Eagle Creek operator hanging it up after 4 years
SHELBYVILLE — A little more than four years after it successfully bid to take over operation of the Eagle Creek Resort at Lake Shelbyville, BMDD Resorts Corp. of Decatur has abruptly pulled out.
A lodge and convention center at the lakefront resort has been closed since July 2009, and now the golf course there, since renamed The National, is also closed for business.
BMDD removed its equipment from the golf course and closed the facility over the weekend, said company President Dennis Ballinger.
"They canceled the meeting we had scheduled (for last Wednesday) and I received a telephone message from (state Sen.) Chapin Rose that we would be hearing from them with some sort of notice for something," Ballinger said of his negotiations with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
A 10-day warning notice, reportedly sent from the IDNR to BMDD, was never mailed, a DNR official said Tuesday.
But in the meantime, BMDD sent IDNR a notice of termination last Friday, according to Ballinger.
"The fact that they weren't meeting with us, and that Chapin Rose said they were going to be sending us a notice, presumably to terminate," prompted his action, Ballinger said.
"I'm very disappointed," said Ballinger, who in February 2010 was selected by IDNR from among five bidders to operate the state-built resort about 70 miles southwest of Champaign-Urbana. "I guess I'm a little relieved too, to be honest with you, because it's been nothing but one thing after another. But I'm disappointed because we had high hopes and visions. But we're also tired of this situation with the people at IDNR."
Last week The News-Gazette reported that the two sides were at an impasse over how to proceed with the multimillion-dollar renovation of the resort, including who would pay for an estimated $1 million upgrade of the 27-year-old resort's sewage system. Ballinger also wanted to build a new pro shop closer to the golf course while IDNR officials insisted that his top priority should be reopening the 138-room lodge that was closed after mold was found throughout.
The immediate future of the resort is uncertain.
"The IDNR is committed to Eagle Creek Resort and the value that it holds for the local and regional economy," IDNR said in a statement Tuesday. "After BMDD recently abandoned the resort, the agency is reviewing BMDD's obligations under the lease and the status of the resort, and will continue to take strong measures to ensure that the interests of the taxpayers of Illinois, and the Lake Shelbyville communities, are protected.
"Our short-term focus is to ensure proper maintenance of the golf course, and IDNR is committed to creating economic opportunity and job creation with a functioning and successful Eagle Creek Resort."
It's likely that IDNR again will seek bids from potential operators, said Rose, whose Senate district include the resort area.
IDNR spokesman Chris McCloud said "we are certainly looking into" whether the 18-hole golf course can be reopened this summer.
"That is among the things we are evaluating at this point," he said. "We are moving fairly quickly to evaluate where the resort is at."
McCloud said IDNR officials hope to be able to inform Shelbyville-area residents of plans for the resort, which has been called an economic driver for the area.
"We know how important it is to the local folks there. If people will allow us to get a status report and really gather the necessary information we need to make informed decisions, we then will be able to update folks on where we're at and what we think it's going to take," he said.
Ballinger said he still believes the resort can be successful — "if they're allowed to do so. That's the key, them allowing somebody in the private sector to do it."
"The (golf) course, we had it in very good shape. We received a lot of favorable comments about its condition. It makes us sick, to tell you the truth," he said. "With regard to the (lodge and conference center), if they look at the big picture and other improvements are allowed to be made to the operation and if DNR ... doesn't get involved in a private sector business, then I think it can work."
Ballinger said last week that he had put $3.1 million into Eagle Creek since 2010.
"We're essentially just going to have to cut the cord. There's no way you can recover anything now from the state," he said. "I don't expect to get anything. It's just not worth the trouble."
Rose, meanwhile, said he was "grateful" that IDNR Director Marc Miller got involved in the Eagle Creek issue.
"I called him in December after I had left the facility one day and I said, 'You've got to get involved here. This is crazy,'" Rose recounted. "He's personally been working on this for the last three months."
In January, Rose said it was time that IDNR began pressing BMDD to reopen the lodge. "The thing just needs to be reopened. That's the bottom line," he said at the time.
On Tuesday, Rose said he's "glad this part is finally over.
It's now time to move on and get a new operator up and running as soon as possible."