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Southwest Illinois News is a weekly news publication spotlighting attractions, events, entertainment, tourism, jobs and business developments in Southwestern Illinois
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News Bill to Improve and Expand Historic Tax Credit Program
SPRINGFIELD, IL (SWI-News.com), June 3, 2018 - The Illinois General Assembly passed a bill to improve and expand the existing River Edge Redevelopment Zone Historic Tax Credit (RERZ).

By an overwhelming majority, the Assembly sent the bill, SB3527, to Governor Bruce Rauner, opening up this successful incentive statewide. The bill amends the RERZ to enhance its usability and establishes a new statewide Historic Preservation Tax Credit across Illinois. Landmarks Illinois and the American Institute of Architects-Illinois celebrate the passing of this important legislation. Both organizations have supported this legislation and provided expertise on tax credit best practices for the bill authors.

"In order to find creative opportunities to put more investment in our communities, we need to maintain our competitive edge," said Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, primary sponsor of the bill, as she presented the bill for passage on the House Floor. "We are looking to get more buildings back on the tax rolls in our communities. If we are going to be serious about turning the state around, we have to be serious about creating an environment where people can be successful and build a family."

On May 31, 2018, the Illinois House voted 101-11-1 on the bill, and the Senate voted 51-0, showing nearly unanimous support for expanding the availability of state historic tax credits to historic reuse projects across Illinois. Authored by primary sponsors Sen. Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford) and Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria), the bill amended existing RERZ language and expanded the program statewide. The RERZ program was established in 2012 as a five-year pilot allowing a 25 percent state income tax credit for qualifying projects that created jobs and revitalized vacant and blighted historic properties along riverfronts in Aurora, East St. Louis, Elgin, Peoria and Rockford. The bill clarified how the RERZ credit is applied to phased projects, establishes a carry-forward provision and better defines recapture events.

SB3527 also establishes a new statewide Illinois Historic Preservation Tax Credit. Historic preservation projects statewide that meet one of five targeted criteria and a project readiness test can apply for a 25 percent state income tax credit for qualified expenditures, up to $3 million in state credits per project. The Historic Preservation Division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will administer two application rounds annually to allocate the $15 million available per year. Credits will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis and applicants must reapply if not accepted. The program will be in effect from Jan. 1, 2019, through Dec. 31, 2023.

"The River Edge Tax Credit has a proven record of creating jobs and spurring economic development in Rockford," said Sen. Steve Stadelman of the expanded program. "I look forward to its continued success statewide."


Ameren Smart Thermostat
(l - r) Dave Bend, Nest; Jackie Asch, ecobee; Kristol Simms, Ameren Illinois; Richard J. Mark, Ameren Illinois; Brien Sheahan, Illinois Commerce Commission; Rob Kelter, Environmental Law & Policy. (PRNewsFoto/Ameren Illinois)
Ameren Illinois Announces Commitment to put 300,000 Smart Thermostats in Customer Homes and Businesses
EAST ST. LOUIS, IL (SWI-News.com), May 20, 2018 - Ameren Illinois has announced an initiative to put 300,000 smart thermostats in customer homes and businesses.

Ameren Illinois customers can purchase a qualified ENERGY STAR® smart thermostat and apply online to receive a $100 discount in the mail. An instant smart thermostat rebate and an online marketplace will be available in the next few weeks to make the process even easier for customers to save. Rebates are being provided to customers through energy efficiency program funding approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission under the landmark Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA).

The initiative also seeks to get smart thermostats into the residences of income-eligible customers. Those qualified can now have one of the devices installed for free as part of the Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program.

"When the Future Energy Jobs Act was passed, we made a bold commitment to ensure that benefits of energy efficiency would be available to all of our customers, especially those with limited financial means," said Ameren Illinois Chairman and President Richard J. Mark. "With today's announcement, we're living up to that promise. Putting 300,000 smart thermostats in customer homes and businesses is an ambitious goal, but we're confident that with the collaboration of our partners we can make that vision a reality."

The initiative is bolstered by the active involvement from leading smart thermostat brands, including Nest and ecobee. Since 2011, Nest thermostats around the world have helped customers save more than 22 billion kilowatt-hours of energy and their work with Ameren is in service of this mission to bring energy efficiency to more homes across the U.S.

ecobee introduced the world's first smart wi-fi thermostat to help homeowners save money, conserve energy and live more comfortably. "We applaud the commitment that Ameren Illinois is making here today and are thrilled to offer the Ameren Illinois customers a better way to save on their energy bill and reduce their carbon footprint," said Stuart Lombard, president and CEO of ecobee.

Ameren Illinois' energy efficiency program is recognized as one of the best in the country - rated #12 by ACEEE, an independent energy efficiency organization. Over the past nine years, Ameren Illinois has helped its customers reduce their energy usage by nearly 12 million megawatt-hours, saving them approximately $781 million. This improved energy efficiency has enabled Ameren Illinois customers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 8.3 million metric tons - the equivalent of taking nearly 1.8 million cars off the road for a year.


Free Summer Concerts at Eckert's Belleville Farm
BELLEVILLE, IL (SWI-News.com), May 15, 2018 - Each year as summer rolls around, Eckert's Belleville Farm gears up for another exciting Summer Concert Series.

The family-owned and operated business is located at 951 South Green Mount Road, less than 30 minutes from St. Louis. From Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, families can enjoy live music at the farm every Friday and Saturday, from 7 pm - 9 pm, and there's no cover charge.

The talented musical artists who perform at our concerts represent a spectrum of music genres. Musical styles featured at our concerts include Americana, bluegrass, country, blues, folk, funk, jazz and rock. Some groups stick to one style of music while others play two or more styles. Whatever the musical genre, these musicians always put on a great show.

The outdoor concerts are for music lovers of all ages. There's a bunch of engaging kid-friendly activities for them to enjoy at a unique playground that includes climbing and sliding activities.

It's okay to bring dogs to the show, just make sure dogs are on a leash.

Eckert's has plenty of food and beverages on hand during every concert. Visitors can go to the biergarten to purchase drinks and food, find treats at their country store or enjoy a nice sit-down meal at the restaurant. Eckert's strictly enforces the no outside food and drink rule, so please abide by it to avoid awkward moments and misunderstandings. For more information on the concert schedule, call 618-233-0513 or 800-745-0513.


"From Illinois to the White House: Lincoln, Grant, Reagan, Obama" Exhibition
SPRINGFIELD, IL (SWI-News.com) - The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum will help celebrate the state's 200th birthday with a major new exhibit about the four presidents who have called Illinois their home, said ALPLM Executive Director Alan Lowe.

The exhibit, entitled "From Illinois to the White House: Lincoln, Grant, Reagan, Obama," will explore their connections to the Prairie State, their political battles, the first ladies who helped them succeed and much more.

Visitors will see amazing documents and artifacts, including Ronald Reagan's yearbook from his high school days in Dixon, the table where Ulysses S. Grant's accepted Robert E. Lee's surrender during the Civil War, an original draft of Barack Obama's speech at the 50th anniversary of the Selma civil rights march, and the briefcase Abraham Lincoln used as president.

"From Illinois to the White House" opened March 23 and runs through the end of 2018.

"Illinois helped shape these leaders, and they in turn helped shape Illinois and the entire country. As we celebrate the state's bicentennial, it seems appropriate to take a close look at their lives and legacies," Lowe said.

"We're bringing together artifacts from more than a dozen institutions and private collectors for what will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit," Lowe added.

Items in the exhibit come from, among others, the U. S. Grant State Historic Site, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Barack Obama Presidential Library, National Portrait Gallery, Chicago History Museum and Wayne Whalen, chair emeritus of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. The John Ullrich Foundation of Decatur has provided generous support.

The exhibit will be housed in the ALPLM's Illinois Gallery, a space dedicated to rotating exhibits on state history. There will be no extra fee to see "From Illinois to the White House: Lincoln, Grant, Reagan, Obama." It is provided as part of regular admission to the Lincoln museum (212 N. 6th Street, Springfield).

For more information, visit www.PresidentLincoln@illinois.gov


New, Improved 'Getting Around Illinois' Website
SPRINGFIELD, IL (SWI-News.com) - The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has introduced a redesigned GettingAroundIllinois.com that provides continually updated information in a mobile-friendly format that's more convenient for the motoring public in Illinois.

"We are very excited to provide this new-and-improved resource for travelers," said Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn. "GettingAroundIllinois.com is a great place to get important information - from winter road conditions to construction site locations to road or bridge closures - for any trip, any time of the year. The new mobile-friendly format will get travelers the information they need quickly and conveniently."

In keeping with the demands of today's users, the new website includes the ability to identify and zoom in to your location, travel route or destination, whereas the former site offered a static map that provided a broad view of a user's overall location. Additionally, the new website is operated by a cloud-based system, creating a better opportunity to provide real-time information and reducing potential system downtime.

As construction season gets underway, work zone information throughout the state is accessible by selecting the map's "road construction zone" layer to see where a work zone is located, how long it will be in place and what type of work is being done.

One of the more popular features of GettingAroundIllinois.com is the winter road conditions map, which averages more than 2 million visitors during snow-and-ice season and is regularly used by news media and shared widely on social media. The new map features an enhanced color scheme that better aligns with current map technology used by surrounding states, creating a more seamless travel experience for truckers and tourists, and is easier for color-blind individuals to discern.


Drury Inn & Suites Completes Renovation of Hotel in O'Fallon, Illinois
O'FALLON, IL (SWI-News.com) - The Drury Inn & Suites St. Louis O'Fallon, Illinois, has completed a full renovation to the property's 180 guest rooms and suites, public areas and more than 2,800 square feet of meeting and event space.

Renovations to the hotel's guest rooms include new mattresses and headboards, carpet, paint, window treatments, lighting and artwork. All of the guest bathrooms also received new showerheads, hair dryers and soft goods. The public and meeting areas of the hotel received upgraded lighting, new furniture complete with USB plug and play charging ports and artwork inspired and reflective of the St. Louis landscape.

"This is a great, fresh look for our property," said Ashley Timmons, general manager, Drury Inn & Suites St. Louis O'Fallon, Illinois. "Our upgrades were influenced by guest feedback and were made with their satisfaction in mind. We're excited for our guests to experience our new look and feel."

The hotel is 20 minutes east of downtown St. Louis off I-64. Conveniently located near Scott Air Force Base, the hotel is also near a wide variety of local attractions. Because of its central location and numerous amenities, Drury Inn & Suites St. Louis O'Fallon, Illinois, is an ideal location for business and leisure travelers. Call 1-800-325-0481 for more information or reservations.


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