|By Mary Ann Ford, The Pantagraph,
Bloomington, Ill.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Feb. 6, 2006 - NORMAL - Nearly three years after Normal started negotiating a contract for a downtown hotel with developer John Q. Hammons, the first shovel of ceremonial dirt was turned for the project.
"This is a very, very momentous occasion," said Normal Mayor Chris Koos. "It's been a long time coming."
Hammons, Illinois State University President Al Bowman and numerous community leaders attended the ceremony Monday at the Normal Theater. Members of the ISU pep band greeted each with music and the university's mascot, Reggie Redbird, shook hands.
"I can't tell you how excited I am about this project," said Bowman. "The location is at the doorway to our campus. It's an asset not only to Bloomington-Normal, but to the region.
"It also will provide a place for me to put my in-laws," he joked.
Hammons said he likes to build hotels near state capitols and universities. Ten of Hammons' 186 hotels are in cities that have both.
"Kids always go to school and politicians never get fired," Hammons said.
He also looks at interstates and industries in communities.
"The two main reasons for coming here are your three interstate highways and the fine new industries flourishing in your community," said the 88-year-old Hammons. "I could see a void, particularly with the strength of ISU."
Hammons said the Marriott Hotel planned on land bordered by Fell Avenue on the west, Beaufort Street on the south, Broadway on the east and North Street on the north, will be "top class."
"The meeting space is great," he said. "You need that. There's a big void."
Koos said there are no other hotels of this quality downstate -- unless it's the one Hammons is building in East Peoria. The 210,000-square-foot hotel in Normal will have 230 rooms, a 45,000-square-foot conference center, a swimming pool, fitness center and full-service restaurant.
Koos said hundreds of people will be hired during construction of the project, and after the hotel opens in fall 2008, it will employ 100 full-time workers.
"It's the cornerstone, the jewel of our uptown project," Koos said. "We're flattered that he (Hammons) chose ISU and Normal for this project."
The hotel will cost $50 million -- $20 million more than the original $30 million price tag.
"It's not like it used to be," Hammons said. "When we used to start (a project), we knew the cost. Now it's not that simple."
One of the reasons is the competition for supplies by other nations, he said.
Hammons has pledged $47.5 million toward the hotel and $4 million for the accompanying conference center. The town will provide $2.5 million for the hotel, $10 million for the conference center and $8.3 million for the parking garage that will be connected to the hotel via a skyway.
Initial site work for the project began last month.
Copyright (c) 2007, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.
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