Renovations at Rend Lake Resort are welcome news for tourism officials | Local news

The shuttered Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center sits behind closed gates and barricades in this file photo from last fall. Governor JB Pritzker recently announced that work will begin in 2023 to renovate and reopen the facility.

LES O’DELL The Southerner

Rick Linton is all smiles this week.

As executive director of the Rend Lake Area Tourism Council, Linton is excited about Wednesday’s announcement that the state of Illinois is providing $17.5 million to renovate and renovate the Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center near Ina.

That’s good news for Linton and the area, which has missed the facility since it closed in December 2016 due to mold, peeling paint, maintenance issues and issues with the concessionaire that ran the facility. Linton said his tourism organization is primarily funded through a county motel stay tax, the tourism board lost about 60 percent of its revenue when the facility closed.

“It feeds into our marketing pool and allows us to reach Chicago and wider areas,” he said. “It’s also going to give us a really strong brand for the lake because the resort has really been a key part of our marketing.”

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He explained that the economic benefits of the reopening go far beyond the revenue to promote the area, as it will help other businesses in the area.

“There are a lot of new businesses in the area and the tourism infrastructure around the lake will also increase with this,” he said. “Tourism is one of the biggest things we have in Franklin County. I hope this will stimulate more tourism-related development.”

Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center is located in the 3,300-acre Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park near Whittington. The renovated facility is expected to offer more than 100 hotel-style rooms, as well as a conference center, cabins, restaurant, boathouse, 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 manage the resort.

According to a news release from the governor’s office, the resort attracted 2.4 million visitors annually and employed 125 employees. It had an estimated economic impact of nearly $245 million in 2010 with an occupancy rate of about 90% during the high season between late spring and late fall.

Lodging options for visitors to Rend Lake who don’t want to stay at a campsite are currently limited with a 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 visitors to Rend Lake.

“It’s going to help people get to the lake area and it’s going to benefit all the communities around it,” she said.

State Rep. Dave Severin said the funds will “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.”

Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center renovations are expected to begin in 2023.

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