Mold latest challenge at state-owned resort
A resort and golf course that opened two decades ago with the aid of $4.5 million in state incentives has been closed for the past six months by mold in some guest rooms and a swimming pool area.
Still, state officials say they hope to find a new operator for the Eagle Creek Resort and Conference Center near Shelbyville, about 75 miles southeast of Springfield, in time to reopen the facility next spring.
“It’s a great location, and it has a lot of good qualities to offer. It would be a fairly large investment to purchase the lease,” Chris McCloud, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said Wednesday.
The agency is soliciting proposals through mid-January for private operators to take over and run the resort.
The mold-related shutdown is the latest challenge for a property that was pitched as a world-class tourism draw for the state of Illinois when it opened in 1989 at a cost of nearly $18 million. The resort since has been through a series of corporate owners, bankruptcy and foreclosure.
Troubles from the start
Private developers opened the 400-acre resort with the assistance of Build Illinois, a state capital development program that helped pay for a variety of public/private resort and recreation developments statewide.
In addition to 138 rooms, 10 suites, indoor and outdoor pools and the 18-hole championship golf course, there is an adjoining “Eagles Landing,” with eight connecting rooms, a lake-view balcony and access to boat docks on Lake Shelbyville.
Barely six years into the operation, the Chicago developer fell behind on mortgage payments and faced foreclosure as a result of high interest rates and a revenue shortfall.
After a bankruptcy filing, the resort was sold to new corporate owners in 1997. Despite repeated efforts to refinance, and repeated appeals to state and local government for tax breaks and financial assistance, the resort continued to struggle.
After the mold-related shutdown last summer, the mortgage-holder decided to let the property go back to the state.
“I don’t think they ever had anybody who managed it right. If they would, I think it would have gone,” said Talpha Wooter, co-owner of Wooter’s Sports Shop, about three miles from the resort. Her husband, Gene, is former mayor of Findlay, a community of 660 that relies on Lake Shelbyville for tourism business.
Wooter said the resort shutdown has had an effect on recreational visitors.
“It has really affected a lot of the convenience stores. It hasn’t hurt our business a lot because we sell mostly to hunters,” she said.
The immediate concern
A state question-and-answer included in the solicitation of management proposals indicates $300,000 in back taxes are claimed against the property but that the taxes likely could be worked out if an operator is found.
The document also indicates a lease payment has not been received in at least the last four years. The golf course is described as in good shape and ready to play.
Mold cleanup is the immediate challenge after a court accepted the recommendation of a court-appointed receiver that the resort be shut down based on health concerns.
“Mold is ubiquitous. If it has moisture, it is going to grow,” said James Barnes, president of Occupational Environmental Health Solutions Inc., a Chatham-based consulting firm that conducted the mold assessment.
Barnes said moisture seepage around windows and vents, and poor pool ventilation, allowed mold to form.
McCloud said an original mid-November deadline was extended to the middle of January so that potential bidders on a long-term management lease could get more information on the mold cleanup costs.
He said the agency is going over results of the mold assessment while it continues the search for someone willing to run the resort.
“We would just lease it like we lease our other properties. We don’t run lodges or resorts,” McCloud said.
Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536 email@example.com.
About the Eagle Creek Resort and Conference Center
* Opened in 1989. Cost included $13.3 million from the private sale of bonds, $3 million from state park and conservation funds, $800,000 from a state capital development fund, and $700,000 from motor fuel taxes to pay for roads.
The state took over the property last summer after years of financial problems for private operators.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is soliciting proposals for private operators to run the resort through 2 p.m. Jan. 15. Additional information is available at http://dnr.state.il.us/lodges/eagle.htm.