By TESA GLASS
MT. VERNON —
Almost 150 people were on hand to hear about the projects and activities in the city during the last year as the mayor gave her annual State of the City address.
“We do a lot of things throughout the year,” Mayor Mary Jane Chesley told the crowd at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting on Thursday. “You don’t realize just how much we do until you start putting it all in one place.”
This is the fourth year the Chamber has sponsored the mayor’s address, and this year a special thanks went to the members of the Chamber.
“One of the biggest events this year was Home Rule,” Chesley said. “I want to thank everyone who voted to retain Home Rule and for getting out and educating residents about Home Rule.”
Chesley discussed seven sections of interest in her program — health and fitness; business and industry retention and expansion as well as job growth; Downtown Development; education; city statistics including budgets, studies and projects; city departments; and partnerships.
Topping the health and fitness heading was the opening of Good Samaritan Regional Health Center and the expansion and renovation of Crossroads Community Hospital. The Good Samaritan project came in at $278 million, while the Crossroads project had a total cost of $23 million. Chesley also pointed out the $840,000 medical facility on North Water Tower Place and the $914,000 Heartland Medical project on Veterans Memorial Drive.
“Along with health facilities, it’s imperative to have fitness,” Chesley said. “We’ve opened two new fitness trails this year.”
Trails include the Potomac Fitness Trail and the Summersville Fitness Trail. Chesley reported the two-mile Potomac trail is expected to expand in the near future, and connect with the Veterans Memorial Drive bike trail.
“The city is waiting on authorization from Illinois Department of Transportation for approval to transfer (Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program) monies to complete the project,” Chesley reported. “The trail will continue from the new interchange to 28th Street.”
Chesley moved on to business and industry, retention and expansion during the year, saying retention and expansion translates to jobs.
“During a hard time, it’s hard to get jobs,” Chesley said. “That’s when planning becomes important and retention of business and expansion translates to jobs.”
The new Magnum Steel Works $15 million, 126,000 square-foot new facility on Shiloh Drive, as well as the Pepsi MidAmerica $3 million distribution and service facility have almost filled the Rolland W. Lewis Industrial Park, Chesley said. Chesley said there is still about 20 acres left in the park, and the council is working to create another industrial park.
Continental Tire, the city’s largest employer, also expanded in 2012, with the opening of a new truck access road, and a rail spur which is under construction. Panda Express constructed an $810,000 retail center on the corner of 42nd and Broadway; Walgreens Distribution has begun a $9.2 million project to upgrade its Mt. Vernon facility; Farm Credit Services of Illinois opened its $1.2 million center in July; National Railway has a new office at the corner of Broadway and 11th Street and has begun upgrading its Shawnee Street facility; Drury Inn and Suites has started work on a $22 million new hotel and restaurant project; Schmidt Chevrolet completed a $500,000 renovation project; Tyler Motors is continuing work on a $900,000 renovation project; Family Dollar completed a new building; Tommy T’s relocated and remodeled its facility on 44th Street; Bandana’s moved into the former Pasta House Company building; Hardees has completed renovations of both restaurants in the city; Bob Evans has started a renovation project that is expected to include a bakers; and McDonald’s on Potomac Boulevard has completed a $1 million renovation project.
“When you have a business or industry that comes in, we don’t just say, ‘hey, we’re glad your here’ and walk away,” Chesley said. “We work with them, help them ... and keep them here.”
The downtown area has also seen new projects over the year, Chesley said, mentioning the renovation and relocation of One Stop Flooring, the Williamson Asia $228,000 renovation of the building at the corner of Ninth and Main streets; and the renovation and remodeling of Parkway Shoes at Casey Avenue and 11th Street.
“We have had 40 (tax increment finance) projects approved for a total of about $2.3 million,” Chesley said. “This has resulted in total cost projects of approximately $7.3 million in downtown.”
The Fall Fest was a huge success, Chesley reported, bringing new events and visitors to the Downtown district.
Under education, Chesley highlighted the construction of the new high school and the construction and renovation project underway at Casey Middle School.
“Unemployment in the city is down .8 percent,” Chesley said. “We have a comparison to the state, which is at 8.7 percent, but there is no comparison. We are lower than the state.”
Chesley said residential building in the city was up 8 percent last year over the previous year and business building permits were up 70 percent. The value of residential permits raised by 41 percent; the value of business permits increased by 21 percent.
Under statistics, the mayor said the city budget approved this year was at $43 million, with $20.2 million in capital projects. The council continues to have quarterly budget reviews and has maintained a balanced operating budget for the fifth consecutive year.
“Retail sales have increased by 3.5 percent,” Chesley said. “Hotel occupancy revenues have increased by 16.6 percent.”
The city had $8.2 million in grant funding approved during the year and “has applied for or is in the process of applying for approximately $1.2 million in grant funding.”
An overview was also given of city infrastructure projects, including roads and streets; water and sewer projects; and sidewalk projects.