Grissom Hall (Hangar 4) also to be purchased by Los Angeles businessman

RANTOUL — A Los Angeles businessman’s interest in purchasing former Chanute Air Force Base properties continues to grow.

John Van Der Velde, who originally intended to buy hangars 1-3 on the former base then later agreed to add the building that houses the AT&T call center building to the package, now intends to also buy Hangar 4, commonly known as Grissom Hall.

The total purchase price has now ballooned to $8.175 million. The village, however, will actually receive $5.45 million because it has agreed to pay back $2.725 million to Van Der Velde to lease Hangar 3 for five years as an economic incentive rebate.

That will allow the village to continue to allow special events to be held there, primarily the burgeoning Half Century of Progress Farm Show, which is held biennially on the former Chanute grounds.

Village Comptroller Pat Chamberlin said I&I has been paying the village $1,950 a year in rent for Hangar 2. I&I operations presumably would shift from that hangar to Hangar 4.

The next Half Century show will be held in 2019.

Rantoul Airport Manager Eric Vences said Van Der Velde has been interested in Grissom Hall for some time.

“We’ve been trying to make it all work out, taking into consideration the release process that we have to go through,” Vences said.

He said the purchase of the fourth hangar would net the village $300,000. But it would also do more. It would mean the village would not be faced with tearing down the hangar. Now Van Der Velde will apparently renovate the facility.

“We had submitted a letter to Congressman (John) Shimkus to ask the Air Force for money to tear down Grissom Hall,” Vences said. “It’s important to note that we’re in a position where we can actually see the restitution of this building.”

Vences said with the purchase of the properties, the village liabilities will be reduced in several areas, from upkeep to lower insurance premiums and will get the “properties off the village’s books into private hands. You accomplish multiple goals that way,” he said.

Approval of the sale isn’t expected to take as long as the other three hangars and the AT&T building. Public Works Director Greg Hazel said the village already holds the deed for the Grissom Hall property. However, it, too, would need to go through the FAA approval process.

He said including Grissom Hall in the purchase won’t stall Van Der Velde’s purchase of the other properties. They will move ahead separately.

In previous shows, the I&I club had used Hangar 2 to store equipment and for some administrative functions during the Half Century show. Hazel said the village looked at other options in case none of the hangars would be available for the I&I club’s use during the show. One was using Jackson Hall, located at the intersection of Eagle Drive and Flessner Avenue.

Jackson Hall isn’t located next to the airport, but it’s just across the Grissom Hall parking lot to the west.

“The village is trying to accommodate and meet their needs because it has grown wonderfully in the community,” Hazel said of the I&I club and the farm show.

Grissom Hall was most recently used for an Airsoft Republic event. Before the building’s closure it was the long-time site of the Chanute Air Museum, Rantoul Historical Society Museum, classes for Lincoln’s Challenge Academy, Grissom Hall Theatre, a community bicycle repair program and, years ago, the Korean War Museum.

The Grissom Hall purchase was among the topics of discussion at last week’s village board study session.

Public comment policy
In other business, the board discussed a recommendation from an attorney speaking at a recent Illinois Municipal League conference in review of the village’s public participation policy.

The attorney opined that some of the village’s policy was not in line with a Public Access Counsel’s opinion of allowable participation.

Village Clerk Mike Graham outlined the suggested changes.

The public would still be given three minutes to make comments.

The major change would be that members of the public would be able to complain about the board and the village in general if the comments are not derogatory.

“If you’re an elected public official, you’ve got to understand you have a target on your belly and a target on your back,” Graham said. “If the public wants to complain about you, not in a belligerent manner, that’s their right to free speech.”

The proposal also suggests the amount of total public comments be limited to 30 minutes, which can be extended with village board approval. Graham said public comments have never reached 30 minutes.

Property transfers
Hazel presented to the board a proposal for the village to accept ownership of properties from the Air Force southwest of Heritage Lake. The parcels include landfills 2 and 3 and properties surrounding them.

Hazel said the transfer has been long negotiated.

“The demolition of White Hall and the steam plant (on the former air base) were components of the negotiations for the village to consider accepting the deeds,” Hazel said.

He said from an environmental standpoint, the liability remains with the Air Force.

Other business
Board member Jennifer Fox read a letter from Kellie Wahl, co-director of the local farmers market, thanking the liquor committee and the village board for recommending and approving ordinance changes permitting wine- and beer-tasting and sales at certain events.

She said that “while the timing is not in our favor for this season, the Rantoul farmers market looks forward to the future while growing ... for next season.”

She said the farmers market will have the opportunity to expand its event offerings and welcome more vendors.

The board also entered into closed session to consider the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of the village’s legal counsel.

It also met to consider the setting of price or sale or lease of property owned by the village.


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