Easton-Bell Sports might build new facilty west of Rantoul

Easton-Bell Sports, one of the leading manufacturers of sporting goods equipment and protective product apparel, wants to expand its current base of operations to a proposed new facility west of Interstate 57 in Rantoul.

Lewis Hornsby, the vice president of Global Logistics and Fulfillment for Easton-Bell, gave a 15-minute presentation to the Rantoul Village Board during a special study session Tuesday night about the proposed project, which would sit just east of the Jeld-Wen plant in what is now a farm field.

The move to open the new facility, which Hornsby said would be slightly more than 800,000 square feet and house a distribution center, assembly plant and shared-service center, is dependent upon the village board approving the measure at a 6:15 p.m. special board meeting Thursday and other state regulations, according to Rantoul Village Administrator Bruce Sandahl.

The move seems likely, especially after the five trustees present for the study session, Mayor Neal Williams and the various village department heads that attended the study session applauded the dozen representatives Easton-Bell Sports had in attendance at the end of the study session.

Village Attorney Ken Beth said the village will have to approve a predevelopment agreement that would obligate Rantoul to create a tax-increment financing (TIF) district for the new facility.

The TIF revenues are to be split 75 percent for Easton-Bell Sports and 25 percent to the village.

"The village's 25 percent will be used to reimburse itself for some of the cost and expenses that the village will incur under the annexation agreement and this agreement," Beth said. "This agreement also contemplates that bonds will be issued at some point on or near the completion of the project."

Beth said the bonds are revenue bonds and will be paid solely from the funds generated by the TIF district.

Hornsby said Easton-Bell Sports employs 300 people and has two facilities currently in Rantoul. One is along U.S. 136 east of Rantoul, and the other is at one of the hangars on the former Chanute Air Force Base.

Under the proposal, the new Easton-Bell Sports facility would house all employees and parts of the company in one location.

No information was disclosed during the study session about what Easton-Bell Sports would do with the two facilities it currently operates.

"We're just busting at the seams," Hornsby said. "This company has a history of growth, and we want to facilitate that continued growth."

Easton-Bell Sports produces 4 million Riddell football helmets and ships more than 13 million bike helmets on an annual basis. Bell Sports has been in Rantoul since 1983. The company has headquarters in Van Nuys, Calif., and has 32 facilities worldwide.

"This is not just going to be a tin can," Hornsby said. "We've got some (employees) who have been with our company for 39 years, and we want this to be the legacy for the next 30-plus years. We believe this is a facility that not only these folks can be proud of, but the the village of Rantoul and Champaign County as well, can be proud of."

Hornsby said if the project is approved, groundbreaking ceremonies would take place in August, with a proposed completion in late 2013.

The presentation to the village board included a video presentation of what the facility would look like, both from the outside and from above. Hornsby said the new facility would have men's and women's locker rooms and a cafeteria.

Hornsby said the proposed new facility would be about 3.6 miles from its current location along U.S. 136.

"We have employees mainly from Rantoul, Gifford and all the other areas around," Hornsby said, "so it wouldn't change any of their commutes significantly."

The main entrance to the facility would be off Evans Road.

John Dimit, the president and CEO of the Champaign County Economic Development Corp., said the new center would have a $53 million direct economic effect on wages, a $10 million indirect economic effect of secondary wage spending and an $11 million induced effect of tertiary wages in East Central Illinois.

Hornsby said the 300 employees the company currently employs is reason enough to keep the new facility in Rantoul.

"There's 50 states that would love for us to entertain this project in their states," Hornsby said. "We have a great, loyal and long-term work force. It's one that this company wants to build its foundation for our future product. The state of Illinois and the local folks here have been really good and supportive. Obviously, the process has yet to be concluded, but those are the reasons why we've chosen Rantoul."

Easton-Bell Sports oversees companies such as Easton, Bell, Riddell and Giro.

Donna Flood, the chief operations officer and president of Giro/Easton cycling, said the project has been nearly two years in the making.

"We've done our best to keep it as quiet as possible," Flood said. "It's hard to work on such a big project when you can't bring a lot of the company together to talk about it."

Flood said she called a company-wide meeting at the plant in Rantoul Tuesday afternoon to divulge the company's future plans.

"There was some nervousness in the building, and when I flipped to the slide and said, 'We're making a commitment to this organization,' and we showed that we were proposing this new building, contingent upon approval, it was a standing ovation in the room," Flood said. "I've never made an announcement in front of a group and had a standing ovation."

Sandahl was present at that meeting.

"To be able to sit out at Easton-Bell's manufacturing facility and look at the excitement of the employees, it is phenomenal," he said. "I would hope the rest of the citizens of Rantoul would be just as excited in order to retain a quality corporation in our town, plus be able to take its natural path of growth. It should be extremely exciting for everybody."


mdaniels@rantoulpress.com

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