Thursday, September 19, 2013

Downtown Upgrades on Focus for Marion, Mount Vernon

Rare Chop House at 224 S. 10th St. in Mount Vernon.
New restaurants and new projects have targeted the downtowns of the King City and the Hub of the Universe this summer.

Developed behind the scenes by an executive of a local industry who saw the need for a top of the line restaurant in town the new Rare Chop House held its grand opening August 29. It's located in a restored three-story downtown building at 224 S. 10th St. in Mount Vernon, one block south of the courthouse on Illinois Rt. 37. The building formerly was home to a True Value franchise.

The website at is just a page with basic information at the moment. More information can be found at the establishment's Facebook page. Jason Piercy is general management and hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

At a book signing last week at the former Grenada Theatre, now the Grenada Center for the Performing Arts, I learned that a new independent book store will be moving in next door. The owners say they are six to nine months away from opening.

The city's use of tax increment financing appears to be paying off. The downtown buildings looked as good as I've ever seen them.

The relatively new Hub TIF District in Marion is also starting to see payoffs for the downtown area.

Purple Peacock and Latta Java at 410-412 N. Market St. in Marion
After Hurst-Roche Engineers rehabbed 200 N. Market St. two years ago with a covered porch, a second building is adding a permanent cover for its customers as well as some outdoor living space on the second floor.

The Purple Peacock has been upgrading its buildings over the last year further up the street. The building hosts both the antique store as well as Latta Java, a local coffee shop.

New restaurants and bars are also looking at downtown.
The Vault Cafe opened earlier this year on the ground floor of the historic five-story Marion State and Savings Bank building at 504 Tower Square Plaza.

Also the old Marion City Hall at 100 Tower Square Plaza is also currently undergoing renovation for what is supposed to be a restaurant. Just down the alley the former Mollie's that sold last year has reopened as Miss Kitty's Cathouse and Lounge. On East Main Street a new Mexican restaurant is under construction across from Washington Grade School.

City officials hope to see the trend continue. They will be holding a meeting with business and building owners in the downtown area in early October to go over details of a new $10,000 low interest loan program for building upgrades and improvements.

Friday, September 13, 2013

I-57 Interchange Ahead of Schedule

The massive two-year I-57/IL Rt 13 interchange project in Marion that isn't supposed to be finished until next year may open fully finished before the end of 2013, according to Mayor Robert L. Butler.

Learned a few other updates from him yesterday about Marion developments. Nothing new on the STAR Bonds project, based on past conversations with him and state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, the would-be developers looking to step into Bruce Holland's shoes are waiting for the road projects to be completed.

Last year's drought helped the construction of the new rebuild of the Exit 54 interchange, but the mayor's still waiting for construction to begin on the connections and upgrade of the Morgan Avenue interchange. The additional overpass is up, but remains unconnected with Morgan Avenue.

Crews have finally begun earthwork on the new access road off of the south side of Morgan and on the west side of the interstate that will provide access to the north end of the old Holiday Inn/Executive Inn hotel and the mobile home sales lot at the southwest corner of Morgan and I-57. Due to restrictions on entrances too close to the interchange IDOT purchase access rights from the property owners and agreed to build the new access road. One thing different from the original design, the road will not hit Morgan opposite the Holiday Inn Express entrance, but a bit to the east.

Meanwhile work continues on the six-lane expansion of Route 13 from I-57 east to Court Street, the new overpass of the Burlington Northern on Route 13 by the Illinois Centre Mall (I'll add the "Star" to the name when the new owners get around to actually changing their signage). Once traffic can be redirected onto the new overpass and the area around Skyline Drive and the new extension of Walton Way is finished, that new road will be opened.

On the jobs front the owners of the former Circuit City building are hot on one or two tenants for giant warehouse and distribution center on the west side of town. If successful it could mean around 300 jobs.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Harmony Seeks to Save Bridge

According to, folks in New Harmony, Indiana, are seeking ways to save their bridge over the Wabash River that's been closed since May 2012.

...The Harmony Way Bridge Committee began meeting this summer to work on proposals for the 83-year-old New Harmony Bridge.

The span was operated for decades by a private commission as a toll bridge until inspections last year found extensive deterioration, prompting its closure in May 2012. Indiana officials have said replacement costs could be as much as $25 million.

Businesses in both Indiana and Illinois have been hurt by the bridge's closure, committee member Linda Henning of Crossville, Ill., told the Evansville Courier & Press.

The group is looking at having the city buy the bridge and issue bonds which would be covered by bridge tolls.

One thing that could help is if Illinois extended a spur from the Ohio River National Scenic Byway from New Haven (where the current byway crosses into Illinois, up through White County to the New Harmony bridge. Indiana already has a spur of the byway leading to the tourist town.

The move could generate some additional traffic as well as give the bridge some additional points when it comes to grants.