Monday, December 17, 2012

Delta Grant to Improve Access to Walker's Bluff

Walker's Bluff likes to advertise they're the region's premiere entertainment destination, but actually getting there has never been easy.

Today's Southern Illinoisan notes that one of the new grants just announced from the Delta Regional Authority includes funds to upgrade the county line road that leads to the property.

Delta awarded more than $100,500 for improvements to Meridian Road in Williamson County as part of a $340,470 project for tourism asset expansion expected to create and retain 111 jobs.

The article doesn't name Walker's Bluff, but it's the only tourism asset in that area.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Street Machine Nationals Return to DuQuoin

The Street Machine Nationals will be returning to the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds this summer according to a story in yesterday's Southern Illinoisan.

The state and the sponsors have been negotiating since last November for what will be the 30th annual event that DuQuoin last hosted in 1998.

The three-day event from June 28-30 is expected to draw about 10,000 visitors to the city so make your hotel reservations now. This is the type of event that will fill rooms from Mount Vernon to Marion and Carbondale.

Fair Manager John Rednour said the event should generate a $3 to $4 million impact to the city and the surrounding region.
Interest in the event is already high, Rednour said.

“Our phones have been ringing off the hook. People want to know about the campgrounds, hotels. We’re expecting at least 10,000 the first year and that’s going to be great for Du Quoin and the surrounding area,” he said.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Romney Win = Boulder Creek on The Hill

At least that's what Marion Mayor Bob Butler seemed to be implying in an interview last week with WSIL-TV. It's also what he indicated in an interview I had with him last month.

The developers aren't crass enough to mention Mitt Romney by name, but based on what little the mayor is spilling and the simple facts that commentators nation-wide are repeating, many in America, particularly in the business sector are concerned that the country is not only going in the wrong direction, but could be going over a fiscal cliff with another recession very possible (as most of Europe is already in one).

The TV station quotes Butler as stating: "... most of the businesses interested in the space will wait until after the Presidential election to decide to build.

"If one candidate is elected president, they feel like one thing will happen in the economy. If another is elected perhaps they feel something else will happen," says Butler.

Considering that most of the businesses would be retailers it's understandable if they plan on waiting to see if a president is elected that actually supports the free markets, or one that believes in government control and slow growth.

Last month the discussion actually centered on one of the two major developers looking at the STAR bonds site who was waiting until after the election to make a decision.

No one is mentioning any names, whether it's presidential candidates or actual anchors to the proposed Boulder Creek at The Hill development. Either way we'll all know more in less than a month.

Developers Outline Plans for Marion's West Side

View Larger Map

I've been out of town and missed the news, but the Marion City Council moved forward on plans last week for a new 74-acre commercial office, retail and restaurant space development on the south side of Illinois Route 13 generally between Skyline Drive and the Burlington-Northern Railroad.

The site is owned by two locally-owned LLCs, Celeste Linha LLC and Cerrado LLC. Marion businessmen Ron Osman and Jim Reichert own the first one, and Osman is the principal investor in the second, according to an article in the Southern Illinoisan.

The largest tract south of Illinois Route 13 immediately west of Sam's Club has long shown disinterest in developing their property, at best only wanting to lease rather than sell. That has left the next tract across from Toys R' Us in a position of being unable to develop due to lack of access roads to Walton Way and Skyline Drive.

Now that IDOT is building the frontage road between those two roads and extending Marathon Drive south from the mall property to the new road, this property will have access. Owned by Phil Campbell, formerly of the old Campbell's Harley-Davidson dealership, now Black Diamond, he's been wanting to see this land developed ever since the Illinois Centre mall opened. Now he can.

The next tract to the west was the north end of the old Saluki National Golf Course fiasco from the early 1980s that sent the developer to jail. Many of the bodies of water visible in the satellite view date to the golf course. This is part of the 74 acres included in the redevelopment and I believe this is the Celeste Linha LLC property.

The fourth tract sits at the corner of Route 13 and Skyline and includes a large 35,000 sq. ft. building that Osman (Cerrado LLC) will tear down as part of the redevelopment. The building has been offices for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, a department store in the 1970s and was originally build as a furniture store in 1966 for Beiderman's Furniture, a national chain.

The St. Louis chain entered the Marion market in 1962 when it bought the Williams Furniture Store at 307-09 N. Market St., which had been in business for seven years. Today that location is the home of Bennie's Italian Foods.

Beiderman began work on the Skyline Drive location in 1966, in what was then an isolated commercial cluster at the intersection halfway between the interstate and Illinois Route 148. Lawrence Wohlwend had already been active in developing Westernaire Plaza at the intersection which included his Chrysler dealership where the current one remains. The new Beiderman store opened March 12, 1967. At the time it was one of the chain's 38 stores in the Midwest and one of 87 stores nationwide.

The city annexed the land the following month on April 5. The chain went under in 1974. A Valu-Store took its place and open in October 1976.

An effort earlier this decade at a new residential development on micro-sized lots drew the wrath of neighbors to the south and never materialized.

The Southern's story mentions that the city has agreed with taking out the railroad spur that crosses the old golf course property and will reimburse developers for a number of infrastructure costs with 75 percent of the city's 1 percent sales tax collected in the area.

The story did not mention any TIF monies being used, but the land, at least the Beiderman building is part of a TIF district. Demolition of the building, site preparation, and the construction of roads and utilities are all reimbursable expenses under TIFs.

Osman said the development has already been more than 20 years in the making, time which he's spent acquiring property and various tracts of land.

"It's kind of like giving birth to an elephant, it takes a long time," Osman said. "And it's still a long way from being done."

Work on the frontage road should be completed by the end of the year. Work will begin sometime on the new Illinois Route 13 overpass over Marathon Drive and the Burlington-Northern Railroad, despite the clear lack of enthusiasm for the project by anybody in City Hall, at the mall or just about anywhere else.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mr. Koolz Opens Wednesday, Others to Follow

The latest Marion eatery, Mr. Koolz' Frozen Yogurt is scheduled to open at 9 a.m. Wednesday for those who need some dessert following breakfast.

The business owned by County Board Chairman Brent Gentry and managed by Babe Ann Hoover is located immediately north of Black Diamond Harley-Davidson in the south end of what's was the Stevens' building and now is named Parkway Plaza.

Three other restaurants are scheduled to open as well over the next two months. Logan's Roadhouse is set for Sept. 16 and a story in Sunday's Southern Illinoisan also noted another steakhouse will open later in the month.

Sammy’s Steakhouse will open in Marion Plaza at 1000 N. Carbon in the space formerly occupied by the short-lived Home Style Buffet and Nong Chen. The site is undergoing extensive renovations. Long-time Marion Chef Sammy Mankin will serve up the specials.

The Southern also reported that Panera Bread should open late in October next to Drury Inn.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Walt's Pizza Expands in Marion

Marion's hometown pizza shrine Walt's Pizza is adding another topping to its eatery with a new delivery and carry-out center on the south side of their existing building.

Since 1977 owner Walter Nieds has sold more than 2 million pizzas from his store on South Court Street. The new addition will free up space in the kitchen and replace the somewhat cramped carry-out entrance in the front of the building.

Nieds applied for the building permit on Aug. 7 and construction began shortly thereafter.

The move is part of a larger trend of new eateries opening and older establishments expanding or renovating in town. The new ones being Logan's Roadhouse and Panera Break and those renovating over the last few years including McDonalds (new replacement building on Court, remodeled building at I-57) and Taco Bell.

And there's both additional restaurants looking at Marion as well as more remodeling/replacement of old buildings by existing ones.

Old West End Sees New Growth

Nieds' project at his location is also part of a developing trend of new investment along Court Street that's seen more than a million dollars of new construction underway or planned within about a five-block stretch of the highway, which besides the carryout facility includes a new Family Dollar store at the site of the old demolished Hardee's building, and a new office building for Clarida & Ziegler Engineering on North Court.

Around the corner on West Main Street the city continues planning work for a new multi-million dollar recreation and aquatics center at the old hospital site. The area is mostly all part of the recent Hub Tax Incrementing Financing District established by the city.

While most of the attention in Marion is directed to the area by the interstate traffic counts there in the heart of the city are 13,400 vehicles for Main Street west of Court (but that's 2006 figures), and 11,000 vehicles on the first couple of blocks of South Court and 12,500 vehicles on North Court, both as of 2011.

The creek that runs around and under the intersection of Court and Main was once named West End Creek as that was the western limits of development in Marion in the mid to late 19th Century.

Construction Picks Up

The $180,000 restaurant addition is part of nearly $1.8 million in projects permitted by the city this month. Other major projects include the $500,000 building for a new Family Dollar store at the corner of West Main and Court Streets, and an $850,000 addition to be built onto Heartland Christian Church at 900 E. Boyton St.

Construction over the summer started out slow in Marion with just three building permits in June, but has been picking up. If last year's $3.9 million expansion of Heartland Medical Center is taken out of consideration, then totals for this May through August are above last year's.

May saw $1,286,000 in projects this year compared with $800,000 last year. June saw $983,000 in projects compared with just $268,550 last year. July was down with only $1,148,500 this year compared to $4,514,000 last year, but that includes the 2011 hospital project, and August totals as of yesterday were $1,795,000 compared with $1,223,500 last year.

In other business Monday the city council decided it was time to rename Circuit City Road in the Robert L. Butler Industrial Park now that the bankrupt company's former warehouse has sold to new owners. Presumably the road is deservingly named for Glenn Clarida, the city's long-time engineer and only surviving member of the city's mid 20th Century-era planning commission other than the mayor himself who was appointed to the commission before being elected mayor in 1963.

If not, then it's named for the mayor's father-in-law, J. H. Clarida, who served as the city's mayor during the riotous Prohibition Era of the 1920s. I'm going with the former rather than the latter.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Harrisburg Hosts Car Show Monday

The Memory Lane Auto Fest returns to the Saline County Fairgrounds this Labor Day.

It's the second year for the festival organized by the Shawnee Classic Iron Auto Club and sponsored by the Saline County Tourism Bureau, Harrisburg Medical Center and Wallace Auto Parts.

My story in yesterday's Daily Register has the details.

The Fourth of July fireworks that were originally planned for this day have been moved again to the BBQ and Bluegrass Festival on the fairgrounds Oct. 6.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

E'town River Restaurant Expands

The famed E'town River Restaurant in E'town (that's Elizabethtown for those who like to spell out long names) has doubled its capacity with a new floating addition.

News Three reporter Stephanie Tyrpak of WSIL-TV has the story from earlier this month. With the new addition owner Patrick Joyner can now offer another 44 seats and has had to add two additional employees.

The restaurant, which floats on the Ohio River is located just across the street from the River Rose Inn and just down the street from the historic Rose Hotel, both on the Ohio River Scenic Byway.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Comfort Inn Opens, Logan's Roadhouse Sets Date

Marion's latest hotel Comfort Inn opened its doors to guests last month on July 20.

It's located at 2403 Black Diamond Drive behind Sao's Asian Bistro and McAlister's Deli on Morgan Avenue.

Although it sits back off the highway more than most of its competitors, its four stories overshadow the restaurants in front of it and so is visible even from the Illinois Route 13/Halfway Road intersection.

The new hotel has 64 rooms. It takes the place of the former Comfort Inn off of Exit 53. That is now a Quality Inn. Both brands are part of the Choice Hotels International family.

It's the second new hotel to open in Marion this year. A new Holiday Inn Express opened in May.

Down the street and round the bend construction work on Logan's Roadhouse is almost complete. The new restaurant is set to open Sept. 17, according to a sign out front.

The eatery will seat 180 guests which is a smaller model for the brand. In comparison O'Charley's in Marion sits 320.

It may be like Chili's in Carbondale which opened with a smaller venue and almost immediately added on to the facility.

Meanwhile work on the new Panera Bread store shows that it was almost in the dry when I took this photo last week. It should be fully enclosed by the time Hurricane Isaac's rains mark an official end of the drought this weekend.

It's located around the corner again from Logan's Roadhouse on the frontage road along Route 13 in between Drury Inn and America's Best Inns. Panera broke ground for the restaurant last month.

There are still at least two major chain restaurants looking at Marion not counting whatever is looking at the Millennium Development site - Boulder Creek at Marion. One of them is seriously looking at the land immediately north of Logan's. It's been listed as pending on the multiple listing service since earlier this year.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Irish Inn Owners Set to Retire

Today's Daily Register includes my story on the upcoming closing of the Irish Inn near Ozark in Pope County. Owners Brian and Lynne McCreery say it's time to retire after 12 years in the innkeeping business.

As I note in the story just in the last few years the inn has not only been named the "Small Business of the Year locally by the SIC Small Business Development Center in Harrisburg, but has received national recognition as among the Top 14 'Most Romantic,' the Top 10 'Fido Friendly,' and the 'Most International B&B in North America' to just name a few."

Lynne remains a strong supporter of tourism in the region and had good recommendations for those who want to go into the lodging business.

Check out the story for more.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Benton Civic Center Upgrades Building

The expansion and upgrade of the Benton Civic Center is taking longer than expected.

The new finish date is now projected for sometime in October compared to the original Sept. 1 date, according to a story in the Benton Evening News this week.

The project has been three years in the making. In the end the center will be bigger and better say officials allowing them to hold larger concerts and events.

Architect Brian Edmison said the state-of-the-art facility would include a 6,000-foot stage adding the stage would extend 36 feet beyond the former back wall.

“The roof will be 50 feet tall,” he said. “The only thing taller in Franklin County will be the Wood Building. That excludes towers and other structures. The height is needed to raise and lower scenery for theatrical productions.”

Edmison said two side sections would also be renovated to elevate the floor and install an orchestra pit 6 feet, 6 inches below the stage.

Click here for a slide show of the construction progress.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Investors Target Area for Tourism Projects

Hardin County
Two cabins at Timber Ridge Outpost and Cabins opened Memorial Day weekend just off of Karbers Ridge Road a couple of miles away from Garden of the Gods.

Timber Ridge also opened one of their tree houses last week and a larger one now under construction should be finished by Sept. 1.

Elizabeth Canfarelli, one of the owners tells more about the idea for the tree houses.

A video gaming parlor is being planned for the former Fox Cleaners location at the north end of Parker Plaza, according to shopping center's property manager. No application with the state has been filed yet. At least four other establishments have applied for video gaming licenses with the Illinois Gaming Board.

Logan's Roadhouse is wrapping up construction on Halfway Road around the road from a new Panera Bread and another restaurant is looking at the land immediately north of them. The Marion location will be the fourth in Illinois for Logan's.

Mr. Koolz Frozen Yogurt is coming to the former Stevens building on Williamson County Parkway across from Walmart and next door to Black Diamond Harley-Davidson. Rent One has purchased the building and is in the process of remodeling it.

Williamson County Commissioner Brent Gentry is opening the new establishment. According to the store's Facebook page, construction is under way and plans are to open next month in August.

The Southern Illinoisan reported Monday that Martin Schaldemose, owner of the Old Train Depot is planning a major renovation of the historic structure in the 1700 block of West Walnut Street.

The owner said he hoped to begin major reconstruction in two months. He plans to knock out a southwest wall to make space for a larger kitchen. He also said he’s going to build an addition on the west side of the building to increase seating.

He would like to have a café with pastry and fine coffees during the day and transform the space into a “classy and cozy” restaurant with hints of French decorating at night.

A separate building south of the depot would be converted into an ice cream stand and bakery.

Panera Bread Co. Breaks Ground in Marion

Panera Bread broke ground last week next door to Drury Inn. They've been reportedly looking at the area in detail for the last few months, but have been viewing Marion as a possible expansion site for years.

Company spokesperson Kelli Nicholson told Southern Illinois Tourism News today that they hope to open by the Christmas shopping season.

"We are still in process of nailing down a grand opening date, but it’s looking like it will open mid to late November 2012," Nicholson said. "We have been looking for the perfect opportunity in Marion for several years, and now we feel we have a great location to serve the Marion community."

"We have a successful café located in Carbondale, IL that has a lot of customers that travel from Marion to Carbondale to eat at Panera several times per week, so we’re hoping we’ll be well received in Marion! The new café will have a nice patio with plenty of parking. Additionally, we offer a great catering service, where we offer a special menu for larger groups and delivery is available."

The building permit shows an estimated cost of $801,000 for the new restaurant's construction.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Movement Made in Marion STAR Bonds

Since the two-year anniversary of Gov. Pat Quinn's signing of the STAR Bonds legislation for Marion in June, more details are slowly coming out about two of three key components about the project.

I reported in The Daily Register of Harrisburg on July 10, "Quietly, progress made in STAR Bonds deal" with both Marion Mayor Bob Butler and state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, confirming a high-level meeting at Rent One Park between local officials, Holland officials and developers.

Both guarded their comments due to a two-page confidentiality agreement they signed at the meeting, but both were definitely brighter and more upbeat than their comments made a year ago.

Now, there's "two principals showing great interest," according to Marion Mayor Bob Butler. "Everything's coming along as well as could be expected at this point."

A few days later Chad Holland spoke to the Southern Illinoisan and WSIL-TV with additional information. He didn't name names, but at least identified what categories the "two principals" would fill in the development.

As the television station reported July 17:

"Right now we're working with a destination user and a destination hotel, which is a water park hotel," said Chad Holland of Holland Construction, lead developer on the project.

The groups are still negotiating a deal, but Holland said they're serious about coming.

"They've been to Marion a couple of times. They're doing economic impact studies, they're doing site plans. I talked to the destination user on Wednesday last week, and they're deciding what size store they want to build."

To put that in context, those would be something along the lines of a Great Wolf Lodge for the hotel and a Cabela's or Bass Pro Shop for the destination user. I have no idea if those are the companies involved, but those have been the names bandied about two years ago when the Hollands were still giving examples.

The STAR Bonds legislation set a requirement of at least one (and no more than two) destination user(s) or major retailers, and one entertainment user (theme park or other major tourist destination driver) in order for the district to be activated. The destination hotel was something added to the Marion legislation that wasn't in the Glen Carbon version of the bill. It's not required to kick-start the project, but its tourist draw makes it an indirect requirement since the legislation allows for a smaller entertainment user than the early versions of the legislation required.

The whole idea behind the STAR Bonds is that it only makes sense for the state to subsidize the associated retail development if the shoppers are mostly from surrounding states and not simply cannibalizing existing in-state stores. Thus the need for the tourist attractions.

Holland told the Southern Illinoisan additional information about the number of times the developers have visited Marion.

The destination user has been to Marion twice, the company’s owner once and representative of the water park hotel have visited the city twice, Holland said.

“Things are progressing, right now we’re at their mercy,” he said. “They move as fast as they want to move.”

... Holland said the owner of a destination user told him he loved the spot, wanted to build in Marion and wanted to fore-go a letter of intent in favor of committing to a lease or sales contract.

The developers of both projects are currently doing site studies and economic analyzes to determine the site of their stores. Both media outlets reported Holland expecting some announcements in the next couple of months.

No word yet on an entertainment user, which suggests they've already got something lined up.

In order to be approved by the Illinois Department of Revenue the law requires a master plan must be developed showing at least $100 million in investments that would generate at least $100 million in annual sales taxes as well as the creation of a minimum of 500 jobs.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Oil Leasing Boom Boosting Mount Vernon Occupancy

According to oil and gas officials by way of a Southern Illinois lawmaker the flurry of oil and gas leasing in the east half of the region in preparation for a potentially massive oil boom has already boosted occupancy rates in Mount Vernon. Neighboring Wayne County and Hamilton County are the current hot spots for leasing after three companies started in Saline County last year.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, passed along the tidbit Thursday during the last day of the spring session in what was either the second or third interview of the day. A surprise move by a liberal college-town representative change an all-parties agreed upon fracking bill into one that would cause a two-year moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing, a technique that's been used for more than 60 years in Illinois.

Phelps and region's other lawmakers of both political persuasions blocked consideration of the bill and possibly saved hundreds if not thousands of potential jobs coming to the region. Fracking and horizontal drilling is expected to begin this summer. If they find oil in the New Albany Shale formation about a mile under the surface like they have in the Bakken formation up in North Dakota all bets are off for the region.

My story quotes Phelps as describing it as a potential $100 billion industry. I'm pretty sure that was with a "b" and not an "m" in the figures. Already oil and gas officials briefed lawmakers Thursday about the current impact of the potential boom.

Phelps noted that right now he was told, "(We) have 200 land men in Southern Illinois representing 10 companies. Hotel occupancies are up 20 percent in Mount Vernon alone."

My story from April talks more about the history of fracking in the region.

Southern Illinois lawmakers aren't the only ones who have been briefed about the potential for the region.

Even U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois who has been vocal in his support of new federal regulations targeting the use of coal expressed support for fracking during his visit to Harrisburg earlier [in April].

"You know we're going to ask all the right questions because there are legitimate concerns, but we've found it can be done safely if it is carefully regulated. We don't want in any way to contaminate water supplies in the process. We don't want to put anyone's public health in danger. We just want it done in a thoughtful careful manner that will call for some government oversight and regulation to make it work," Durbin explained.

...the Democratic senator would rather see the regulations take place at the federal level...

"If it can be done in that way it's a source of energy that we never dreamed of that's just sitting there waiting to be tapped," said Durbin who remained coy at giving an exact value to its potential, only pointing to the oil boom taking place in the Bakkan shale formation in North Dakota...

So how big is the Bakken boom? Well, first, Mount Vernon's higher occupancy rates may only be the beginning.

Williston, N.D., is the center of the new oil boom. KPAX-TV reported May 8 that Williston saw 10 hotels open last year with six or seven ready to open later his summer. At one point the Holiday Inn was charging $250 a night.

When I wrote my story quoting Durbin, North Dakota was the nation's third-largest oil-producing state. Since then on May 15, the Wall Street Journal reported North Dakota has now surpassed Alaska as the nation's second largest oil-producing state. Only Texas produces more oil.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Belleville Pursues Hotel on Illinois Route 15

The Belleville News-Democrat has a story this afternoon about their mayor's desire for a new hotel on the city's west side at Belleville Crossing.

BELLEVILLE -- Mayor Mark Eckert has said for the past several years that the sour economy has kept development at bay, but he thinks the time may be right to tackle new ventures again.

He and The DESCO Group, the developer of Belleville Crossing on Illinois 15, are talking about the possibility of a hotel in that area. He said the two parties agree that, with the economy bouncing back, the area is ripe for opportunity.

"I'm asked all the time: Why aren't we going after a hotel?" Eckert said. "It is time to start to pursue this again."

The story notes a developer backed out after the recession started in 2007 who wanted to build a Hampton Inn.

There's hope yet for Belleville. Marion's two newest hotels, the new Holiday Inn Express & Suites and the Comfort Inn now under construction were both 2007 projects that were sidelined by the recession but have since made a comeback.

The challenge for Belleville is that the location is in the opposite direction of the interstate highways.

Holiday Inn Express Opens in Marion

The new Holiday Inn Express & Suites opened on The Hill in Marion May 6 just in time for the busy SIU-C graduation weekend. Stephen Rickerl has the story in the Southern which focuses on more about the The Hill's growth itself.

The opening of the new hotel adds 101 rooms for Marion. The former Holiday Inn Express off of Exit 53 is now Best Western Plus Marion Hotel. Meanwhile progress continues on a new Comfort Inn which will add 64 rooms.

The new room count should be around 1273 for Marion and 1411 overall for Williamson County, however it's possible another 50 or so rooms will disappear in the next year as developers eye America's Best Inns for new restaurants. Additional rooms may be lost at another older hotel if the owners go through with a renovation to combine rooms and create new suites.

In another name change, the original Ramada Inn and most recently a Days Inn, switched flags and is now an American's Best Value Inn.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Harrisburg Targets TIFs for Growth

View Proposed Harrisburg TIF Districts in a larger map

The City of Harrisburg is looking to aggressively use tax increment financing districts (TIFs) to not rebuild following the devastating Feb. 29 tornado but also growth their economy with new developments along Illinois Route 13 Bypass which recently opened up completely.

I've got a story in today Daily Register about the background on the plans. Mayor Eric Gregg indicated following their city council meeting tonight that council will take up the TIFs at a special meeting on Monday, April 30.

They already set a continued meeting for that morning at 8 a.m. to pass a budget before the beginning of the city's new fiscal year in May. The special meeting will likely immediately follow.

The city's already working with lawmakers to get their 22-year-old TIF I an extension for another 12 years. A proposed TIF II would run along the new bypass, named the Bill Franks Way. TIF III would cover the area on the south side of the city hit by the tornado.

There's no specific tourism component in these TIF plans, but the city's two modern hotels, the Super 8 and Comfort Inn were both built within TIF I during its early years. The Saline County Tourism Board and some of those interested in TIF II have long sought a new higher end lodging establishment.

Most of the commercial development, both retail and hospitality are mostly located along U.S. Route 45 on the city's east side. The new bypass offers potential of a new east-west business corridor creating a 7-shaped business district.

Saline County Commissioners apparently endorsed the extension of TIF I Tuesday night at a special meeting where they approved an option to purchase nine acres of county property along the north side of the bypass for a major new residential project. It lays in both TIF I as well as the portion of the first TIF that is being added to the new TIF II.

The city needs the written support of the major taxing bodies by the end of next week so state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, and state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, and attached language to an existing TIF bill to extend the life of TIF I. The end of the spring legislation session is quickly approaching in May.

The next step for TIF II is a city council vote approving the feasibility study. For TIF III they need to officially hire the TIF consultant and begin the work on third TIF.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Marion Doubles Hotel Bed Tax

The Marion City Council approved a measure Monday night that would double the city's bed tax adding a 5 percent hotel "use" tax to the existing 5 percent hotel "occupation" tax.

The new 10 percent local tax compares with Carbondale's 8 percent rate and Mount Vernon's 5 percent plus $2/night rates. Adding the state's 6 percent rate, tourists in Marion would pay an overall rate of 16 percent.

The Southern reports that the funds would help the city pay for a new community center and other projects.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Logan's Roadhouse Breaks Ground in Marion

Site prep work began last week on two commercial projects on Marion's west side, a $650,000 Logan's Roadhouse at 1201 Halfway Rd, and a new One Stop Smoke Shop & Liquor Shop at 2701 W. DeYoung at the site of the former Amoco service station torn down last spring.

Logan's Roadhouse purchased the 1.65 acre site of the old Wolohan Lumber building last month.

Both Logan's and the One Stop establishments took out building permits in March.

The other commercial projects taking out permits in March included a $2.7 million nursing home addition at 3116 Williamson County Parkway, a $450,000 building for Five Brothers Lawn & Tractor at 1300 E. Main Street and a $135,000 production building for Timberline Fisheries at 201 Timberline Road.

Although there wasn't much to see today, this week marks the official start of construction on the new redo of Exit 54, the Interstate 57/Illinois Route 13 single point interchange.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Land Deals Signal New Restaurants for Marion

View Larger Map

Now that Marion has two hotels under construction — a new Holiday Inn Express and a Comfort Inn — expect new restaurants to quickly follow.

Wolohan Enterprises sold 1.65 acres Monday to Logan’s Roadhouse. The land lays along Halfway Road opposite America’s Best Inns. Though not publicly confirmed, area construction sources indicate bids have already been submitted for the new restaurant.

The land sale is the second piece of the old Wolohan Lumber Co. property sold since they closed the store and tore down the building six years ago. They sold the first parcel five years ago to Newcomb Oil Co. for the FiveStar Food Mart convenience store that opened Dec. 6, 2007.

Wolohan Capital Strategies tried to sell the rest of the land on their own, but the recession kept buyers away. Eventually they listed the remaining 10.56 acres with Dave Thompson Realty on April 23, 2009 for $9.33 a sq. ft. for the entire tract. Buyers wanting a smaller piece could pay $15 a sq. ft. for a 1.5 acre corner.

That might have been a bargain as the latest sale (Lot 1) brought that price and the company re-listed the remaining property in three other lots, all priced at $15 a sq. ft. as well.

Now, a second buyer wants Lot 2 just to the north on Halfway Road. This 1.5 acre tract sits opposite Country Inn & Suites and a potential sale is listed as “pending” in the multiple listing service of the Egyptian Board of Realtors. Thompson confirmed the buyer as another restaurant.

Contrary to rumors the land won’t be the future home of a relocated and enlarged existing Marion restaurant known for its seafood. Instead, think of it as a blast from Marion’s past making a return to the Hub of the Universe.

Wolohan’s Lot 3 covers 4.65 acres on the south side of Morgan Avenue opposite MidCountry Bank and the new Holiday Inn Express. Halfway Road bounds it on the west and a proposed new access road, Hill View Way, on the east. Lot 4’s 2.53 acres lay on the south side of Morgan Avenue with Hill View Way on the west and south and AmerenCIPS’ substation on the east.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is paying for the street which will allow access to the former Village Green property next to the interstate. IDOT bought the access rights from that property to Morgan Avenue for the new expanded overpass expected to be let for bids later this year. According to the listing for Lot 4, construction on the street should be finished later in the summer.

IDOT included funding for the new street in the larger I-57/Rt. 13 interchange project which will start April 2.

Two other restaurants are known to be considering sites below The Hill though no deal appears to have been consummated. Across the highway on the south side of Route 13, three existing restaurants have either renovated, updated or have been replaced. McDonald’s held its grand-reopening at the beginning of the month for its remodeled facility. The truck stop reopened at a Pilot Travel Center last December with a new Subway and farther west, Taco Bell has also underwent a facelift.

East of the interstate look for KFC to be the next one building with plans already submitted to the city for a new restaurant located in what’s now their east parking lot.

For more information on Marion's real estate market, or assistance in buying and selling real estate in the region, contact the author of this blog, Jon Musgrave, a Realtor with Paul Wilson Realty LLC of Marion, Illinois.

Carterville Eyes New June Festival

The Carterville Heritage & Preservation Commission wants a new summer festival according to the Southern Illinoisan online.

The new festival is scheduled for the weekend of June 1-2. A planning meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall
Festival volunteers are needed and a kick-off meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday in city hall, 101 S. Division St. Some of the events being planned include a “Battle of the Bands” contest, a washer tournament, kids races and a flower/art show, [Carterville Consultant Jennifer] Spence said.

Money raised from the two-day event will go to the Carterville Heritage & Preservation Foundation. Local and civic organizations and churches have a fund-raising opportunity through vendor booth offerings, Spence said.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Illinois Tourism Changes PR Firms

After a two-decade long relationship the Illinois Office of Tourism is leaving Edelman and going with Fleishman-Hillard in a $14 million multi-year tourism PR contract. PR Week broke the story this morning.

Elks Eye Harrisburg For Tourism Development

In one of the bright bits of news out of Harrisburg since the Leap Day Tornado struck killing seven, the Harrisburg Elks recently briefed the Saline County Tourism Board on plans for a new family-oriented resort on the city's east side.

Called Elkside, the five-fold plan will be located on 11 acres at 220 S. Missouri St. that last housed the Lakeside Bar & Grill.
The Harrisburg Elks Lodge 1058 has bought the old Lakeside Bar and Grill between Sam Jones Lake and Missouri Street in Harrisburg with plans to turn it into the new lodge hall. Flooding in the spring of 2011 damaged the existing building and the Elks have plans to build a new 8,400 square foot lodge that can be rented to the public as a banquet hall.

In order to help finance such a building the lodge has plans to create five new businesses on the 11-acre property. Those include a swimming beach on the lake members intend to have open by Memorial Day, fishing in the lake, a concessionaire to take money and sell refreshments, a pavilion with fireplace using the old Lakeside Building structure that may be rented for events and a campground of 20 sites with most being able to support RVs.
The only problem right now is financing.
"Honestly, we don't have the wherewithal at this point to continue with actually putting electrical into the ground because we've got all these other things going on. If we can come up with a grant we can match I believe our trustees and membership would quickly jump on the chance at developing that," [Elks member John] Gardner said.

The tourism board suggested they talk to the Southeastern Illinois Planning and Development Commission.

They should also check out state's Tourism Attraction Development Program grants through DCEO. As of last month only one grant had been awarded in this program, but they were still taking applications with the assumption that funds would be released later this fiscal year which ends June 30.

If the Elks pay property taxes on this project, and I'm not sure at this point, then they and the city should look at the possibility of tax increment financing. The flooded and shuttered bar and grill would certainly qualify as blighted. A number of aspects of this project would qualify for TIF reimbursements.

In a separate project state officials announced $1 million to raise Missouri Street above the 100-year flood plain to allow better access to Harrisburg Medical Center. The street runs from Route 13 south to the hill at Gaskins City where the hospital sits. However the street for the most part is located just outside the levee. Construction is expected to start as early as August and finish by the Spring of 2013.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Carbondale Times Highlights Issues in CCTB

Geoffrey Ritter at the Carbondale Times may be one of the best investigative reporters in Southern Illinois right now. A long story a few years ago in the Herrin Independent about the issues behind Herrinfesta finally explained to me the issues facing the festival. Now, he's digging into the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau.

For those not knowing what was happening behind the scenes, this reveals it.

I'd seen where the the mayor and city council had expressed concerns in the Southern Illinoisan, and for the first time there were cracks in the normal favorable coverage of the bureau. In the end, the city cut $50,000 worth of funding this year.

Ritter digged deeper and reports on the nepotism issues long known to those in the tourism world.
The Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau director’s practice of steering jobs and taxpayer funding to her daughter stretches back years, a continuing investigation by the Times has revealed, and totals at the very least in the tens of thousands of dollars.
In addition, the practice of familial patronage has extended to the very center of major initiatives undertaken over the past decade by CCTB Executive Director Debbie Moore, among them the establishment of a tourism curriculum at John A. Logan College and the formation of a culinary tourism project initially operated out of SIU.
The rest of the article can be found here. The story builds on their earlier coverage in February.

Eight seats on the tourism board are up as of April 30. The Times' headline (print edition only) indicated the mayor planned to name new people.
City Council Member Jane Adams was very critical of agency at public meetings in February as D. W. Norris reported in the Southern.

"A number of people tell me they have contacted CCTB and never get called back," Adams said.

Adams also wondered why CCTB's budget was not more in depth as far as expenses, at one point saying, "I guess I just don't understand your budget."

...Adams was also critical of CCTB's website, which has a low number of visits, non-functioning tools and a calendar with few events listed.

"In terms of tourism websites ... it's an embarrassment," Adams said.
 Adams had more on her blog earlier this month.
The issue of funding the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) has brought me more mail and phone calls than any other issue I have written about. Almost all of these constituents called on Council to defund the agency, and many have detailed complaints about how the Bureau has been run. I have, frankly, been surprised by the depth of feeling this issue has aroused.
 For once I won't comment further.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

State Taking Reservations for Campsites, Shelters

 From the Illinois Department of Natural Resources:
SPRINGFIELD, IL – With the busy spring and summer camping seasons approaching, Illinois residents and visitors can make reservations now for campsites, cabins, group campsites and shelters at many Illinois state parks by using the online Reserve America reservation system at

“For a weekend getaway or an extended stay at a beautiful Illinois campground, the online reservation system is the most convenient way for visitors to our state parks, fish and wildlife and state recreation areas to ensure their campsite is waiting for them when they arrive,” said IDNR Director Marc Miller.

Reserving campsites and shelters through Reserve America’s website allows users to receive instant confirmation of their reservations at IDNR sites.  The IDNR no longer accepts camping and shelter reservations through the mail or over the phone.

The online reservation system for regular campsites and group campsites requires a $5 non-refundable reservation fee and payment of the full camping and utility fees at the time the reservation is made. MasterCard and Visa may be used to make those reservations. Camping fee information for IDNR sites is available at this link through the IDNR website.

Payment of the entire camping and utility fee amount will guarantee that the reservation will be held for the entire length of the stay. Shelter reservation fees are $25.

Campsites can be reserved for a maximum of 14 nights per 30-day period and reservations must be made at least seven days (three days at some facilities) before the campsite is needed. Reservations for some holiday weekends may require a two- or three-night minimum stay reservation, depending on the facility.

Campsite reservations through the online system are available at 67 of Illinois’ state parks and other sites managed by the IDNR.  Shelter reservations are available at 51 sites.  Campsites that are not subject to reservation at IDNR sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The IDNR is also recruiting campground hosts for some sites.  For more information on the campground host program, phone 217/785-8129 or use this link.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Inheritance Valley Vineyards Closes Doors

I just found out tonight that the owners of Inheritance Valley Vineyards, Tim and Kendell Wendell, decided to close down at the end of last fall. They were the smallest producer on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. They wines will be missed.

For fans of their product, Rustle Hill Winery in Cobden bought out their remaining stock.

For now, watch and see what will be missed on the wine trail. The winery opened in 2003 after producing their first wines in 2002.

Tom's Place Owners Celebrate 15th Anniversary

It was a $10,000 night last Thursday at Tom's Place as the owners celebrated their 15th anniversary at the historic roadhouse eatery north of DeSoto. Five Danish master chefs (the owner Lasse Sorensen is Danish) each prepared one course of a five course meal to 80 guests who paid $125 each for the event.

The Southern has the story.
Each course was painstakingly planned out among the chefs using traditional Danish ingredients, but Sorensen said the catch in planning the menu was that no chef could use ingredients featured in one of the other courses.

The result of the planning was a Danish Cod prepared by Jan Sorensen, Lobster Mousseline by Lasse Sorensen, Black and White Winter Salad by Lars Kronmark, Roast Guinea Fowl by Kurt Kjaer Jensen and Apple Lady Pompadour by Gert Sorensen.

Congratulations to the Sorensens for their milestone and to the lucky 80 who sat down for dinner. Tickets sold out in three days leaving 100 on the waiting list.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

IDOT to Open Bids Friday for Marion Interchange

Bids for the biggest improvement in Marion's interstate access in 50 years will be opened Friday at 10 a.m. in the Springfield headquarters of the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Morgan Ave Interchange and new I-57/Rt. 13 Single-Point Interchange
Contract No. 78182 includes a $45 million new single-point interchange for Interstate 57 at Illinois Rt. 13 as well as expands the state highway to six lanes. In addition the project includes two new ramps for Morgan Avenue.

The price tag of course represents IDOT's estimates from last year. The agency will know better the actual costs once they processed the bids.

The map at left shows the outlines of the new ramps which will include two bridges for the Morgan Avenue ramps that will "fly-over" the I-57 ramps. (Note: The map is aligned with North at the left side, and not at the top.)

Here's a few random stats:
  • 4 ramps replaced, 2 new ramps added,
  • 2 new temporary sets of stoplights on Rt 13,
  • 3 new sets of permanent stoplights (one on Rt. 13 and two on Morgan Ave.),
  • 127 aluminum light poles,
  • Nearly 20.4 miles of preformed plastic pavement marking-line (107,620 ft),
  • 5 buildings to remove, including the tennis court at the old Holiday Inn,
  • 10.2 miles of pipe under drains (53,880 ft.),
  • 1.05 miles of storm sewers (5,588 ft.) ,
  • More than 1.5 miles of  electric cable in conduit,
  • Almost 584 tons of  epoxy-coated reinforcement bars, and,
  • 147 acres of seeding for grassy areas.

The single-point interchange will mean the end of Exit 54's clover-leaf design and the dangerous merging lanes both on the interstate and on Route 13 underneath the overpass.

Single-Point Interchange on Route 13 under the I-57 overpass
During the construction phase crews will open new temporary ramps which will transform the clover-leaf into a diamond design. As part of that project two new sets of stoplights will be added at the new intersections.

With the temporary ramps in place crews can take out the existing ramps and start to work on the new ramps which will all converge at a single point underneath the rebuilt overpass. There drivers will face a new set of stoplights.

When that's finished the temporary ramps and their stoplights on Route 13 will be removed.

During construction IDOT plans to shift all interstate traffic to one side (making one lane in one direction and two lanes in the opposite) while they take out the existing overpass and replace it with a new one. Then when one side is finished they'll do the other.

From what I can tell of the plans, while the project includes two new ramps for Morgan Avenue it doesn't include the new overpass, cross-over lanes and the widening of Morgan. If I understand correctly that's an $8 million project whose tab the city if picking up. Revenue from the city's new STAR Bonds District is expected to cover those costs. Should that fail to happen the city can just attach the ramps to the existing road and overpass.

Proposed Hill View Way off of Morgan Avenue
Already, IDOT has acquired right-of-way and access rights to the Village Green property immediately to the southwest of Morgan Avenue interchange. Because that property won't be able to access Morgan Avenue from its current entrance once the Morgan Avenue improvements are made, IDOT plans a new road — Hill View Way — to provide access.

That not only helps the mobile home dealership (they've already in the process of moving the business to Johnston City) sell to future developers, but also Wolohan's land which gets a new outlot ready for development and opens up the back side of the old Holiday Inn property and the vacant land on the north end of the combined Foley-Sweitzer/Cash-Baker Chevrolet dealerships that's merged into the new Marion Chevrolet-Cadillac.

The full plans for the construction can be found on the IDOT website.

The only downside of the project will be the construction zone driving. It looks to be a two-year project with a completion date of July 1, 2014.

One more item — in accordance with Gov. Pat Quinn's Executive Order #2010-03, the construction will require a Project Labor Agreement.

The governor's office defines Project Labor Agreements as "a form of pre-hire collective bargaining agreement covering all terms and conditions of employment on a specific project, can ensure the highest standards of quality and efficiency at the lowest responsible cost on appropriate public works projects..."

... [P]roject labor agreements provide for peaceful, orderly and mutually binding procedures for resolving labor issues without labor disruption, preventing significant lost-time on construction projects; and ... allow public agencies to predict more accurately the actual cost of the public works project; and ... can be of particular benefit to complex construction projects.
The free market Illinois Policy Institute disagrees:
Project Labor Agreements drive up the cost of construction projects by limiting bidders and forcing contractors to use union workers, pay into union benefit plans, and follow outmoded and inefficient union work rules
Still, it's $45 million being pumped into the local economy over the next two years, safer roads (eventually, once the construction's finished), and new areas for economic development. It's a big deal for Marion and all of Southern Illinois.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Expect More at Historic Tom's Place in 2012

Lasse and Maryjane Sorensen, owners of Tom's Place, arguably the premiere food establishment in Southern Illinois, will celebrate their 15th year as owners of the historic restaurant in 2012. With the anniversary will come additional improvements.

The Southern Illinoisan ran a nice feature Sunday on the former '20s roadhouse. Today, Tom's Place is "one of 3,000 worldwide to have earned a Wine Spectator Award and was awarded a five-star Award of Excellence from the North American Restaurant Association."

It's come a long way since around 1923 when Tom Endsley opened his place one and a half miles north of DeSoto on the hard road that was then Illinois Rt. 2, now U.S. Rt. 51. Fried chicken and frog legs topped the menu then. Now, "the menu will often feature items like guinea fowl, Boston lobsters, oysters from the Pacific Northwest and fish from both coasts."
This year, the Sorensens have many special plans for celebrating 15 years in the business, including special events geared at introducing new customers to Tom's Place by offering a lower price point. A calendar of events for the year will soon be released on the restaurant's website.

Among the highlights are a prime rib night, the annual Easter breakfast buffet, weekly wine dinners, a morel mushroom feast and an evening of Spanish cuisine.

It all sounds good. My only complaint was that the article didn't have nearly as much history as I would have liked, so here's a bit more from my Bloody Williamson research.

During Prohibition agents raided the roadhouse a few times, but unlike other establishments, Endsley focused on the food and entertainment.

On July 6, 1928, a prohibition agent visited Tom’s Place pretending to be a former druggist wanting to sell his stock of medicinal alcohol to Endsley. After they talked for a while Endsley brought out a couple of beers for the two men to drink.

A few days later a larger group of prohibition agents arrived and confiscated several bottles of “alleged home brew” from his ice book. The Murphysboro paper noted that the “men were socialable, bought cigars and sandwiches for themselves and some patrons who happened to be in there at the time. They called Tom by his first name and were congenially inclined.”

Endsley asked one of the agents why they raided him so much. “We told him he should just sell to his friends.”

In 1929, he advertised "Tom's New Place," though it's not clear if he meant a new location or just a new addition to the building.

The raids didn't bother his business. By the end of the decade he was hosting the Carbondale chapter of the Business & Professional Women's luncheons, as well as regular weekly dinners for bridge clubs. He added a miniature golf course no later than 1930 and three outdoor bowling lanes in 1931.

Endsley sold the restaurant to Frank Moroni in 1940, who took over Sunday morning, Sept. 1. Here's how The Daily Independent in Murphysboro covered it on Aug. 28.
Thomas Endsley, proprietor of the tavern for 17 years, verified reports of the deal today and said that “everything will be turned over to Mr. Moroni next Sunday morning.”

Mr. Endsley spoke of Moroni as an experienced caterer who formerly had the management of The Villa, a tavern not far north in State Route 3 of the Colony Club, near the Cape Girardeau “Y.” He expressed the wish that his patrons continue to favor the tavern of their preference.

Mr. and Mrs. Endsley intend to rest for several months. Then Mr. Endsley will turn his attention to some other pursuit, he said.

“Tom’s Place” was built on its reputation for fried frog legs and chicken, and good management. Mr. Endssey, who has been county supervisor for years from De Soto, for some time had intended to retire from the business. He had erected a splendid home at DeSoto with this in mind and enjoys a 150-acre tract for fishing and hunting in the “wilds” of the strip mine country, which he is developing.

Mr. Endsley said Moroni intends to retrain the present tavern personnel.

As for Moroni, he had a long history in the hospitality industry. His father Louis had previously operated the Ozark Hotel and Sanitarium at Creal Springs in the 1920s and 30s. Before that his father and uncles ran taverns throughout Williamson County both before and during Prohibition.

A few of the uncles ended up in Leavenworth, a brother went to Menard. One uncle didn't. When the Klan targeted Tony Moroni's joint at Quarterway (that was halfway between Marion and Charlie Birger's early joints at Halfway), in their first big raid in December 1923, Uncle Tony managed to avoid capture. Thanks to help from the anti-Klan state's attorney Delos Duty he managed to escape to Detroit where he secured a passport and headed back to Italy for an extended family get-together with the relatives who hadn't come over.

Duty had used him as an interpreter in the Settemi DeSantis murder trial three years earlier and the two had become close friends. When he got back a year later Duty married his daughter. It's all in my upcoming book, DeSantis the Doomed and the Curse of the Black Hand, which will come out later this winter and be available at

By the 1940s Frank Moroni also ran the Franklin Hotel on the northwest corner of the square in Carbondale at the corner of Jackson and Illinois Ave. In 1962, Duncan Hines Travel Books gave Tom's Place national recognition by listing it in their "adventures in good eating" section.

Moroni operated Tom's Place for nearly 28 years before selling it to P. M. "River" Hewitt in April 1968.