Illinois Public Media News
(With additional Reporting by The Associated Press)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he can accept new casinos in Danville, Chicago and other cities. But he is drawing the line at allowing slot machines at racetracks, airports and other locations.
At a news conference Monday morning, the governor discussed his objections to a gambling bill (Senate Bill 744) passed by lawmakers, but not yet sent to him.
Quinn laid out a framework for gambling expansion that includes five new casinos that the legislation calls for, including Chicago, Danville, Rockford and two suburban locations. But he said he can't accept allowing slot machines racetracks, Chicago's two airports and other locations.
"I don't think anybody in Illinois wants 14 new gambling locations --- including the state fair, including our airports," Quinn told reporters. "When people get off a plane from another country or another state, the first thing they see are armed guards next to casinos? I don't think so."
Quinn also wants both suburban locations to be decided by the Illinois Gaming Board --- rejecting the Park City location named in the gambling bill for a new casino in Lake County. Quinn said cities should compete to host a new casino in the western suburbs, as well as another one in southern Cook County.
In addition, the Governor wants to change the rules for communities that don't want to host legal video gaming. Quinn said that with the expansion of gaming in other areas, communities should be able to choose or reject video gaming on an "opt-in," instead of an "opt-out" basis.
Quinn said the gaming bill passed by lawmakers has too many tax breaks and protections for casino owners, and fails to provide sufficient tax revenue for Illinois' education and infrastructure needs. He said the proposed tax structure in the bill would lower tax revenues from casinos, compared to existing tax rules.
Quinn urged lawmakers to craft a new gambling bill and not pursue the one they passed --- because he said he will veto it if it's sent to him.
The state of Illinois has released the list of non-compliant public pools that will be shut down tomorrow because of a drainage issue.
Illinois' Department of Public Health announced this week that new drain covers are needed so swimmers won't get trapped.
In Champaign County, that list includes one municipal pool and three motels. Rantoul's Hap Parker Family Aquatic Center, which is closed for the season, is on the list.
One of the motels listed, the Historic Lincoln in Urbana, has been closed since 2009 and undergoing massive renovations under a new developer. The county's list also includes Champaign's Country Fair Apartments and Lake of the Woods Apartments in Mahomet.
Four swim clubs in Macon County could be impacted. The Decatur Surf Club, Sun and Fun Swim Club, and Holiday Park Swim Club, and Mt. Zion Swim Club are part of the list, as is the Decatur Family YMCA. But the Y's Exective Director says that listing was error on the state's part.
The operator of the one community pool in Paris on the state list says he's aware of the drainage issue, and the pool closed two years ago. Will Welsh, Executive Director of the Paris Community YMCA, said the Y hopes to collect the $3,500 dollars necessary to fix the pool and reopen it by next summer.
The Paxton Park District Pool is also listed, and closed for the year. On its web site, a message from the district says the community is doing all it can to reopen sometime in 2012.
Tourism dollars were up in East Central Illinois in 2010. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity cites figures from the U-S Travel Association showing that tourism dollars rose last year in Champaign, Vermilion, Douglas, Piatt, Ford and Iroquois Counties.
In Vermilion County, tourists contributed $70.5 million dollars to the local economy in 2010, up 6.2% from 2009.
Jeanne Cooke of the Danville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau says Vermilion County tourism dollars had dipped in 2009 to $66.34 million --- she blames the recession for cutting into business travel that year. But she says last year's showing brought the county back up to 2007 levels.
"We're really happy about that", says Cooke, "because we had anticipated that it might take us as much as three years to return to our 2007 figure."
Now, despite recent shocks to the national and global economy, Cooke hopes that a variety of things to do in Vermilion County will keep the tourists coming.
"For example, we just finished the Walldogs (outdoor mural) event", says Cooke. "The end of September, we have Civil War Days that brings people from all over annually. We have the NJCAA Division II Men's Basketball Championships. We have outstanding state and county parks --- 15,000 acres."
The DCEO says the economic impact of tourism in east-central Illinois ranged from $5.8 million in Piatt County to $266.1 million in Champaign County. Iroquois County, with $29 million in tourism dollars, saw the sharpest increase by percentage last year --- 8.4%. The figures are based on purchases of such things as restaurant meals, hotel rooms and gasoline by out-of-towners.
Summary of US Travel Association data released by DCEO: Economic Impact of Tourism in 2010
Champaign County: $266.1 million, up 5.9% Douglas County: $30.6 million, up 3.1% Ford County: $5.4 million, up 3.7% Iroquois County: $29.0 million, up 8.4% Piatt County: $5.9 million, up 5.3% Vermilion County: $70.5 million, up 6.2%
The last event in the city of Champaign's 150th anniversary celebration is an open family-oriented party Thursday night.
The city is using the brand-new Boneyard Second Street Basin development as the backdrop for what it calls a Unity Celebration. The first one-thousand attendees will be treated to free food, and there will be music, entertainment and games.
LaEisha Meadards is heading up the sesquicentennial events for the city. She says another highlight will require the help of as many Champaign residents as possible. "All of the visitors who come to the Unity Celebration will get together and take a community-wide photo," Meadards said. "It will be used as a commemorative item for city-related documents, and it will be on sale for the community at large."
During a dedication ceremony at 5:40, the city will also place a time capsule at the Boneyard commemorating a series of 150th-anniversary events that began more than a year ago. The Unity Celebration takes place tomorrow evening from 5:30 to 8:30 with the community photo at 6:10.
A golf course in Paris Illinois closed over the winter, but the bank that took possession of it hopes to auction it off to a new owner who will have it open this spring.
The 119-acre Sycamore Hills Country Club is up for sale in an "absolute auction", which means no minimum bid. Aumann Auctions of Nokomis is handling the auction, along with the Moss Auction Team of Paris. Aumann's Kelly Hogue says First Bank and Trust of Paris approached them about selling the golf course last month --- and put the auction together unusually quickly.
"They wanted to immediately find a new owner to have the golf course ready for spring play," Hogue said. "They took the golf course back on a Monday - signing a deed in lieu --- and called us immediately. We met with them on Wednesday, had a contract on Friday. No one in the auction industry has ever heard of a bank moving that quickly."
Sycamore Hills first opened in 1920 --- the restaurant and banquet hall on the grounds opened about four years ago. Bids are being taken on the two facilities both together and separately. Hogue said the current highest bid for the golf course and restaurant combined is at around $150,000.
Hogue said the facility was opened for public inspection on Thursday, and the turnout was impressive.
"We had hundreds of people," Hogue said. "And we rented golf carts. We had people all over the course, and hundreds of people at the clubhouse, looking over the items."
The final day for bidding on the golf course and restaurant is March 29th. Bids are being taken online only, but Hogue said they will be taking bids at the golf course on March 29th. She said the new owner can take possession immediately, even before the sale is closed. While the bank is hoping that Sycamore Hills reopens for golf, Hogue said it is also zoned for residential use.
More than 400 gamers from east-central Illinois and across the country are expected to attend the 38th annual Winter War Gaming Convention during the January 28-30 weekend at the Hawthorne Suites in Champaign.
Convention Chairman Don McKinney said the Winter War convention is the longest continuously running convention in the Midwest devoted to adventure gaming, as compared to video games.
"This is old-school, table-top, face-to-face gaming," McKinney explained. "Board games where your opponent is sitting across the table from you. Some of them have been computerized, but we're planning the table-top, board game style here.
McKinney said gaming events at Winter War 38 also involve play with painted figures and battlefield simulation. There are also events where games where players who usually compete over the Internet such as Forgotten Realms and Pathfinder Society can engage with players in person.
Winter War was started by students at the U of I Urbana campus in the 1970s, and was held on campus for several years. McKinney said as the convention grew, it moved to now defunct Chancellor Hotel, before moving to its present home at the Hawthorn Suites. McKinney said what was once an event for students now attracts players of all ages --- he notes that both he and his college-age son will be playing.
Winter War 38 runs day and night, through Sunday afternoon, January 30.
Champaign city leaders may have taken the wraps off a new public recreation space southeast of downtown, but it is still covered in a thick layer of snow.
Beneath the snow is a new detention basin, the latest phase of the Boneyard Creek flood control project that's been decades in the making. However, city councilman Michael LaDue says the 11-million dollar Second Street Reach project is much more than just a place to hold excess water.
"On the ground it looks better than it looked on paper, and every effort was made by highly trained professionals to make it look as good on paper as possible," LaDue said during Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremony. "This beats the schematics. This is spectacular."
The pond is surrounded by walking paths, water features and a small amphitheater. Work also surrounded a stone-arch bridge in a corner of the park, one of the original bridges over Boneyard Creek from the mid 19th-century. City planner T. J. Blakeman said some additional work still needs to be done on the site - much of it to be done in the spring. But he said the walking paths are now open to the public.
(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)
State grants are going to several projects in eastern Illinois that will make the way clearer for bicyclists and pedestrians. They range from nearly $626,000 to add bike lanes and walkway improvements to Urbana's Main Street to more than $1.24 million for a new bike path through Danville's Lincoln Park Historic District.
Another project getting funding is a proposed bike trail on a former railroad bed between Urbana and Kickapoo State Park near Danville. Steve Rugg heads the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation, which is working with the Champaign County Forest Preserve District on the so-called Kickapoo Trail. Rugg said the nearly $900,000 grant would help pay for land acquisition, but he said talks with the current owner of the rail bed have been deadlocked.
"We continue to work with CSX," said Rugg. "To this point we have not reached agreement, and it remains to be seen whether we'll actually get the acquisition completed."
The Illinois State Department of Transportation is giving out more than $6 million for the trails to help promote alternatives to driving. The village of Mahomet is also getting $1.18 million to help develop a pathway along Lake of the Woods Road, and the village of Rantoul will get to work on a bike path with a $782,000 grant.
Highs in the mid 90s are forecast for Saturday (August 14) but that's not expected to stop hundreds of central Illinois bicyclists from taking part in this year's "C-U Across the Prairie" Bicycle Ride.
The Prairie Cycle Club holds the event each year, on a prescribed route along rural roads in Champaign County. It's known as a "metric century" event, because its 65 mile length is equal to slightly over 100 kilometers. Shorter routes are also provided, at 15 and 35 miles.
Prairie Cycle Club spokesperson Lorrie Pearson says the hot weather might slow riders down, but she says keeping hydrated and using the rest stops set up along each route should help.
"As the heat increases, you're going to want to increase the amount of fluids that you take in, so definitely bring some water" advises Pearson. "We'll have water at the rest stops, but definitely bring water with you, and fill up at each of those rest stops."
Plus there's always "Sag Support" - the nickname for the club member driving a car along the route, ready to pick up weary cyclists who phone for help.
Pearson says "C-U Across the Prairie" is a ride, not a race, and cyclists of all skill levels are welcome.
Last minute registrations will be taken at the Hideway Grill near Lake of Woods Park in Mahomet, Saturday morning between 7 and 10. Pearson suggests cyclists planning to ride the full 65-mile route should arrive by 7:30. A $30 registration fee pays for breakfast at the start of the event, and a 2 PM lunch afterward.
NOTE: This story has been corrected, to identify Lorrie Pearson as a spokesperson for, not the president of the Prairie Cycle Club.
A neighborhood group's dream of a new playground has come closer to reality. The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to lease the group some county-owned land in the neighborhood, where the playground can be built.
The Dobbins Down neighborhood in northwest Champaign is mostly in unincorporated territory. And its location north of I-74 puts its far away from any public park. But with the Champaign County Board's approval of a $50-a-year lease on a vacant lot it owns, the Dobbins Down Improvement Association looks forward to a small park where neighborhood kids can play. Association Chair Lesley Kimble says it's been the group's longtime goal.
"We want to see playground equipment that kids can have an option, a healthy option in their neighborhood to go do, other than play video games and hang out and not get in trouble."
The Dobbins Down group has applied for assistance from KaBOOM, a non-profit group that builds playgrounds using local volunteers and corporate funding. Kimble says getting the lease on the vacant lot was the last thing they needed to be recommended for funding. If all goes well, she says the park could be built in September. The Dobbins Down Improvement Association would assume liability for the park, and be responsible for its upkeep. Kimble says they hope to name the playground in memory of the late Mable Thomas, a longtime Champaign city employees who worked on neighborhood issues.
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