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Grand Bear Lodge is seeking $27 million to expand its Utica resort and conference center to include a 100,000-square-foot outdoor water park, 50 new condominiums and a boardwalk.
The Utica Village Board disclosed Grand Bear’s plans at its Wednesday meeting. In a memo, village mayor Gloria Alvarado said the village supports the expansion and “welcomes the additional tourism it will undoubtedly bring to the area.”
Grand Bear advised the village of its plans in a June 17 letter indicating its partnership intends to seek $27 million through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, which allows for job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. To secure EB-5 funding, Grand Bear asked Utica for a letter of recommendation, which Alvarado eagerly provided.
“We at Grand Bear are planning an expansion to the resort that would not only be a good economic generator for the Village of Utica, La Salle County and the state of Illinois,” managing partner Joe Hook wrote, “(but also) has the potential to create (400-425) jobs.”
Reached this morning for additional comment, Hook expressed surprised that the letter of recommendation was made public and cautioned that the expansion is in a preliminary stage.
“We’re far, far, far, far away from a real formal announcement,” Hook said. “We’re just getting started interviewing and negotiating with investors. We do not have any investors at this point. Our job right now is to get a proposal to investors and to attract investors.
He added later, “We’re pretty far away from having a firm commitment.”
The current plan includes: - An outdoor water park adjacent to the Enchanted Forest amusement park. The complex would be 100,000 square feet and include a 900-foot lazy river, surf machine, outdoor sports bar and pizzeria, plus 30 cabanas with water misters and outdoor TVs for parties.
- Waterfront boardwalk: A 12,000-square-foot retail corridor with snack shops at the Big Bear Lake area. The centerpiece will be a boardwalk area with rides.
- Group event rental space: A 4,000-square-foot pavilion for year-round rental to accommodate weddings, parties and small concerts.
Additionally, the expansion includes 50 new luxury condominiums and upgrades to the existing resort, including new slides and outdoor splash station.
These features, according to a design by Tevis Architects, would be situated south of the existing resort, filling in acreage located between the Illinois River and Route 71 to the south.
Some of the proposed ideas are not new. As far back as 2007, Hook and his partners proposed a $400 million addition on 250 new acres with roller coasters, artificial skiing area, convention center and indoor-outdoor water park.
That expansion was loosely targeted for 2011, but Grand Bear was hurt by the recession and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection early that year. In April 2012, a federal judge approved Grand Bear’s petition to restructure about $10 million in debt.
Hook said the resort is “on plan,” and he hopes the EB-5 program yields funds that creates up to 425 new jobs and preserves Grand Bear’s current 150 jobs.
“I like the path we’re on,” he said. “It’s improving all the time. This influx of money would help dramatically.”