By Amy Kent Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON Big news hit the Gateway area Tuesday regarding the Thomson, Ill., Correctional Center, but local government and city leaders aren't banking on it just yet.
After Congressional negotiators announced that a massive spending bill would include funding to activate the Thomson prison as a federal facility, the news received mixed reviews from local officials.
"It'll mean a lot to us from a morale standpoint and there will be a big sigh of relief," Village of Thomson President Vicky Trager said. "But I don't know when they'll get around to it."
Although money has been set aside to fund the prison's opening, the spending bill still needs to pass through both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and gain approval from President Obama before being signed into the federal budget.
"I think right now a lot of businesses and developers are a little gun shy until they see that money is actually allocated," Clinton Mayor Mark Vulich said. "I'll be more excited when I see the president has actually signed the bill."
If the bill is passed, the prison won't be fully operational until after renovations that are expected to cost $25 million and take two years are complete.
In addition to the $25 million renovation costs, another $170 million will be needed for equipment and staffing the prison, which brings up concern of how much money is being set aside in the spending bill.
"What's not revealed in there is how much money they are talking about," Clinton Regional Development Corp. President and CEO Mike Kirchhoff said.
According to a press release from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, the bill does not detail how the money will be spent, but both feel confident that funding for the facility’s activation remains a top priority for the Obama Administration.
There is still speculation as to whether the bill will pass, but the possibility has some local officials feeling positive that at least the conversation is moving forward.
"There are a number of developments that have been pending activity of the prison," Fulton Mayor Larry Russell said. "So this progress is good news for the real-estate turnaround, those developments and, of course, our schools."
If the massive spending bill is passed, it could mean major economic gain for Thomson and surrounding municipalities like Fulton and Clinton, which have relied heavily on its pending activation since 2001, when the prison was built.
Lack of funding opportunities however, have delayed that process time and time again, and it wasn't until the federal government purchased the facility from the state of Illinois in 2012 that city officials began to feel confidence once more.
But since that purchase, little has been done to activate the prison, causing speculation to again surface.
"It's about every 12 to 18 months that they have a little blurb about activating the prison," Vulich said. "But this is the first positive comment that we have seen money being talked about so at least it's in some bill that's going to be voted on."
Despite that speculation, city leaders are feeling "cautiously optimistic" and are holding onto hope that this time around the spending bill will be approved, and the Thomson prison will finally be activated.
"When and if that happens, we hope sooner rather than later, the village will immediately see more activity." Trager said. "I'm happy, I'm encouraged and I continue to be positive. That's really all we can do at this point."