THUMBS UP TO… forward thinking. It’s good to know the Utica Village Board is moving ahead with plans to adopt an ordinance allowing property owners to lease or rent homes and other spaces on a short-term basis. At a meeting last week, Village Clerk Laurie Gbur told trustees her office has been receiving inquires from people interested in investing in suitable properties and calls from people from outside the area seeking rental homes for short stays. This is the type of rental available through websites like Airbnb.com, and it’s a natural fit for a community such as Utica that has year-round tourist appeal thanks to Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks as well as a thriving downtown district.
It makes sense to allow people who have invested in the community, either through home ownership or by taking over a property to manage, to monetize their resources. However, it’s also wise to do so in a way that respects the wishes of those who simply want to live in town and not a commercial district. We encourage the village to look at what has worked — and, frankly, what hasn’t — in similar communities and adopt an ordinance that helps enhance Utica’s reputation as both a wonderful place to visit as well as an excellent community to call home.
THUMBS DOWN TO… the end of another era. Once again we come to lament the closure of another establishment that seemed so intertwined in a community’s fabric that it might well have been considered immutable. And yet, as of today, Senate Billiards in downtown Ottawa is no more. Such obituaries tend to wax about generations of residents as patrons or customers, but that’s absolutely the case with the Senate. The pool hall opened in the downtown Globe Building more than 80 years ago. The current owners have run the joint for 27 years.
For decades the Senate profited from its close proximity to Ottawa High School, a natural spot for students who could leave campus during lunch break, order one of the famed steamed hot dogs or a barbecue sandwich and shoot a little stick before heading back to class. But that chapter is closed, and along with the declining popularity of billiards, pool and snooker, it’s hard to keep the ship afloat. And so another page of city history turns to whatever the future holds. Those who loved the Senate will honor its memory forever, but downtown will never quite be the same.
THUMBS UP TO… an honor for the ages. In the midst of preparation for celebrating Streator’s sesquicentennial and many of the locally significant names nearly every native learns early in life comes a fitting tribute to a Streatorite of more recent vintage: the Route 23 bridge over the Vermilion River in South Streator is to be dedicated to the memory of Vietnam veteran Michael W. Ragusa. The former Marine was a lifelong member of the Illinois AMVETS and Streator Veterans of Foreign Wars. He also was a member of the AMVETS Riders, the Pekin Marine Corps League, Streator American Legion and the Streator Elks. Exposure to Agent Orange while serving led to cancer, ultimately ending his life prematurely on Sept. 27, 2016.
As deputy service director at AMVETS, Ragusa provided counseling and guidance to veterans in regard to VA benefits and employment. He provided representation at VA hearings if appeals were warranted. He continued to help veterans, even after he went on a medical leave. In other words, the service of his country did not end when he took off his uniform, but continued to where it can be fairly said he “dedicated his life to others,” as state Rep. Jerry Long, R-Streator, remarked when proposing the dedication on the Illinois House Floor. Thanks to this effort, many future Streatorites will know of Ragusa’s commitment to his community.
THUMBS DOWN TO… yet another lottery letdown. The list of ways the Illinois Lottery has been a bum deal for the state’s taxpayers is now far too long to recount here, so we’ll focus on the most recent disappointment: a Chicago Tribune investigation showing that from mid-November to mid-March, the lottery sold more than 3 million instant game tickets — that’s more than $20 million in sales — for games that no longer had any top prize available. Officials say they’re covered by the fine print on the back of tickets explaining players might be buying a ticket without a chance to win the advertised prize, but there’s hardly any options for people to see those details without first buying at least one scratch-off.
Further, that information isn’t available on the lottery’s website. And although the site does offer information on the status for top prizes in a game, the Tribune found the lists aren’t updated at regular intervals — sometimes not for up to two weeks. Which kind of calls into question use of the word “instant” in promoting these games. We understand a little lag time in selling a winner and having it claimed, and some games still have decent payouts for secondary prizes. But the way Illinois’ lottery conducts itself exceeds what can be considered reasonable risk and enters the realm of deception and fraud. This should infuriate all Illinoisans. Even if you don’t play the games, this ultimately is an issue of misusing taxpayers’ resources.