Thursday, May 14, 2015

Legislation Would Move Historic Sites to DCEO

Plans could impact future of Old Slave House

While on WJPF-AM this morning talking about the new Twin Wars of the 20s tour from SI Treasure Tours, host Tom Miller asked about any updates on the Old Slave House.

There's nothing new locally that I can talk about, but at least in Springfield there's legislation that will shift the state's historic sites from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency into a new division within the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity that will include tourism, historic sites and the state's film office.

The bill would also spin off the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum into its own separate agency and allow DCEO to create a new public-private non-profit partnership to promote the state's economic development efforts.

The legislation (House Bill 574) has the support of Gov. Bruce Rauner as well as House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. It's expected to pass though it's currently in the House Rules Committee.

Some agency folks in Springfield disagree with the move and I respect their positions, but the legislation offers a lot of possibilities for future improvement.

One thing I told Tom this morning about the new move is that the state tourism director, who I also think will be the head of this combined division, already knows about the house. More importantly, he knows how historic sites and tourism can intersect for economic development (and as a Springfield alderman, he's seen this firsthand.)

About a month ago I was in the Capitol in Springfield and had a chance to speak with Cory Jobe, the state's new tourism chief. He formerly served as chief of staff for Judy Baar Topinka in the state comptroller's office.

He remembered meeting me a number of years ago when I gave him a tour of the Old Slave House back when Ron Nelson, Gary DeNeal and I were still researching the site. I knew his name was familiar and that we had crossed paths somewhere else as well.

Back home I checked my notes and discovered that in December 2009 while working for the Southern Illinois Tourism Development Office, I was called to a meeting in Springfield with my regional counterparts, two people from the state tourism office as well as Cory and Maynard Crossman of Peoples Economic Development Corporation and Peoples National Bank to discuss a new historic preservation tax credit legislation that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration was planning to back in the next session of the General Assembly.

Cory had come from Topinka's state treasurer office where he had worked on a tourism related program, and Crossman was the former director of IHPA for the last year or two of George Ryan's term.

I remember the meeting vividly because on the way to Springfield I turned on the radio and learned that FBI agents had been seen taking the governor out of his Chicago home in handcuffs. Talk about the elephant in the room an hour later during our meeting, or in this case, a donkey.

Needless to say the Blagojevich administration didn't push the tax credits bill very much that year so it didn't go anywhere. Over the years various versions of the legislation get re-introduced, each year a bit more watered down than the last. I sat in on a presentation last year at the Herrin Chamber of Commerce offices about the then latest version.

The current version of the legislation is House Bill 240.

One more item on the Old Slave House, for those who need a visible  reminder of the site, check out Ghosts  of Old Shawneetown's page of pictures from the house back in  the 1990s. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

Governor Names New State Fair Director

For the first time ever the DuQuoin State Fair will not have a separate fair manager.

Rather than appoint managers for Springfield and DuQuoin state fairs, Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration named Patrick Buchan, a Fulton County native, to oversee both state fairs in Springfield and DuQuoin.

Although it's a loss for Southern Illinois, considering the state's fiscal crisis, we're lucky to only lose the manager position rather than the entire fair.

The good news is that also for the first time an Illinois governor has actually appointed someone with experience in state fairs and producing major shows.
Buchen previously served as Executive Director of the Indiana State Fair, President of HSI Show Productions, and Executive Director of the Texas Longhorn Cattle Breeders Association.  He is certified in Exposition Management from the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, and the past chair for the International Association for Exhibition Management Foundation.  Buchen is a graduate of Monmouth College, where he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics.  Buchen has a track record of boosting revenues while trimming unproductive expenditures. 

“As an event professional I have dealt with all facets of show management.  I truly believe to meet the demands of the event industry, creativity is paramount in order to present something new and fresh year after year while still delivering familiarity,” said Buchen.  “I love agriculture and the fair business, so becoming manager of the state fairs in Illinois is a dream come true.”
The above quote comes for the official news release from the Department of Agriculture.

Even more amazing, the governor is not quoted at all, the agency director is.

"I am confident that Patrick Buchen can effectively manage both state fair operations.  In this day and age of shared sacrifice, we at the Illinois Department of Agriculture are tightening our belts where we can, but at the same time preserve the traditions that Illinois residents enjoy at both state fairs,” said Ag Director Philip Nelson. “Patrick has both the agriculture experience and the fair experience that will really help him to showcase Illinois, specifically the state’s rich agricultural roots.”

The quote is too long for a proper news release. It should have been split in at least two paragraphs, however it's a marked improvement in agency communications. It also has two spaces after each period suggesting that the writer isn't familiar with the AP Style Guide and hasn't worked for a newspaper before.

In my experience dealing with state news releases they've been going downhill since Jim Edgar left office. Each succeeding administration has made an increasing number of gubernatorial quotes mandatory on almost every release. Everything the state did had to look like the governor cared and acted, when in reality, the man in office didn't even know anything about the subject matter being released.

Worst case - Rod Blagojevich being quoted extensively by the Department of Natural Resources when the man never visited a state park during his entire term of office. Someone in his administration even decided that the governor's name should be top and center on every state park brochure, even above the name of the state park rather than on the back like it had been for decades.

I'm off my soapbox now. Back to the subject at hand. Overall, this has every potential of actually working out in favor of DuQuoin and the region.

According to the State Journal-Register the DuQuoin State Fair lost $630,000 in FY 2012 and $595,000 in FY 2013, significantly less than the fair losses at Springfield.

Now if DNR can find similar management, or privatize the World Shooting Complex at Sparta, Southern Illinois might see better results at both state-owned sites.