Most Illinois state tourism centers closed
Thirteen of 15 tourist information centers in Illinois have ceased operating, another victim of the state’s budget problems.
However, state officials said they hope the closures are only temporary. The Union Station center in Springfield is one of the two that remains open.
The closed centers were operated under contract with the Western Illinois Tourism Development Office based in Macomb.
“The governor’s (budget office) worked with agencies to only renew contracts that were essential to the health and safety of Illinois residents,” said Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Alka Nayyar. “We are currently working with (the budget office) to establish our agency management plan, and once it has been approved, we anticipate being able to move forward with our contracts.”
The governor’s budget office did not respond to questions Tuesday.
The tourist information centers were operated throughout the state at interstate rest stops, mostly along Illinois’ borders. All of those operated at the rest stops have now closed.
“It’s a major impact on tourism,” said Western Illinois Tourism Development director Robert Carmack. “It’s a huge loss to convention and tourism bureaus.”
The office held a contract for the services for more than a dozen years, Carmack said. It was worth about $2 million a year.
Up to three people worked at each center, although Carmack said he had to lay off some of the 45 people prior to the final closure. Nayyar said 34 people were affected by the closures, none of them state employees. All were laid off when the program ended June 30.
“It was really hard to tell them they were no longer employed,” Carmack said
“We were supposed to try and extend (tourists’) stay,” Carmack said of the role for the tourism centers.
Brochures were available describing places and attractions for people to visit.
Workers at the information centers also directed travelers to area events and attractions and helped them make hotel or campground reservations, Carmack said.
Interstate rest stops remain open as usual, said Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Josh Kauffman.
In addition to the Union Station tourism center, one at the Chicago Cultural Center remains open. Both are staffed by volunteers.
Doug Finke can be reached at 217-788-1527.
The 13 tourist information centers that have been closed (See related map)
1. Clark County: Cumberland Road, Interstate 70 westbound, 7 miles west of Indiana line
2-3. Franklin County: Rend Lake North and Rend Lake South, Interstate 57 at Rend Lake
4. Madison County: Homestead, Interstate 55 eastbound, 27 miles east of St. Louis
6. Massac County: Fort Massac, Interstate 24 westbound, 1 mile north of Kentucky line.
7. Rock Island County: Mississippi Rapids, Interstate 80 eastbound, 1 mile east of Iowa line
8. St. Clair County: Gateway, Interstate 64 eastbound, 25 miles east of St. Louis
9. Union County: Trail of Tears, I-57 northbound, 32 miles north of Missouri
10. Vermillion County: Salt Kettle, I-74 westbound, 7 miles west of Danville
11-12. Will County: Prairie View North and Prairie View South, I-57 north- and southbound, 27 miles north of Kankakee
13. Winnebago County: Turtle Creek, Interstate 90 southbound, 2 miles south of Wisconsin line