Illinois keeps closing facilities; credit rating drops

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THE RESORT AT REND LAKE has been popular with park users for weddings and meetings.

Springfield, IL – The deterioration of Illinois state-owned buildings and resources is continuing with the closings of an historic building at the Illinois State Fair and the popular resort at Rend Lake.

As the government dithers over its budget, it has already become a crap shoot whether drivers can find an open rest stop, and Vandalia has lost the use of the impressive office building that formerly housed a Department of Natural Resources field office.

Earlier closings included the Southern Illinois Art and Artisans Center, at Rend Lake, and the simi- lar Chicago Gallery and Artisans Shop, both part of the Illinois State Museum system; and a partial closing of the World Shooting and Recreational Complex, in Sparta, which stands empty on weekdays while hosting events on weekends.

Recovering those facilities will be more expensive after Fitch Ratings last week downgraded its Illinois credit rating by one more notch, from BBB+ to BBB, the second lowest grade, citing lack of action on a state budget, as Governor Bruce Rauner declines to propose a balanced budget while demanding that attacks on union workers be included in any new budget.

AT THE FAIR

At the State Fair in Springfield, the building known as the Coliseum was closed in October when engineers

discovered structural deficiencies. The Coliseum was built in 1901, remodeled in 1958 and has been the site of world-class horse shows and livestock events. It is an enclosed, three-story building that covers

60,000 square feet and seats 2,688. The State Journal-Register news- paper in Springfield used a Freedom of Information Act request to find out that steel support columns at the Coli- seum had eroded and could give way. An engineering inspection found roof leaks, water damage, missing wood planks, loose or missing bolts and screws, peeling paint and mold. The building may also have lead paint, asbestos and electrical haz- ards, according to the inspection by Hurst-Roche Inc. of Hillsboro, IL. Repairs could cost up to $3.7 million, including $2.2 million to repair roofs that date back to the original construction.

REPAIR BACKLOG

The State Fair has gone a decade without a capital budget for repairs, and only emergency repairs have been funded. The repair backlog overall is estimated at $180 million combined for the fairgrounds and the Du Quoin State Fair in southern Illinois.

In October, the Mid-America Mane Event Horse Show was moved to a covered practice area to the south of the Coliseum, and smaller events have since been relocated. The unheated building isn’t used much in the winter, but it does host several events during the Illinois State Fair each August.

Some help could come via Rauner, who in August formed the State Fair Foundation to collect private donations to make repairs at the fairgrounds.

“Our hope is that, through the work of the State Fair Foundation, some of the deferred maintenance issues which have been mounting for dozens of years will be addressed,” said Jodi Golden, executive director of the Capital Development Board.

REND LAKE LEASE

Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) reported it terminated the lease with operators of Rend Lake Resort Inc., at Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park, south of Mount Vernon.

“IDNR has several concerns about the condition of the buildings at the Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center,” Department Director Wayne Rosenthal said in a press release. “Mold, peeling paint and other potential health and safety related discoveries led the department to have safety concerns for visitors to the resort.”

The department is now determin- ing how much repair work is needed and how to get it done. A wedding planned for Jan. 7 had to be relocated.

The Rend Lake Resort operators also owed the state $205,000 in overdue rent and lease payments and were behind on real estate taxes, utilities and hotel taxes totaling a combined $82,000, the Department reported.

The resort opened in 1990 with 104 hotel rooms, suites and cabins and a conference center with meeting rooms and banquet facilities. It also has a restaurant, bar, tennis court, pool, boat docks and boat rentals.

The 19,000-acre state park is the site of boating, fishing, hunting, trail bike riding, wildlife viewing, swimming and field dog trials.

BAD CREDIT, NO CREDIT

Illinois Working Together Campaign Director Jake Lewis attributed the latest credit downgrade to Rauner’s demands and unwilling- ness to negotiate.

“To borrow a phrase from Fitch Ratings, Bruce Rauner has been an unprecedented failure as the governor of Illinois,” he said. “This downgrade, the sixth under Governor Rauner, is yet another indicator of the damage the governor has inflicted on Illinois and its people during his time in office.

“According to Fitch, the budget impasse has ‘fundamentally weak- ened’ the state. It will take years for Illinois to recover from Rauner.”

IllinoisWorkingTogetherdescribes itself as a coalition to defend working families from anti-worker attacks and service cuts to benefit the wealthy. The group can be contacted online at illinoisworkingtogether.org.

Said Lewis: “As residents and college students flee Illinois in record numbers, it is time for the governor to do something he has failed to do in his first two years in office: listen. The governor must drop his extreme political agenda and work to pass a responsible, fully funded budget.”

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