Rantoul sports complex

Artwork shows in blue where the proposed Rantoul sports complex would be built on the community’s west side in the Interstate 57 corridor.

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RANTOUL — Plans for a multi-million-dollar, 60-plus-acre artificial turf sports complex to be built on Rantoul’s west side were unveiled at this week’s village board meeting.

The plan, which would require village board approval, would be paid for from private contributions, sponsorships, donations and grants, with the bulk of the funding coming from bonds paid for from income generated from the village’s tax-increment financing fund. One estimate placed project price tag at $20 million.

If approved, “you’re creating a Midwest destination location for some very large markets to travel toward a sporting venue like we’re  proposing”, Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer told the board.

He projects the complex would spur restaurant, hotel and retail development along the Interstate 57 corridor.

Greater interest would be generated by the sport complex’s  turf fields, which would lure multiple teams due to its no weather-cancellation possibilities.

If the complex is approved, site work could begin this fall, construction take place in 2020 and tournaments begin in the spring of 2021.

Among those with which the village has been working on the project,  Visit Champaign County has “already been in discussion with at least 10 regional and national sports organizations about hosting tournaments in Rantoul in 2021,” Eisenhauer said.

The sports complex would contain numerous fields for baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and rugby — and could host other sports such as Ultimate Frisbee.

The complex would potentially draw traveling teams from a four-hour radius of Rantoul, including Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Louisville.

Village officials had originally considered building the complex near Hap Parker Family Aquatic Center but found that area too small and wouldn’t create as much economic development, said Chris Millken, village urban planner.

“If we’re going to propose a sports complex somewhere in the village of Rantoul, we want to make sure that location is supportive of development,” he said.

Its development inside a TIF district — south of Walmart — would also be a funding plus.

There is “a willingness of the property owner (the Joe Warner estate) to allow for development.   Much of this property has already been platted out for commercial development,” Milliken said.

Milliken said 27,000 vehicles pass by the area daily, and the project fits “into a grander vision of the area.”

In addition to Walmart, that area includes the Holiday Inn Express and the new Shields auto facility.

“Without the sports complex out there, the pace of development ... has been pretty slow,” Milliken said.

Eisenhauer said Rantoul needs more hotel rooms. Lots of more hotel rooms. There are only 200 rooms locally. (The lack of rooms prompted some people attending last month’s Half Century of Progress farm show to stay in hotels as far away as Arcola and Gilman, Trustee Gary Wilson said.)

Eisenhauer said the traveling sports team business is a large one, and the complex would be designed to draw teams from far away to spark hotel stays.

Trustee Terry Workman said he has been traveling “all over the country” to different sports complexes for the past eight years to watch his grandchildren play.

“We have not been anywhere in Central Illinois” to watch them.

He said among his stops have been Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago — “whose facilities were horrible” — Nashville, Atlanta and Kansas City.

“There’s no facilities here in Central Illinois that will compare to what we’re making, and we have a perfect location. I wish it had been here eight years ago,” Workman said. “To me this is a great opportunity for our community and the economic value of these people knocking on our door before we’ve even put a shovel in the ground.”

Eisenhauer said he has received feelers from several companies indicating they will develop businesses along the corridor if the complex is built.

He said his research behind sports complex and sports tournament organizers found they prefer a four-hour drive market.

“If you get teams from 15 minutes away, you don’t get the overnight stays,” Eisenhauer said. “Four hours, the family will make the drive and stay overnight. You are creating a Midwest destination location for some very large markets to travel toward a sporting venue like we’re proposing.”

Eisenhauer said most national tournaments are held on the East Coast, primarily because that is where the sporting facilities are.

The sports complex would greatly benefit neighboring businesses.  

A Visit Champaign County marketing study found a 60-team youth baseball tournament would generate overnight attendance of 2,534 people plus another 600 one-day attendees, creating a weekend attendance of more than 3,000 visitors. That relates to direct business sales of $656,000.

The tournament would require 1,477 hotel rooms.

Eisenhauer presented similar figures for softball and soccer tournaments, which on average pull in more people than baseball tournaments.

“We have already been in conversation with hotel organizations interested in the concept because it would be unique ... to have hotels directly adjacent to the field itself,” Eisenhauer said.

Said Eisenhauer: “Since the conversation has become more vocal, we are already getting calls from developers. We have already had individuals who said they would look to put a restaurant and retail in this community. They want to know when the board is going to vote on it because they want to be in (Rec Director Luke) Humphrey’s office the next day to choose their location.”

Rantoul Rec Department Assistant Director Andy Graham said the village has been talking about building a sports complex for years. The village formerly hosted numerous tournaments. That died out, however, when other complexes in the country went to turf fields.

Eisenhauer said he wants to get the entire community involved and wants local teams to use the facility as well.

Trustee Sam Hall said he has “done some traveling too” to follow sports teams.

“For me what I envision, the potential economic impact sounds phenomenal,” Hall said. “But I think of the community impact. You have a facility that our children, our students can use and develop, and we can come out and cheer and yell at them and not have to travel as much.”

Hall said visiting families could see Rantoul “as a great place to live,” which could also benefit local schools.

Mayor Chuck Smith said development of the complex was a goal stemming from the Rantoul Tomorrow Initiative.

“It’s often been said that the community that dreams big  succeeds. And big dreams do happen.”

He pointed to the Half Century of Progress show that has grown dramatically since it came to Rantoul, and estimated 120,000 to 130,000 people attended the August show.

“This is a good project,” Smith said. “We need to be prudent,  and we want the community to know we will go through this step by step, and we want public involvement.”

Trustee Mark Wilkerson asked when the board would know how much the village will need to borrow.

Eisenhauer said final numbers will be presented at the Oct. 1 board study session and that he hopes by then to have some commitments from donors, developers, sponsors and whether grants are available.

“It will only be new money going into this project,” Eisenhauer said, so if you’re concerned ... we’re going to be taking local fuel tax money that we would be putting into the streets and putting into the sports complex, the answer is no.”

He said because the complex would lie within a TIF district, the bonds would be paid from the incremental value of properties within the district. Hotels, restaurants and retail constructed in the district would increase the incremental value, which would raise funds within the TIF pool.

Annual operations would be offset by field rental fees, sponsorships, concessions and additional hotel-motel tax money.

Humphrey said the village received 14 proposals from design firms, which was short-listed to seven companies whose representatives were interviewed by committee.

He said only one — Byrne & Jones — provided a master plan, which it had already completed.

“They definitely stood out among the group,” Humphrey said, citing the company’s experience in design and construction of sports complexes, which he called “very, very impressive.”

The firm would undertake the project as a design-build, and Eisenhauer said the village wants local companies to undertake as much of the work as possible as subcontractors.

He said village staff will handle the master plan.

Eisenhauer said the sports complex would be initially marketed by Ryan Reed of Visit Champaign County and said Reed, at a trade conference, received contracts for organizations interested in booking at the Rantoul site in 2021. Eisenhauer said a village employee would be responsible to market the facility later.

Asked by Wilkerson how confident he is that 15 to 20 tournaments could be booked the first year, Humphrey said: “I’m concerned we might have to turn people away, quite honestly. From the research that we’ve done and people we’ve talked to, I have no reason to believe we can’t get 15 to 20.”

Eisenhauer said the committee has visited other sports complexes, and few in the Midwest are equipped with turf fields.

Village officials will present the sports complex concept at the Sept. 9 Rantoul Township High School board meeting and the Sept. 19 Rantoul Park District meeting.  Eisenhauer said they also want to meet with University of Illinois, Parkland College and Illinois State University officials.

Meetings to take public comments on the proposal are set for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, and Tuesday, Sept. 24, at the municipal building.