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Monday, February 08, 2010

Illinois bi-county agency grants option on 400 acres to shortline

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The Jo-Carroll Depot Local Redevelopment Authority agreed to give Riverport Railroad a three-year option to buy a 400-acre industrial park at the former Savanna Army Depot 20 miles north of Thomson Correctional Center, Executive Director Diane M. Komiskey, local media report.

The shortline railroad and switching company with an interchange on the BNSF may exercise the option on tracts of no less than 40 acres. The LRA put in place conditions to assure that development was about to occur on a tract before it would be sold to Riverport.

"It is the LRA's hope that by granting the option, the LRA and Riverport Railroad cooperatively will succeed in encouraging Rescar and other rail-related industries to grow in the Savanna Depot Park," Komiskey said.

The LRA is an agency created by Jo Daviess and Carroll counties to receive property from the Army and convey it for economic development. The Savanna Depot Park is a 3,000-acre multiuse development.

Rescar is the largest employer in Depot Park, with 27 of 62 jobs. Riverport Railroad is the largest owner and investor in the development.

"The LRA would like to see Rescar's business continue to prosper here alongside other companies so that more jobs will be available in northwest Illinois to people of the region," Komiskey said.

Riverport, U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Egan and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce announced Riverport's "railcar mall" concept for the park on Jan. 18. Riverport, which stores, loads and repairs rail cars, wants to create a place where railroad companies can have their cars refurbished, repaired, cleaned or scrapped. It's a project that could create more than 380 jobs, officials have said.

Although the company isn't putting a timeline on the expansion, officials said they want to have the necessary infrastructure - water, gas and sewer lines - in place in the next 18 months.

To make the project a reality, Riverport has invested $8 million over the past 11 years, including putting in new rail lines to handle heavier rail cars, and it plans to invest $10 million more. Rescar plans to invest $17 million.

While Riverport explores private-sector financing for its railcar mall, the LRA will be seeking grants and other funds that must flow through a government agency for infrastructure improvements, Komiskey said in the release.

For the concept to become a reality, the LRA must receive title to property from the Army so it can convey the property to Riverport. To date, though, the LRA has received only 35 percent of the property designated to be transferred. With the 10-year anniversary of the closing of the depot approaching in March, the LRA has launched a campaign to expedite transfer of the rest of the property.

In addition, Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's staff is working alongside Manzullo's to fund the cleanup and cut through the red tape delaying the transfer of property, the release said. Manzullo also has offered to seek $1 million in federal funds for infrastructure improvements.