HARRISBURG, Ill. (Aug. 1, 2004) Not surprisingly, Open it NOW! Friends of the Old Slave House support whatever it takes to reopen the site immediately.
Considering the state’s massive fiscal woes, Open it NOW! passed a plan of action in the summer of 2003 that has been endorsed by numerous county and local governments as well as local organizations such as the Gallatin County Historical Society.
Open it NOW! believes a public-private partnership would work best to secure the site’s reopening and to protect the site from vandalism. It believes that the state should immediately lease out the site to a regional non-profit group to operate.
Unlike other state historic sites, the Old Slave House had been open 70 years, 66 of those years as a paid tourist attraction. Between 35,000 and 40,000 people a year (100 a day or more) visited the house in the mid 1980s. Based on those attendance levels and the admission prices in place when the site closed, Open it NOW! feels confident that the site could pay for its own operations, leaving the state on the hook mostly for major capital projects.
Despite similar efforts in other states and its use by the National Park Service at some of their sites, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has refused to seriously consider the offer.
While they do have the authority to do this, the 2003 Plan of Action went further and called on the governor to transfer the property from IHPA to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The goal there is two-fold. First it gets the site out from under an agency that doesn’t want to do this. IHPA feels that doing so would create a "paid-admission" state historic site that would stick out like a sore thumb among their other sites.
Secondly, by moving the site to DNR it could be merged with the nearby Saline County Fish and Wildlife Area to create a new Eagle Mountain State Park. As one part of a larger area, the paid admission status of the Old Slave House wouldn’t stand out so glaringly.
It would also fill another tourism need in the status upgrading of the Saline County Fish and Wildlife Area.