MARION — In front of a cheering crowd and surrounded by jubilant state representatives, Gov. Pat Quinn two years ago today enthusiastically signed Senate Bill 2093, which established Illinois’ first STAR bond district in Marion.
But since then, news of development on the STAR bond property has slowed to a trickle, leaving many in Southern Illinois to wonder what’s become of the promised economic juggernaut.
Officials and developers close to the project maintain that while it may appear from afar that little is happening with the project, a STAR bond development is closer than ever. But they say they are bound by confidentiality agreements and aren’t free to discuss details — not yet, anyway.
The much-anticipated destination development promised to transform the economy and culture of Southern Illinois by creating a recreational and retail destination that would remake Marion into a tourist hot-spot and draw millions of people from hundreds of miles around.
To do so, STAR bond legislation allows a portion of the sales tax generated by the planned retail and entertainment complex to be used to offset development and construction costs.
The project was brought to Marion in early May 2010 by Bruce Holland and Millennium Development LLC after the project, which was originally slated for the Metro East, fell apart when Metro East mayors near Glen Carbon rejected the idea of diverting sales tax revenue to cover development costs. Developers and supporters of the project have maintained that the thousands of construction and permanent jobs created would offset potential issues.
Developers have said the Marion project is loosely modeled after a successful STAR bond project in Kansas City, Kan. The project, called Village West, is a 400-acre development of entertainment, dining and shopping venues. The development transformed Kansas City from a sleepy outlying town of Kansas City, Mo., into a tourist destination.
The development sits near the 1,200-acre Kansas Speedway and has a Cabela’s, Great Wolf Lodge, a 1.2 million square foot Nebraska Furniture Mart, as well as a collection of more than 100 specialty retail stores and dining options. The development pulls in more than $610 million in retail sales each year, and generates more than $11 million in property taxes by attracting 10 million visitors each year. The development employs in excess of 5,700 people.
While specific tenants of the Marion project have not been identified, since the project’s inception speculation has been swirling as to whether or not retailers like Cabela’s, Great Wolf Lodge or Bass Pro Shops might be drawn to Marion’s STAR bond district.
Cabela’s spokesman Wes Remmer said the company is looking to expand, but could not comment if Marion is a possible site for that expansion.
“We’re certainly in retail expansion mode looking in all parts of the country where we have loyal customers,” Remmer said. “Those pockets are scattered all over the country, but as far as that specific location (Marion), I can’t comment.”
Larry Whiteley, manager of communications for Bass Pro Shops, said in an email the company does not comment on any sites it is looking at until an announcement is ready to be public. His department has not been told to make an announcement, and until then, a possible Marion location is just a rumor. Whiteley added he gets inquiries about possible new locations each week from all over the country.
Messages left for Great Wolf Lodge were not returned.
The $382 million project is expected to generate at least 4,100 jobs during construction and 1,346 full-time equivalent jobs post-construction, according to an independent project analysis conducted for the city of Marion. By drawing from a potential pool of 20 million people within a 250-mile radius, the overall economic impact of the project is estimated at more than $750 million.