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Simmons leads $75 million remake of downtown Alton

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019

* SIUE graduate John Simmons has made a fortune as a trial attorney. He’s used some of that money to build things like the Simmons Cancer Institute on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Springfield. His law firm also has an employee foundation that contributes to several charitable causes.

But he’s now taken on a new project. He wants to remake downtown Alton, which has been empty and moribund for years. Gov. Pritzker went to Alton yesterday to highlight the ambitious effort

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday evening stood for a huddle of Alton city leaders and reporters gathered at the corner of Broadway and Henry, beaming with gratitude and excitement for the launch of AltonWorks, the $75M downtown revitalization investment plan courtesy of John and Jayne Simmons.

The governor was attending a ribbon cutting for the offices of AltonWorks, located at 601 E. Broadway. The Simmons’ have purchased more than 30 properties in the city’s downtown — many blighted — and hired a team of development experts to execute the largely unprecedented project. […]

Pritzker praised the plan’s focus on pedestrian-friendly landscapes and an emphasis on rooftop and riverfront development. An initial plan, first unveiled in May, indicated a total rebirth of downtown Alton as a “rooftop city” with picturesque views over the Mississippi for both residential and business spaces. Included are renovations of long-abandoned landmarks like the Grand Theater and Stratford Hotel buildings. The Simmons’ have snatched up nearly any property available in Alton’s downtown corridor. John Simmons earned much of the family’s wealth as an Alton-based trial attorney. […]

Jayne Simmons on Tuesday told The Telegraph that the AltonWorks project is early in Stage 1 as the team drafts a detailed master plan. Employees [20 so far] have been visible around downtown in recent weeks examining each property and doing maintenance as part of that process.

“We purchased over 30 properties, and some of them have office spaces, some have tenants, and a lot of them are empty, so we have to maintain those, and take care of them” she said. “We don’t want any of them continue to deteriorate.”

* More

The effort is projected to create millions of dollars in investment into Alton through private investors, joint venture partners, historic tax credits, and other state funding sources for projects including public infrastructure, transit connectivity, workforce development, business attraction and relocation, and broadband infrastructure.

“We hope Alton will serve as a process ‘proof of concept’ for replicable and scalable demonstration of our commitment to downstate revitalization,” the company’s mission statement says.

“I want to thank John and Jayne Simmons for sharing their vision,” Pritzker said. “I very much want to be part of that vision. This is something we can do all across Southern and Central Illinois.

“Frankly, we should be doing this everywhere.”

I’ve been to that town several times and always thought it was a diamond in the rough. Hopefully, this will work.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

36 Comments
  1. - Just Me - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 9:52 am:

    If you want to turn a community around you need to focus attracting employers. You can build all the pretty sidewalks you want, but without employers, people won’t come.

    Unfortunately most Democrats in this State believe employers are the enemy.


  2. - ItsMillerTime - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 9:59 am:

    @JustMe True, I mean what major employer like I don’t know McDonalds, Caterpillar, or Boeing would want to have any type of business or headquarters in a place filled with Democrats like Chicago? /S

    To the post, this is a great thing he’s doing and I hope it works out. I believe a similar generous citizen has been helping with the downtown of Peoria Heights by investing in businesses and it appears to be working. I should swing by Alton when they finish construction.


  3. - Fixer - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 10:02 am:

    Part of attracting employers involves things like, as you put it, “pretty sidewalks” being built. Or in this case taking buildings abandoned by prior business and refurbishing them so that folks actually want to use them.

    Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.


  4. - efudd - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 10:08 am:

    Just Me-
    Of course you’re right. What employer ever looks at things like infrastructure investment as a positive.
    That’s why you see so many protests against new roads and bridges.


  5. - Skeptic - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 10:09 am:

    “If you want to turn a community around you need to focus attracting employers” Oh, you mean like Wisconsin did with Foxconn?


  6. - Annonin' - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 10:11 am:

    Wow someone uses wealth for good. Huge change from GovJunk using wealth to destroy or fill pockets of GOPie mopes. Refreshing


  7. - A guy - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 10:19 am:

    Good luck to them. It’d be very cool if they can pull this off.


  8. - LINK - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 10:20 am:

    “Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.”

    BINGO(certain banned symbol here).

    Major kudos to the Simmons family for tackling this project. I started visiting there back in the late 70’s when I was courting my future ex-wife and have witnessed it’s downs and ups…

    I have to caution the developers in that not only look at the current local environment BUT also look into the area’s cultures and PLAN and allow for ADAPTATION as times change.

    This isn’t Iowa, in that “if you build it, they will come” sort of environment BUT it could be IF you take demographics, cultural variations and the like into consideration

    To really be successful, IMHO, in the Alton area, I would go beyond the infrastructure being planned and give serious consideration to the services AND programs to develop or provide. That will be the key to it’s development, utility AND (hopefully) success.


  9. - Nick Name - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 10:21 am:

    ===Unfortunately most Democrats in this State believe employers are the enemy.===

    Does someone need a cookie?


  10. - Randomly Selected - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 10:34 am:

    This is a great investment in terms of location and ROI. Tying this in with another post, they’re a dispensary license away from making Alton the “place to be” suburb in the Metro East area.


  11. - Earnest - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 10:34 am:

    I would imagine quite a few Illinois mayors are feeling happy for and jealous of Alton as they read the news today. Vitality of downtowns has been a hot topic as far back as Walmart building their first stores in the state.


  12. - JS Mill - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 10:50 am:

    =Unfortunately most Democrats in this State believe employers are the enemy.=

    Yeah, good one. JB Pritzker clearly hates businesses./s

    take a nap.


  13. - illini - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 10:51 am:

    Fast Eddies ( a local/regional landmark ) has never had any problems attracting loyal customers. And, for years that is the only reason I had to go to Alton.

    Wishing the Simmons family all the success they deserve. That downtown area is a gem waiting to be discovered.


  14. - City Zen - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 10:51 am:

    “I brought the mall here. I got the 7-Eleven. I got the Fotomat here. JC Penney is coming here because of me. You ask anybody, they’ll tell you.”


  15. - SIUEalum - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 11:00 am:

    Alton is a beautiful city, albeit a little rough around the edges. But, it also periodically has the Mississippi River flowing through its downtown.


  16. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 11:04 am:

    ===flowing through its downtown===

    Downtown mostly sits up high. The flooding takes out a road along the river and it sometimes gets to a restaurant at the bottom of a hill and makes it impossible to access the casino.


  17. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 11:05 am:

    Wishing the best for this. I hope that results will be great not only for Alton and the region.


  18. - cover - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 11:08 am:

    = Vitality of downtowns has been a hot topic as far back as Walmart building their first stores in the state. =

    It goes back well before Walmart in many places, malls took away a lot of foot traffic from downtowns in cities across the US (not just Illinois) during the 1970s and 1980s.


  19. - Been There - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 11:10 am:

    === always thought it was a diamond in the rough===
    Only been through there once and thought the same. Some nice old buildings that have been through a lot. And the Irish pub had a good pint.


  20. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 11:10 am:

    ===It goes back well before Walmart in many places===

    The federal government used to limit big retail chain stores. Once that disappeared, so did a lot of downtowns.


  21. - Skeptic - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 11:33 am:

    “The federal government used to limit big retail chain stores. Once that disappeared, so did a lot of downtowns.” I guess that’s what happens when you’re “business friendly.”


  22. - ItsMillerTime - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 11:34 am:

    @Rich Miller

    Really? I had no idea. What should I google to learn more about that?


  23. - Honeybear - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 11:36 am:

    I love Alton. It’s where I go to church. This is a wonderful thing which WILL stimulate growth and small business vitality. Look at what Grafton just North of Alton has done. This is such a great thing.


  24. - AHS98 - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 11:50 am:

    Alton native here. Not only has the area experienced a revitalization in the last few years, but community support landed Alton on a web series about building up small businesses like the Irish pub mentioned above.(https://www.deluxe.com/small-business-revolution/main-street/season-three/)

    Empty implies nothingness. Anyone who has visited in the last 2-3 years has witnessed new businesses remaking old properties like the Riverbender.com Community Center in the former First National Bank Building, Germania Brew Haus in the former Germania Bank, Old Bakery Beer Co in the former Colonial Bakery, Jacoby Arts Center in the former Jacoby Furniture building, Post Commons (coffee house) in the historical Post Office on Alby St., Brown Bag Bistro, Hansen’s Meats, Cracker Factory lofts/lodging, and others.

    This isn’t even to mention well-established downtown businesses like My Just Desserts, Frew Bridal, Tony’s Restaurant & 3rd St. Cafe, Gentelin’s on Broadway, State Street Market, and of course, Fast Eddie’s.

    I’m hopeful that this will be just the latest chapter of Alton’s on-going revitalization and wish them the best of luck.


  25. - CookR - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 12:31 pm:

    ===I brought the mall here. I got the 7-Eleven. I got the Fotomat here. . . ===

    City Zen with a Roadhouse reference. Nice.

    They could probably get some tourism dollars if this is done well.


  26. - bluegrassboy - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 12:34 pm:

    John Hartford would be proud to hear this old river town is hanging on and making a come back. Good on the Simmons Family!


  27. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 1:18 pm:

    ==you need to focus attracting employers.==

    And you do that by making the community better genius.

    ==Unfortunately most Democrats in this State believe employers are the enemy.==

    Sigh. There’s always one in the crowd to pipe up with an inane statement like that.


  28. - btowntruth from forgottonia - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 1:35 pm:

    ==Unfortunately most Democrats in this State believe employers are the enemy.==

    Yeah,just look at how terrible employers are doing in Chicago.
    Either we have a leftover Raunerite here or a Trumper that needs a nap.


  29. - Paddyrollingstone - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:08 pm:

    This is fantastic. I always thought that if I had a ton of dough, that I would try something like this. Good for them.


  30. - Alex Ander - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 3:24 pm:

    I don’t know why people think employers will just move in with dirt roads, boarded up buildings, and rusted old water systems. This is a big mentality here in southern IL and rural midwest in general. People want employers to move here but don’t want money spent on infrastructure improvements yet will blame taxes on the lack of employers.

    Serious, when you fix up infrastructure people will come.


  31. - VerySmallRocks - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 5:58 pm:

    Might be a good test to see whether developing amenities in a small town like Alton can attract millennials fleeing the pricey coasts (or even Chicago) looking for affordable housing and proximity to a major metro area.


  32. - Downstater - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 6:25 pm:

    -Rich Miller -
    “Downtown mostly sits up high. The flooding takes out a road along the river and it sometimes gets to a restaurant at the bottom of a hill and makes it impossible to access the casino.”

    Rich you are mostly correct but your description of Alton’s geography is slightly off. The you are describing up high is Broadway, not what most Altonians think of as “Downtown”. The “Downtown” area is the low lying area across from the flour mill that sometimes floods. Simmons refers to all of it as “Downtown” but he’s talking about Middletown, Hunterstown and other areas. Downtown is around Tony’s Restaurant. Many of Simmons properties are not Downtown, including his law office. For what that is worth.


  33. - Blue Dog Dem - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 7:23 pm:

    Any word if TIFs are involved?


  34. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Wednesday, Jul 31, 19 @ 9:00 pm:

    ==You can build all the pretty sidewalks you want, but without employers, people won’t come.==

    Maybe not for just pretty sidewalks, but an educated workforce, good infrastructure so businesses can get their products to market, a community that people might want to live in so the business can attract employees. Stuff like that.


  35. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Thursday, Aug 1, 19 @ 8:05 am:

    ==Unfortunately most Democrats in this State believe employers are the enemy.==

    You know, expecting corporations to be good citizens (i.e. not kill people with pollution or avoid paying for the infrastructure they use or not exploit workers), isn’t the same as believing they are the enemy.
    An adult teaching a child to have manners at the table, not burp or eat with her mouth open or throw her spaghetti doesn’t think of that child as the enemy either.


  36. - Ann - Monday, Aug 5, 19 @ 5:47 pm:

    @ItsMillerTime, start by googling the Robinson-Patman Act.


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