Hundreds of jobs possible in two development projects
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
EDWARDSVILLE — Business is sunny ahead, judging from a forecast laid down by city officials.
Construction values are up, an economic development website is being debuted and more importantly a couple of major projects are in the works that bode well for the coming year.
One of the projects is a 40,000-square-foot, multiple-story, office building targeted for the Interstate 55 corridor near Hortica. The other is a development for Gateway Commerce Center, along Illinois 255. At press time both were subject of confidentiality agreements and not quite ready to announce.
The Gateway project has the potential of up to 1,500 jobs, Mayor Hal Patton said.
City officials sat down with the Illinois Business Journal to talk about progress in conjunction with the second annual Business Forecast Breakfast held Feb. 2.
The new projects, if they occur, will add to the building boom that’s been underway. New figures show that Edwardsville enjoyed $92.57 million in construction investment in 2015, up from $42.86 million in 2013 and $67.52 million in 2014.
Of the 2015 amount, $70.81 million was commercial; $15.59 million was in single-family development; and $6.17 million was additions and remodeling.
“We had 51 new housing starts last year,” said Walter Williams, the city’s director of economic and community development. Most of those were represented by subdivision growth along Governors’ Parkway.
Two of the largest commercial projects are Planet Fitness, valued at $8 million and the new Park Street Plaza, valued at $9 million.
“We have $15 million to $20 million of prospects that we’re working on that will come to fruition this year,” Williams said. “No announcements have been made. If the rug is not pulled out from underneath us, we anticipate numbers for 2016 to be equal to or greater than 2015.”
Neither the planned development of the Madison Mutual property along Route 157 nor further investment around the Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities on Main Street is figured in to those prospects, Patton said.
Big things in the works, include:
– the new joint police/fire complex on South Main, along with the Spay & Play Park next to it
– the new fire station being built by the water tower at SIUE.
– and the new 70-acre Plummer Family sports park along Governors’ Parkway.
Williams is particular proud of the new economic development website, which was to be unveiled during the breakfast. It’s at www.cityofedwardsvilleecondev.com or by going to a link on the City of Edwardsville web page.
Among many things covering what the city has to offer, the site contains a dashboard with a smorgasbord of data that developers and residents will find useful.
“We need a portal to answer questions. Over 80 percent of site-selection decisions are made via a website,” Williams said. “This will put us on the map. It will put us in the game.”
To populate the website with available building and property statistics, the city is using an Ameren Illinois aggregator program, called Lois, and it will be updated regularly.
City officials are trying to build relations with the business community, via the Forecast Breakfast, the website and other measures, Williams said.
“We need to know our business community like the back of our hand,” he said. “We need to connect to them on a regular basis, providing them information about resources, events that are going on and making it easier for them to exist. We want to make sure they are happy.”
Two companies were honored at the breakfast as businesses of the year for contributions to the community. One was TriStar Properties, developer of the Gateway Commerce Center, and Panattoni Development Co. Inc., developer of the Lakeview Commerce Center along New Poag Road. Together those industrial parks now have tenants representing some 6,000 employees.
Each of the companies is now developing major spec buildings at their sites.
The keynote speaker, Mary Lamie, the new director of the St. Louis Regional Freight District, talked about Edwardsville’s warehousing district and its importance to the movement of freight, which is expected to be a booming sector in the next several years.
Madison County Chairman Alan Dunstan said he expects the employment at Gateway Commerce Center to double in the next five years because of the push for freight.
Gateway Commerce Center will probably expand toward the Poag Road area before all is said and done, Patton said.
Patton said he was invited to participate in a recent, five-city forum that also featured the mayors of four Missouri communities, St. Charles, Clayton, Fenton and Florissant. He said he learned some valuable information as it pertains to the direction of growth in Edwardsville.
The Fenton mayor in particular talked about how he wanted to see redevelopment in his community based around manufacturing instead of warehousing because of its value.
Patton told him he should visit Gateway and neighboring Lakeview, where he could see both.
“This isn’t just an area where you store boxes and where you bring material produced someplace else and distributed. There is so much more going on within there. At World Wide Technology, for example, they are bringing in carpenters to make containers to ship the product out. Those are jobs you wouldn’t think would be in a distribution center, and there is example after example of different skill levels and pretty good-paying jobs,” the mayor said.
“We’re very fortunate to be as diversified as we are,” he said. “We have the warehouse area. We have the great educational institution in SIUE and Lewis and Clark. But then we also have the area out by Hortica (along Interstate 55) that is primed for corporate growth. We have land mass. Look at Clayton. They are 1 mile by 1 mile. Most of these other communities are landlocked.”
Once-deserted city theater is now hosting sellouts
By ALAN J. ORTBALS
What is going on at the Wildey Theater in Downtown Edwardsville?
Last December, a screening of the 2003 Christmas movie, “Elf,” sold out. A second showing was quickly arranged for the next day and it drew 225 people.
In January, the Grateful Dead cover band, Jake’s Leg, played to a sold-out audience.
As of this writing, only a few tickets remain for Zydeco Crawdaddys, Judy Collins and Dueling Pianos.
It was just a few years ago that many acts drew embarrassingly small audiences and some movies were shown with no one in the theater at all.
That all changed two years ago when Al Canal took over as general manager and talent buyer at the Wildey. Canal has an extensive history in the entertainment business. He started as a standup comic about 35 years ago touring the country, then moved over to the management side of the business running comedy clubs. Prior to coming to the Wildey, he was working for a company that owned comedy clubs around the country. His job was essentially a comedy club doctor. He would work with new clubs to help them get off on the right foot and tackle unsuccessful clubs, figure out what was wrong and turn them around.
What was wrong with the Wildey?
“The previous city administration operated under the theory that they should have something booked almost every day,” Canal said. “That’s a mistake. You don’t book something just to have something. It kills attendance. My first year here we had 22 percent fewer major events but overall attendance was up 25 percent.
“When you book something you need to ask two questions,” Canal said, “why should I book this? and 2) how am I going to market it? If you don’t know the answer to the second question, don’t book it. It doesn’t matter what you have. If you don’t market it correctly, it’s not going to work. At a place like the Wildey, you have to do two types of marketing. You have to market the venue and you have to market the acts.”
Canal said that marketing used to be much simpler. Radio, television and newspapers did the trick. Now there are so many more avenues and the audiences are so different, you have to tailor the marketing plan to the audience. The Wildey uses its website, Canal said, and has an email list of about 12,000, but he also uses social media like Facebook and Twitter.
“We track results so we know what works and what doesn’t,” Canal said. “You have to think about the type of people who would come to a particular show. What are their lifestyles and how to reach out to them? If we have something that appeals to an older demographic, newspapers are great. If it’s a show for young people, you have to go with social media.”
To understand what acts will draw an audience and what type of audience they’ll draw, Canal looks at the performer’s history at other venues similar to the Wildey.
“But sometimes you don’t get it right,” Canal said. “I had an act recently that didn’t do very well. It broke even. But the audience turned out to be a very different makeup than what I thought it would be. Now I know. I’d be willing to try the act again because now I know I was reaching out to the wrong audience.”
He also asks people for suggestions. Some of the best things he’s booked are things someone suggested, he said. He credits the current city administration for giving him the support and the freedom needed to be successful. He also gives credit to his staff who, along with him, prides themselves on customer service.
Canal said that the Wildey is now getting a reputation among performers as a great venue to play. In fact, he says, he’s able to book acts that typically play larger rooms because it’s known as a beautiful place with really great sound and audio and a reputation for treating the acts well.
“They could play bigger venues,” Canal said, “but here they can really connect with the audience. And performers like to connect with their audience. There’s a lot of gratification for them.”
Canal said that last year he received a call from the agent for the actor Billy Bob Thornton who has a band called the Boxmasters. His agent said that Thornton had heard about the Wildey and wanted to play it. Canal said the fee that was quoted was out of his reach; the Wildey only had 325 seats and just couldn’t afford Thornton’s usual amount. Because Thornton really wanted to play the Wildey, the agent dropped the price and Thornton and the Boxmasters performed there on April 22 of last year.
Another event that has been drawing sellout crowds are movie events put on by The Friends of Wildey. In addition to seeing a classic movie, the audience is entertained beforehand with trivia from the movie and given some background for the making of the movie. One of the actors from the film attends, talks about the filming and does a Q&A with the audience. S.J. Morrison, a member of the board of Friends of Wildey has taken the lead on organizing the film events.
“The first one we did was, ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon,’ which is a cult classic,” Morrison said. “I did some research on it and discovered that the female lead from the movie, Julie Adams, was still living and did public appearances. I reached out to her via Facebook. She was 86 years old and she actually celebrated her 87th birthday at the Wildey with us. She came out, talked about making the movie, did some Q&A and signed autographs. It was a huge hit. We sold out multiple performances.
“And, I can’t tell you how cool it was to be watching the original, 1931, ‘Dracula’ movie with Bella Lugosi Jr.,” Morrison added. “That was literally a once in a lifetime opportunity. And then to be on stage with him asking him questions and him talking about his dad; talking about being on the set of “Abbott and Costello Meet Dracula.” The characters in these movies are iconic and what we’re doing is finding people who were part of these movies who can shed light on them. It makes it a much more intimate experience for me and for the moviegoer.”
The Friends of Wildey have also brought in Mary Badham who played Scout in the 1962 film, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and Karolyn Grimes who played Zuzu in 1946’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Morrison said that he had also pursued Tippi Hedren for a screening of “The Birds” and Robert England from “Nightmare on Elm Street” but wasn’t able to work it out.
The next movie performance is not currently booked but Morrison said he’s hoping to do one with “Back to the Future” in the fall and “The Christmas Story” in December.
“The idea is not to just show a movie but to create an event and to draw people into it,” Morrison said. “You could watch these movies on Netflix but here you’re not only seeing it as it was meant to be seen—on the big screen — but with someone who was actually a part of its creation describing the experience. The hope is that it will help tie people to the movie and to the Wildey. It’s been a fun experience and we’ll keep doing it.”