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For Delavan, Cannabis Is Sparking A Revolution

Tim Shelley / WCBU
Concept art of Revolution's eventual plans for its Delavan, Ill. cannabis cultivation facility.

It's been a rough few years for Delavan.

The southern Tazewell County city of just over 1,600 people lost its only grocery store to a fire in 2014. An EF-2 tornado in July 2015 damaged or destroyed 51 homes in town. And the city's 80-year-old National Guard Armory closed in 2016 after the Army shifted the 1144th Transportation Motor Transport Battalion out-of-state. 

Declining, aging populations and business losses are nothing new for many rural towns across the country. Delavan is no exception. 

Where this small town stands out from the rest of the pack lies on the edge of town: 75,000 square feet of cannabis growing and processing space, with another 75,000 square feet on the way. 

Revolution Global started up a marijuana cultivation facility in Delavan in 2015 in the early days of the state's medical cannabis pilot program.  The legalization of recreational marijuana sales in Illinois on January 1, coupled with the addition of a number of common conditions which can make one eligible for a medical cannabis prescription, is spurring the company towards rapid expansion. 

Credit Tim Shelley/ WCBU
Delavan Mayor Liz Skinner speaks at the podium as Revolution Global CEO Mark de Souza (far left) and Delavan City Administrator Matt Fick look on at a crowd of more than 100 people.

Local officials say the $11 million in tax-increment financing (TIF) funds and hundreds of jobs the cannabis cultivation center is set to generate over the next 20 years will be a game-changer.

"That's huge for any community, but for a small community like Delavan, it's really big. And with their plans, it could easily double," said Delavan Mayor Liz Skinner. 

City administrator Matt Fick said the TIF district in which Revolution Global's cultivation center is situated currently generates $300,000 a year. After the company expands its capacity with a second cultivation center, that amount is expected to double.

"Last fiscal year, we gave the park district $25,000 to help get the pool back open again. Fifty percent of our capital costs can be paid for with TIF dollars, such as police vehicles and that type of thing," Fick said. "So it's a very powerful economic tool. And the driving force for that is Revolution."

Revolution is also sharing $8,000 a month in profits with the city. Fick said Delavan is exploring opening a daycare with the money, and making some much-needed upgrades to city water and sewer lines.
The CEO of Revolution Global said the company is invested in Delavan for the long haul.

Credit Tim Shelley/ WCBU
Revolution Global CEO Mark de Souza speaks at a town hall event at the Delavan American Legion on Jan. 28, 2020.

Mark de Souza said the company is hiring more than 200 additional employees in the coming months to supplement the 100 who already work on site. The company sold off other Illinois assets to invest more heavily in its Delavan site. 

Revolution purchased the former Harvest Cafe and other buildings in the city's downtown area to convert to restaurants and second-floor apartments last year. But he said that's just the beginning.

"Restaurants, bars, doctors, grocery stores. Things like that are as important to us as operating our core business. Because our people have to have access to the same things that you do who live here," he said. 

One thing Revolution has no interest in bringing to Delavan: a cannabis dispensary. Residents have largely embraced the marijuana growing and processing plant on the edge of town, but they feel differently about selling the product in Delavan.

At a recent town hall event, resident Ted Yontz queried de Souza about a rumor the company wanted to sell cannabis out of the old Harvest Cafe building. In response, de Souza said it wouldn't happen as long as he leads the company. He said recreational cannabis dispensaries do better and are more accepted by the community closer to major population centers. 

Skinner said she believes Delavan is poised for big things with Revolution as the city's new largest employer.

"Because of the establishment of Revolution, investors and businesses across the nation are looking at Delavan like never before," she said.