WHITTINGTON — The state is moving closer to selecting a contractor to oversee upgrades to the Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center and related amenities at the Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area that have fallen into disrepair and sat empty for years.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources committed to undertake restoration of the resort about a year ago after multiple attempts over several years to find a private operator fell through, in large part because the facilities are in such poor condition.
Last year, the state tried to entice a qualified concessionaire by offering up to $1.5 million in financial incentives to help with renovation costs. It also offered bidders several options, including taking over and renovating all facilities, or only some of them. The property consists of a hotel and conference/event center, cabins, boatels, pool, restaurant, gift shop and boat dock with fuel dispensing station.
“We had plenty of questions from potential vendors, but we didn’t receive any bids,” said Rachel Torbert, spokeswoman for IDNR. “That, coupled with the state’s desire to keep this project moving forward, is what led us to go on and take a look at moving this into a state-led renovation project working with the Capital Development Board.”
In July, the Illinois Capital Development Board, which oversees major state construction projects, advertised a request for architect/engineering consultants interested in redeveloping the property to its former glory.
Interviews originally scheduled for Sept. 30 were delayed until this past Monday, but the process is moving forward, Torbert said.
After the state completes renovations to the property, IDNR will again seek to find a qualified concessionaire to take over day-to-day operations.
The resort, once considered a crown jewel tourist attraction in Southern Illinois, drawing people from Chicago, the Metro East and across the region, has been without an operator since 2016.
That December, IDNR announced it had terminated the concessionaire’s lease and closed the facility. In its release at the time, the state agency said mold, peeling paint and other health-related issues had been identified at the resort and conference center. As well, the concessionaire, who had operated the resort since its opening in 1990, was behind on rent and real estate taxes to the tune of about $219,000, and also owed back payments for utilities and hotel operator’s taxes.
Several issues led to the decline of the property. The former concessionaire paid for construction of the hotel and conference center, but the parties could not reach agreement on ownership. Funding sources for repairs also dried up. Area lawmakers successfully earmarked $5 million for capital improvements in 2013, but then the money never materialized. For years, Illinois was without a capital budget. That changed in 2019 with passage of the Rebuild Illinois plan.
IDNR did not project a timeline for the project except to say that it is moving forward.
Photos: Garden of the Gods in winter
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