RANTOUL — The village board continued until Thursday evening its monthly meeting to allow for the gathering of more information about the possible sale of the building that houses the AT&T call center.
The action was taken after several AT&T employees, including the company’s area manager, expressed dismay about the village’s plans to sell the property to a Los Angeles businessman with no notice to the company.
The purchase of the AT&T property at 1 Aviation Center Drive is to be included in the package deal of an already-announced purchase of three hangars at the former Chanute Air Force Base by Los Angeles businessman John Van Der Velde.
Van Der Velde had tentatively agreed to buy the hangars from the village of Rantoul for $3.4 million. But in recent days, the purchase of the AT&T building was added to the package, which would bring the total purchase price of all four properties to $5.15 million.
The original plan called for the buyer to have 180 days after the village signed a tentative agreement in March to ensure that the properties adequately meet his needs.
Van Der Velde told the Press earlier that he has prospective tenants for the hangars, including a bioengineering technology company.
AT&T employee Holly Sorey asked the village board several questions at Tuesday night’s monthly meeting.
They included whether AT&T had been notified of the sale, whether the company’s current lease would be honored, what plans the village has for the more than 100 jobs that could potentially be lost at the property and whether those jobs would be moved elsewhere in town.
Village Administrator Rick Snider said based on his discussions with the broker for the deal that the purchaser "highly values AT&T, (and knows) that they’re a national credit tenant. They’re very valuable to keep in place. I think a sale would make it more likely to stay in place."
AT&T formerly used two floors of the Rantoul building, which is located at the airport, but last year began leasing just one floor.
AT&T employee Dea Polchow listed the names of several individuals and companies and asked if the village knew if Van Der Velde was associated with them in the past. Village officials said they were not familiar with the names. She asked what kind of background checks had been done on the prospective buyer.
"Do you know that the previous bioengineering companies that he has (dealt with) are not so reputable?" Polchow asked.
She asked what would be stored in the buildings, whether they would be renovated, how they would be maintained and what the village would do to ensure public safety.
Snider said the village is still working on the transfer of the property deeds from the Air Force and the FAA to the village and that the "due diligence" process will continue until September.
AT&T employee Amy Blaisdell also asked questions about potentially harmful materials stored or produced in the hangars.
Mayor Chuck Smith said the village’s code enforcement department and the Illinois EPA will be responsible for ensuring public safety and said he believes "we’re way ahead of the game" before some of the questions can be answered.
Added Blaisdell: "When we looked up the names on the signature who is going to be buying it, ... me and my union reps started doing some research and ... found a lot of the businesses linked to his name don’t have a very good reputation," Blaisdell said.
Village attorney Ken Beth said the property’s zoning allows only light industrial use.
AT&T Area Manager John Williams said open communication is "critical for maintaining a strong partnership with our employees in the communities we serve."
Williams said repeatedly that management was not aware of the village’s intent to sell the property.
"I’ve uprooted my family," Williams said. "I have personally helped deliver jobs to the community. In the last 60 days I have personally interviewed more than 70 candidates and made job offers personally to more than 40, and it is my intent to hire another 65 before the end of the fall."
Williams said he communicates well and implied that communication was lacking in the matter.
The board opted to continue the meeting until 7 p.m. Thursday, May 10, until more information can be obtained and so the village can further speak with AT&T officials.