Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois' 200th Birthday Party Gets Late Start, Low Budget

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois' 200th Birthday Party Gets Late Start, Low Budget

Article excerpt

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. * Illinois is on the brink of its bicentennial bash, but political skirmishing that has battered the state could be blamed for late party planning, a comparatively low budget and ultimately, its contribution to future generations.

The plans to celebrate Illinois' Dec. 3, 1818, admission to the Union seem to pale compared with the two states that joined just prior. Indiana and Mississippi spent tens of millions of dollars and have flashy "legacy" projects to show off. The Prairie State, just seven weeks from kickoff of its yearlong festivities, is aiming to raise a modest $4 million to $6 million.

Stuart Layne, executive director of the Illinois Bicentennial, acknowledges planning got a belated start with his appointment just a year ago. While he said significant corporate and other donors are stepping up, he would not say how much has been raised.

But he dismissed the idea that two years of infighting in the 21st state between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who appointed him, and Democrats who control the General Assembly over a budget that is billions in the red, has hamstrung the project.

He said he's taken two things from virtually every conversation he's had about the Illinois celebration.

"People want us to use the bicentennial as a platform to change the conversation about the state of Illinois, to talk about all the great things that Illinois has contributed to society," Layne said in a speech in Springfield this month. "The second is pride. People are proud to be from this state. ... That has become our mantra."

There are plans for exhibits; a school curriculum; a United Center ceremony honoring 200 Illinoisans in arts, entertainment, sports, agriculture and business; and more.

But it's hard not to notice what's been done elsewhere. Raising $55 million by leasing unused state-owned cell tower space, Indiana, which celebrated its bicentennial last December, built a state archives building, a statehouse lawn bicentennial plaza, a state library learning center and an inn at a state park.

In Mississippi, years of planning went into the celebration, along with over $100 million including $90 million from taxpayers for construction of the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in downtown Jackson. …

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