Parties at impasse over Eagle Creek renovation
SHELBYVILLE — Shut down since 2009, the 138-room Eagle Creek Resort at Lake Shelbyville will remain closed this summer, and the state of Illinois and resort leaseholders are at a new impasse over how to proceed with the multimillion-dollar rehabilitation.
In short, Decatur-based BMDD Resorts, which holds the lease to the property, wants to build a new pro shop for its 18-hole golf course on Lake Shelbyville. But officials from the state Department of Natural Resources first want BMDD to reopen the lodge and conference center adjacent to the golf course.
And there's a new side issue in the stalemate: Who will pay for an estimated $1 million in needed sewage system repairs at the 25-year-old complex, which was built in part with state funds.
BMDD President Dennis Ballinger said state officials never let them know about the sewage system problems when BMDD and others bid on a new lease arrangement in 2010. The resort had been shut down a year earlier by court order because of mold problems throughout.
"They just didn't tell us about it. Why wouldn't they tell us that there was a sewage problem at the outset? They didn't," Ballinger said. "They were hauling sewage out of there by truck daily, when it was still open and before they close it. It's a mess, I'll tell you that."
But the IDNR denied that it had withheld information about the condition of the sewage system.
"BMDD's claim that IDNR purposely withheld information on the condition of the sewers is blatantly false," said IDNR spokesman Chris McCloud. "BMDD had access to the facilities before entering into the lease, agreed to be responsible for plumbing and sanitation and compliance with waste and pollution laws, and agreed to repair mechanical systems."
Ballinger said his company has invested $3.1 million at Eagle Creek thus far, including improvements to the golf course (which has been open since 2010), mold remediation measures, installation of a new roof and drainage system and construction of a temporary pro shop on a parking lot.
He said he thought it would take another $3.5 million to complete the work. "That's just an estimate," he said.
Ballinger said he was "disappointed" with IDNR's refusal to give BMDD permission to build a new, permanent pro shop away from the lodge.
"Many golfers remarked negatively about the location of the former pro shop when it was located in the lower level of the lodge. It was far away from the golf course and completely out of sight," Ballinger said. "At the grand opening of The National (the new name for the golf course), we envisioned constructing a new pro shop just south of the first tee."
He said the IDNR "hassled us from day one about us building a new pro shop. Their big goal is to — and I don't quite know why — to put the lodge back together the way it was. They did not want us to take the pro shop out of the basement. They just haven't been cooperative with us at all."
Ballinger said he was not optimistic about reaching a quick agreement with IDNR.
"It's not looking very good. It was our dream to put it back to where it would be profitable. But they just don't seem to be too concerned about that. It's been very disappointing," he said. "At the start, their main objection was that they were afraid that we would build a pro shop and not do anything to the lodge. That's absurd. It was just part of the program."
IDNR said it was clear from the start that it wanted the lodge reopened as soon as possible.
"Since 2010, the current leaseholders have known that the objective of their lease and the priority of the community and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was to reopen the lodge portion of Eagle Creek Resort," the department said in a statement. "BMDD agreed in writing to invest the funds and make the repairs necessary but has failed to follow through on the agreement despite several extensions."
State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, who earlier this winter urged IDNR officials to meet with Ballinger, on Monday indicated impatience with the reconstruction of the resort.
"This just needs to get fixed," he said. "We're past the point of talking. We need to reopen this place or move on to someone who will reopen the place."
Asked if he regretted taking on the Eagle Creek project in 2010, Ballinger said, "With the attitude that (IDNR officials) have with us, yes. They've just not been cooperative. Their attitude has been aloof and condescending to us from day one."
Asked if the resort could reopen in 2014, he said, "There's no way."
As to whether it would ever reopen, Ballinger said, "I hope so, but they're going to have to have a change of attitude with whoever, whether it's us or somebody who comes later. Because they're not going to put it back together the way it was. You have to make improvements to a place. It's going to be an exercise in futility otherwise."
Ballinger said he wasn't suggesting that BMDD would drop out of the project "at this point. But we're quite disappointed. We can't seem to communicate with them."
Both sides in the dispute say they're looking out for the interests of Shelbyville area residents who want to see the resort, about 70 miles southwest of Champaign, reopened.
"Illinois DNR has demonstrated that it is only interested in reopening the lodge as it was since construction with a sewer system that is antiquated and broken," Ballinger said. "BMDD believes that the shortsightedness of IDNR guarantees failure. The citizens of Shelby County and of Illinois should know why the resort at Eagle Creek has not reopened."
But IDNR, in explaining its negotiating position, said, "IDNR will take the necessary measures to ensure that the interests of the taxpayers of Illinois and the Shelbyville community are protected."