Top state official sees good promise at resort
But tour shows it to be in a generally unkempt state
FINDLAY — A top official with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said he feels confident that the Eagle Creek Resort, closed since July 2009, can be reopened and can be financially successful.
The 138-room resort on Lake Shelbyville, about 70 miles southwest of Champaign-Urbana, has had at least four owners in its 25-year life. It was closed by court order in 2009 after mold was found inside its guest rooms.
"We are absolutely convinced it can be successful," said Todd Rettig, director of the IDNR's office of realty and environmental planning. "We have economically successful lodges around the state with different sizes, different configurations. But Lake Shelbyville is a remarkable and unique setting, and the state park is a wonderful place to visit with the right elements."
And state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he thinks there's enough interest among developers to stifle any talk of giving up on the resort. A Chicago-area state legislator had suggested Thursday at an IDNR budget hearing that the state should give up on the facility.
"First of all, it's going to cost money to tear it down and put it back to pristine condition and hand it back (to the Army Corps of Engineers) anyway," Rose said after a Friday afternoon meeting at the Findlay Community Building. "I do think that (the IDNR) made the commitment today that that's not their intent."
Before there is any more talk of handing the property back to the corps of engineers, he said, "you at least owe it to everybody to go out to bid and see what's out there. I've had at least four people contact me that could put something together here under the right terms."
However, IDNR officials said the agency has not been contacted by any potential developers since Decatur-based BMDD Resorts pulled out of the project last month.
Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, called the resort "a lifeline for this community. People trust that it can be done, and it can be done effectively, so we're going to push in that direction."
Brown said he spoke with a developer Friday who was "genuinely excited" about the potential for the resort.
"I think this renews the passion for new investment in this community, and I think that's something we can tap into," Brown said.
Rose said he hoped the resort could be reopened "as soon as possible," noting that much of the mold remediation had been completed.
But Rettig said the resort could not be reopened this year. Legislators and others walked around the exterior of the resort Friday and found it in generally poor shape, with windows boarded over, air-conditioning units and plumbing fixtures sitting outside of rooms and a general unkempt appearance.
The 18-hole golf course at the resort reopened April 3. Since then, 125 rounds of golf have been played on the course, according to the IDNR.
About 60 people attended Friday's public meeting, among them mayors and county board members from nearby communities.
"Please don't abandon this facility. Don't tear it down because the folks in Chicago maybe have never seen it and don't know what a jewel it is," Sullivan Mayor Ann Short said to the IDNR representatives at the meeting. "If they would come and stay here and look at the lake and look at the facility, they would realize that we have to do something."
Bruce Cannon, chairman of the Shelby County Board, said the installation of a boat dock at the resort solved one of the facility's biggest problems.
"Unfortunately, they got it at the last minute when they'd been so badly mismanaged that the current owner had no capital in his operation to really capitalize off of that," he said. "Something needs to be done out there. The communities have missed it badly."
Rettig reassured the community leaders that "the DNR is focused on reopening the resort."
"What we want to make sure we're doing when we reopen it is that we have a successful pathway forward," he said. "There have been a number of operators in there who have struggled. We don't want to repeat that."