken plexiglass. If that isn't bad enough, the "facts" in the brochure are incorrect.

Hardin County leaders should take a field trip to Johnston City. It took a number of tries, but voters there finally approved Home Rule. It's been a blessing to the cash-strapped city.

Hardin County's one of the three smallest counties in the state. Tourism is one of the few opportunities it has to grow. It's easy to notice the bad when it comes to Hogrock and the Gathering, but don't overlook the good it can bring as well.

IDOT Seeks Consultant on New Interstate Route in Region

The response has been totally unwhelming north of the Shawnee Hills, but at least the Southeast Missourian is covering plans for a new interstate corridor between Paducah and Cape Girardeau.

Since the 1980s, transportation officials across the country have been planning for a new Interstate 66 to connect San Diego with Norfolk, Va. The TransAmerica Corridor would tentatively include Missouri and Kentucky. Community leaders in Paducah and Cape Girardeau have convinced their state officials to make their towns part of the route, which means a connector would logically cross the southernmost counties of Illinois using the existing I-24 bridge at Paducah and the new bridge at Cape Girardeau.

In August, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $3.6 million in fundng to the Illinois Department of Transportation to study the corridor from Metropolis to East Cape Girardeau.

Now Carrie Nelsen, IDOT District 9 program development engineer in Carbondale tells the Southeast Missourian that the agency will select a consultant in January to do the work starting in July 2012.
It's estimated the phase one study, which includes an environmental evaluation of five Southern Illinois counties the new roadway could pass through, will take three years to complete. Counties in the study are Alexander, Union, Polaski, Massac and Johnson.

"There are a lot of sensitive environmental resources through Southern Illinois and the project area," Nelsen said.

Those resources include wetlands along the Cache River Basin and bluffs along the Mississippi River that may be home to both endangered plant and animal species.

Because of the landscape involved the Sierra Club has already begun meetings in the area to drum up opposition.

IDOT will also be sponsoring public meetings to gain input as part of the planning process.

Meanwhile this winter IDOT and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be conducting LIDAR (light detecting and ranging) surveys of the five counties involved to get detailed elevations of the land.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

DuQuoin Ponders Return of Street Machine Nationals

It's been quite a while since the Street Machine Nationals roared through DuQuoin, but the event's organizers as well as city officials are warming up to repeat visit starting as early as 2013.

This year the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds at Springfield, Mo., hosted the event the first weekend of October. Nearly 1,400 participants took part with nearly 20,000 visitors attending.

DuQuoin hosted the event in the 1980s and '90s when as many as 100,000 attended and boosted the economy anywhere from $3 to $15 million depending on the year.

However, there are reasons why DuQuoin no longer hosts the event. For those who don't remember, the Street Machine Nationals has what could be described as a colorful history since its start in Indianapolis in 1977.

Matthew King of Car Craft magazine and website explains:
Throughout most of its 25-year history, uncontrolled burnout contests held anywhere, anytime, were the norm; shirts were optional for men and women; and the highlight of one of the first Nationals held in Indianapolis was a riot that resulted in a police car going up in flames.

That's right. Launched during the high point of the Pro Street movement in 1977, the goings-on at the Street Machine Nationals mirrored the essence of the era's over-the-top proclivities as reported on by this magazine. The disco era was in full swing and so were fat tires, chromed blowers soaring through holes in hoods, and gaudy pastel paint jobs emblazoned with garish graphics.

I don't think there were any riots in DuQuoin, but a lot of trash and a lot of flash. When it finally left, few community leaders wept.

Car Craft no longer hosts the event. The Promotion Company does. Even better, the event has "mellowed," become "wiser," and generally, "older, tamer, and less out of control" according to King.

Vice President for Marketing Matthew Louck told the Southern Illinoisan that if they return, the organizers are looking at the possibility of a spring date, rather than just a fall one. But first, he says, some type of exploratory committee needs to be formed to work out details between the organizers, the city and the fairgrounds.

Fair Manager John Rednour Jr., believes those details can be worked out.
"We just have to figure out how to do it without it being a problem to the city and I think we can do that," Rednour said.

Rednour has previously talked of keeping spectators on grounds throughout the two-day event. When the Street Machines were in Du Quoin before, attendees had to leave the fairgrounds at 5 p.m. and would then filter out in the community, which was the source of many problems associated with the event.

If it returns it would not only be a boost to DuQuoin, but surrounding counties as well. It could easily be a sell-out weekend to hotels not only for the host city but in communities in the arc from Carbondale to Marion and up to Mount Vernon.

Whether the street machines return or not in a couple of years, fans will be able to read about the DuQuoin years. Toby Brooks, author of a new book about the 1948 Illinois State League Champion West Frankfort Cardinals, is currently working on a book about the Street Machine Nationals during their years in DuQuoin.

Meanwhile, there's a "Bring the Street Machine Nationals Back to DuQuoin" Facebook page. So far, more than 3,500 fans and clicked that they "like" it.