State budget allocates funds for Alexander-Cairo Port - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

State budget allocates funds for Alexander-Cairo Port

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I-57 bridge in Cairo I-57 bridge in Cairo

CAIRO (WSIL) -- More money is headed to Alexander County to help finance a port along the Mississippi River in Cairo, in hopes of revitalizing the river community. Lawmakers in Springfield allocated more than $150 million next fiscal year to ports across Illinois. 

A dirt levy road along the Mississippi River in Cairo currently sits empty, but soon the land will be home to the Alexander-Cairo Port. The port would sit on Levee Road between 22nd and 36th Streets. 

Larry Klein is the Chairman of the Board for the Alexander-Cairo Port District. Klein said they are one step closer to breaking ground on bringing new opportunities not only to Cairo but to all of southern Illinois. Klein has been a Cairo resident all his life. He said he remembers when it was booming, but currently he feels as if the town was forgotten. 

When asked if he thinks the town can regain its life, he answered, "I absolutely do, I believe this can kick start it and be the game changer."

Board members of the Alexander-Cairo Port District and Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, have been advocating for a $75 million port along the river for eight years. 

Klein says this port is important for the region, "This does not affect just Cairo, it affects all of southern Illinois." 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a $39.9 billion budget last week. Within that budget, $150 million would be distributed to the state's 19 ports, including Cairo. 

"I-64 south will benefit from this terminal," Fowler said. "More great job creation and again the insularly jobs and opportunities that will arise from having this terminal built will bring a tremendous amount of revenue and business for the state and the local economy."

Fowler announced in October the port district would receive $1 million in capital funding from the fiscal year 2019 budget.  

Both Klein and Fowler know they need more than the million they received last year to break ground. 

"Now we are at a point where we need a much larger amount of money to actually start constructing," Klein said. 

Governor Pritzker has said he is a big supporter of the port. 

"It's always a warm fuzzy feeling if you know we will eventually get that money," Klein said. 

Besides the port, a developer from Colorado is also trying to breathe life into the once-thriving town. 

"We can bring this back, I just know we can," Ron Swope, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Horizon Development Group said. 

Swope said he sees potential for Cairo, "I fell in love with this city and I saw the need that was needed." 

Swope is revitalizing three buildings in Cairo. The Bennett Elementary School building will be turned into Family First Resource Center. The facility will offer free meals, a computer lab, business start-up center, and resource centers for those struggling with addiction.

The Garrison building will be transformed into a 25-bed group home for foster kids. 

But, Swope hopes to first open a Mexican restaurant, coffee shop, laundromat and a children's indoor play center inside the strip mall along Highway 51 that formerly housed Subway. 

Swope said all of these businesses would benefit from a port in Cairo, "We are very excited because this will help everything that we are doing currently." 

Swope plans to open the businesses inside the strip mall within the next year.

As for the port, Fowler said the governor's office is expected to announce how much money the Alexander-Cairo Port District will get within the coming weeks. Klein said once they break ground on the port, construction is expected to last two years. 

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