Mount Vernon mayor opposes new STAR bond legislation

By Steve Korris | May 6, 2010

SPRINGFIELD – Developers of a giant entertainment and shopping center in Glen Carbon apparently abandoned the plan in favor of a smaller project in Marion.

They shifted their sights after spending a year seeking legislation to provide state subsidies for University Town Center, at Interstate 270 and Illinois Route 157.

Rep. John Bradley of Marion introduced an amendment for them on May 5.

The House and the Senate approved a subsidy bill last year, but Gov. Pat Quinn blocked it with an amendatory veto that would have cut state support in half.

Rather than accept half, developers started over this year but made no progress.

Opposition spread among regional mayors who feared University Town Center would pull retail activity out of their communities.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. James Clayborne (D-Belleville), could not muster the votes to advance it.

Rep. Thomas Holbrook (D-Belleville), lead sponsor in the House, said in March that he wouldn't proceed with it unless a majority of his constituents supported it.

Bradley's May 5 amendment would reduce the state's commitment by shrinking the project and limiting state support to half the cost instead of 100 percent.

It would provide free buildings to two big stores and a hotel with at least 150 rooms.

A provision requiring the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to hold a regional public meeting has disappeared.

A requirement for location in a flood plain has also disappeared, and the new bill would require location on an old strip mine.

The project would have to be near an "entertainment user" or a baseball stadium.

East Alton asbestos lawyer John Simmons owns a baseball stadium at Marion, built with state subsidies.

To offset local losses of sales taxes, the bill would direct some revenues to a trust fund for schools in Williamson and Franklin Counties.

Jackson and Jefferson counties, with big retail centers near enough to Marion to suffer similar losses, would receive nothing.

Mount Vernon mayor Mary Jane Chesley already echoes the concerns that halted the Glen Carbon project.

"We have a new interchange and are in the process of building infrastructure on approximately 600 acres around the interchange to attract businesses to the area," she wrote on May 6.

"What are our chances of attracting these businesses when only 40 miles down the interstate lies Marion with this proposed added development tool?

"While I am all for regional development, I cannot support projects utilizing state sponsored programs that give one community an advantage over others."

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