Rick Linton smiles this week.
As executive director of the Rend Lake Area Tourism Council, Linton is pleased with Wednesday’s announcement that the state of Illinois is committing $17.5 million to renovate and transform the Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center near Ina.
That’s good news for Linton and for the area, which has missed the facility since it closed in December 2016 due to mold, peeling paint, maintenance issues, and problems with the concessionaire who operated the facility. Linton said his tourism organization is funded primarily by a tax on motel stays in the county, but the tourism board lost about 60% of its revenue when the facility closed.
“That goes into our marketing fund and allows us to reach Chicago and beyond,” he said. “It’s also going to give us a really strong branding for the lake because the resort has really been an important part of our marketing.”
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He explained that the economic benefits of reopening go well beyond revenue to promote the area, as it will help other businesses in the area.
“There are many new businesses in the area and the tourism infrastructure around the lake will also grow with it,” he said. “Tourism is one of the biggest things we have in Franklin County. I am confident that this will stimulate more tourism-related development.”
The Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center is located in the 3,300-acre Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park near Whittington. The redesigned facility is expected to feature more than 100 hotel-style rooms, as well as a conference center, cabins, restaurant, boatel, gift shop, pool, tennis courts and more. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources oversees the property but will likely contract with a third party to operate the resort.
According to a media release from the governor’s office, the resort attracted 2.4 million visitors annually and employed up to 125 people. It had an estimated economic impact of nearly $245 million in 2010, with an occupancy rate of about 90% during the peak season between late spring and late fall.
Currently, lodging options for visitors to Rend Lake who do not wish to stay in a campground are limited with few hotel rooms nearby. Linton said many people chose to stay in Marion or Mount Vernon.
Angela Schrum, director of tourism for the city of Mount Vernon, said her city will benefit from the new resort and increased visitor numbers at Rend Lake.
“This will help bring people to the lake area and that will benefit all surrounding communities,” she said.
State Assemblyman Dave Severin said the funds would “return the resort and conference center to a world-class facility. This investment will bring jobs, tourism and economic development to southern Illinois and revitalize the Rend Lake Resort property.”
Renovations at the Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center are scheduled to begin in 2023.
Photos: “The Southern Illinois 100 – Part 2” – Iconic symbols of our region