Monday, April 21, 2014

Has Marion's Garden Been Pruned?

While I'm not usually one for the tabloid headline, this one was too good to pass up.

For years now going on a quarter century Darden Restaurants, parent company of Red Lobster, Olive Gardens and LongHorn Steakhouse, has been looking at Marion for the site of a new Olive Gardens. They've never confirmed it, but city officials have, as have managers of some of the other chain restaurants in town who have taken note whenever reps of their future competition appear in town

A few years ago Marion Mayor Robert L. Butler hinted their renewed interest without mentioning them by name.

As a Realtor with Paul Wilson Realty LLC working on commercial prospects I've come across references of even which lots have even been under consideration at different times - the outlot next to the Holiday Inn Express up on The Hill, the empty lot on the corner of Halfway Road across from MidCountry Bank, the current location of what's left of America's Best Inn back when Panera's was being built.

The latest rumors had them locating on the new access road on the south side of Route 13 west of Sam's Club. When the city council last year named that new stretch as Garden Way, I viewed it as all but confirmation and even predicted if a new crossroad was built the city might consider Olive Alley for the new name.

However close though that deal came, it's apparently now fallen through. The mayor indicated last week that a decision had been made to curb the chain's expansion plans, a decision that had nothing to do with Marion in particular, but larger issues affecting the company.

A check this morning of the company's 2013 Annual Report backs that up. Because of weak sales at their three major chains in 2012 and early 2013 the company began to restructure both its marketing efforts as well as core menu items. Sales began to turn around by the end of the year, but that's still impacting their plans for expansion.

... we are significantly reducing new restaurant expansion at Olive Garden, going from the 35 to 40 net new openings we have had each year for the past few years to approximately 15. With this change, we believe the brand can better focus on regaining same-restaurant traffic momentum and on making the guest experience changes required for sustained success.

So what does that mean? At one point city officials understood Marion to not only be part of the next 30 restaurants set for construction, but one of the next five locations to be sited. Then, Darden decided to stop all expansions, so Marion was out. Now, the annual report suggests that 15 will be built. So is Marion back in?

Right now Darden operates 828 Olive Garden restaurants which sold $3.7 billion worth of pasta and assorted delicious calories last year. That's $4.6 million in sales for each restaurant. Assuming Marion would be average, that's $161,000 a year in local sales taxes to the city, county and schools funds, hence one of the key reasons why officials have been keen to land one of these.

For comparison purposes, the average Red Lobster has sales of $3.7 million and an average LongHorn Steakhouse, $3 million.

Groundbreaking for Airport Terminal Set for Fall

Williamson County Airport Manager Doug Kimmel told the Southern Illinoisan that the board will review bids for a new terminal later this summer with a groundbreaking set for this summer.

Although the airport has been working on this for years, it's only been in the last two years that they've exceeded 10,000 passengers a year, the threshold to qualify for federal construction funds. (Technically, this is the first time since the recession.)

Kimmel says the project will take 18 months. State funds (or at least the federal monies flowing through IDOT) were announced earlier this month as part of IDOT's new five year plan.

Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines serves the airport with daily flights to St. Louis.

For a history of the terminal efforts, check out the last few paragraphs of the previous post about the state's transportation upcoming projects.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Gov's Road Map Won't Finish 6-Lane Projects

The five-year road map for transportation spending unveiled this week by Gov. Pat Quinn fails to include any funding to finish both the Route 13 widening between John A. Logan College and Carbondale, or the Interstate 57 widening between Interstates 24 and 64.

The spending plan includes both the upcoming FY 2015 and the next five fiscal years ending on June 30, 2020. Quinn outlined details of the plan Wednesday. Only the $71 million I-64 replacement bridge over the Wabash River made the highlight reel.

Under the last five-year plan the state poured millions in to new construction projects, starting the Route 13 widening between Marion and the college as well as the rebuild of the Route 13/I-57 interchange and development of the new Morgan Avenue exchange on the north side of Marion.

Overall, the plan includes few new construction projects for Southern Illinois focusing, as almost always, on resurfacing and basic maintenance. That means few economic game-changers so when the existing construction now underway on Route 13 and the I-57 interchange ends, that's it for now.

As to the widening of I-57 in Williamson, Franklin and Jefferson Counties, the only project on the list that appears connected at all is replacement of the I-57 bridges over Atchinson Creek two miles north of the Ina interchange.

Over the last few years IDOT has been replacing the bridges on I-57 between Interstates 24 and 64 with 6-lane structures in preparation for widening this stretch of the interstate. Besides the bridges they also will have to rebuild some of the overpasses used by smaller roads such as Westminster Drive on the south side of Marion.

The largest project on the list for the region - the Wabash River bridge on the state line - will be led by IDOT, but paid in part by Indiana.

Although the higher profile projects are not included in the governor's plan, hope remains. Lawmakers have been talking about a new capital spending plan for sometime. High profile projects usually get saved for those in order to get lawmakers to support the higher fees and/or taxes to pay for them.

The most interesting brick and mortar projects included actually aren't road projects at all, but mass transit and air transportation.

Rides Mass Transit District which serves much of southeastern Illinois should get three new buildings out of the deal - a $1 million administration building to replace their existing one, $1.5 million for a new maintenance and dispatch facility, both to be located in Harrisburg, as well as $1.8 million for a new District Transfer Center to be located in Marion.

This is in addition to $2.45 million to replace four 35-foot, three super medium duty, and eight medium duty diesel buses as well as one minivan.

After years of delay in part caused by the recession, the Williamson County Airport will be getting a new $10 million terminal building. This Phase I and Phase II work is slated for funding in FY 2015, which is the budget year beginning this July 1.

It's been at least seven or eight years since the airport authority started serious discussions on a new terminal. Before the recession in 2007, the airport had two airlines offering scheduled service, one to St. Louis and the other to Chicago, and a third airline planning flights to Las Vegas and Orlando. The latter deal fell apart before any planes got off the ground, but not until after the airport had made changes to the terminal to handle the larger flights.