Daily Union Editor
---- — Since 2009, when Eagle Creek Resort was shuttered by court order due to mold contamination, residents and county officials have wondered what the fate of the area was going to be.
Last week Illinois Department of Resources took action against BMDD who is working to restore the resort.
In response to articles printed in area newspapers, including the Daily Union, about the local frustration about the delay in reopening Eagle Creek Resort, Dennis Ballinger, president of BMDD, contacted the Daily Union with a response, which has been edited for print space.
In November 2009, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) issued a request for proposals and BMDD Resorts Corporation of Decatur, run by Dennis Ballinger and his two sons, submitted a proposal. That proposal was accepted by the IDNR. A lease agreement was signed by the BMDD Resorts Corporation and Governor Pat Quinn.
"At the time of the agreement, there was an ongoing dispute where Marine Bank of Springfield and Community Banks of Shelby County had filed suit against the former owners and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources," Ballinger said. "The banks alleged rights to various real and personal property.
"Subsequently, IDNR was dismissed from the suit. The banks then amended the suit to replace IDNR with BMDD Resorts Corporation."
Ballinger said that the agreement with IDNR was amended to allow BMDD to use all furniture, fixtures and equipment located within the premises. Use is subject to determination of ownership by Illinois Courts.
In 2010, the Ballingers opened The National golf course at Eagle Creek. The course was repaired and altered and a golf storage barn was constructed. The Pro Shop was relocated to a temporary structure on an existing paved parking lot with plans to build a new shop closer to the first tee.
In 2012, after submitting plans for the Pro Shop to IDNR, the IDNR highlighted the problems with the lodge's existing sewer system. Estimated cost of replacing the system is $1 million and IDNR insisted that BMDD be made responsible for the cost of sewer system upgrade and repairs
"At no time during the bid selection process did IDNR disclose this condition to the public. This past summer, 2013, without the hotel in operation, raw sewage was spilling onto the surface. "We believe this condition cannot continue to exist," Ballinger said.
In January 2013, BMDD contracted for the remediation of the mold contamination in the lodge and the remediation continued throughout 2013. To date BMDD has spent more than $3 million at Eagle Creek, including the work at the lodge and the golf course. Work at the building included roofing system and drain tiling in addition to the mold remediation.
"We are just about finished with remediation in the building," Ballinger said. "But we can't do anything else until the sewage situation is taken care of."
"The resort has never been profitable. Each of the prior owner failed. they either los the property in foreclosure or allowed the property to deteriorate to a condition that necessitated closure by court order," Ballinger said.
"In 1999, Eagle Creek Resort generated $58,629.10 in Hotel/Motel tax for Shelby County. By 2008 it had deteriorated to $31,219,04. In 2009, only $9,655 was contributed to Shelby County. If the resort was restored to as it was, then the Shelby County office of Tourism may be able to add another staff member and give the Director and increase in pay. If the Resort at Eagle Creek would reopen and operate at a level which utilizes the full value of its location, it could generate enough Hotel/Motel tax to actually increase tourism in Shelby County."
"BMDD began the project with a very positive outlook and, indeed, invested a considerable amount of company funds in the resort at Eagle Creek," Ballinger said. "The Illinois DNR has demonstrated that it is only interested in re-opening the lodge as it was since construction with a sewer system that is antiquated and broken. BMDD believes the short-sightedness of IDNR guarantees failure. The citizens of Shelby County and all of Illinois should know why the Resort at Eagle Creek has not reopened."
"We are at a bad point in our relationship with IDNR," Ballinger said. "We have stopped work, and the next step depends on the IDNR."
In a statement released by the IDNR:
"Since 2010, the current lease-holders 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. 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.
"Improvements on the property were to be limited to what was necessary, and the resort has always needed to come first. BMDD’s claim that IDNR purposefully withheld information on the condition of sewers is blatantly false. 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. IDNR will take the necessary measures to ensure that the interests of the taxpayers of Illinois, and the Shelbyville community, are protected."
Last week the IDNR gave BMDD a 10-day notice of intent to terminate. The letter gives the developer 10 days to show intent to comply or the state has the right to take over the property again.
State Senator Chapin Rose has been working on behalf of Shelby County to make progress on the work at Eagle Creek.
"I am grateful that Director (Marc) Miller has, at my request, intervened personally in this important issue to my constituents and all of central Illinois," Rose said. "I am encouraged by DNR’s strong action in issuing this '10 day' letter – the effect of which will be to either spur the developer to get the hotel up and running or allow us to move on and put this chapter behind us. Bringing finality to the Eagle Creek issue, one way or the other, is an economic imperative for the region. Again, I thank Director Miller for taking the time to personally get involved in this issue after I asked him to do so."