RANTOUL — The prospective builder of a proposed $20 million sports complex on Rantoul’s west side has handled construction of some pretty lofty venues.
Village trustees next month are expected to vote whether to proceed with the project that village officials hope will spur economic development by bringing traveling teams to town to play baseball, softball, soccer and other sports.
Meantime, not every resident favors construction of the sports complex. A resident speaking at last Tuesday night’s meeting that was held to get public input about the project said many people she has spoken with are not in favor of the project.
Jameson Sheley, general manager of Byrne & Jones, St. Louis, the company selected as the design-builder for the project if approved, said his firm has built facilities for the New York Jets, New Giants, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints, has done “multiple fields” for Notre Dame football, plus fields for the University of Missouri.
In this area, the firm constructed four new fields and a track at Unity High School, plus fields for Okaw Valley, Bloomington High School and a baseball field for Illinois State University.
“(There have been) in the neighborhood of 360 fields we have built in the last 20 years,” Sheley said.
For a smaller community, Sheley said Byrne & Jones has built a soccer-only facility for Boonville, Mo., population of about 8,400.
Sheley called the Rantoul project “right in our wheelhouse.”
He said the company also builds parking lots and does site development.
Sheley said the relationship between the village and the company would not end once the sports complex is complete. He said the two sides would enter into a 30-year arrangement.
He said the field is designed for a 30-year life, but the turf fields have a warranty of eight years. He estimated most turf fields last between 10 and 13 years. An asphalt parking lot, meanwhile, should be resealed every four to six years, he said.
The company would show village staff how to take care of the fields and would provide a groomer and a sweeper to maintain the turf. He said company officials will be present in Rantoul six to eight times a year.
If the turf has to be replaced on the proposed 16 fields at Rantoul in, say 2030, Sheley estimated it would cost the village about $8 million.
“The turf world has gotten better with innovations and price controls,” Sheley said.
“The chemical polymers that go into it have evolved so much that it’s a major difference between five years ago and now.
Good news and bad news
“It’s a little bit of a double-edged sword there. You want people to use it to generate more revenue, but the more you use it, the less time it’s going to last.”
Not everyone in town thinks the sports complex is a good idea. Resident Debbra Sweat is outspoken against it.
“I have talked to residents — past, present, alumni — people who grew up here on Chanute, and I talked to about 50 people, and we are not in favor of this at all,” Sweat said.
Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said those comments “are fine,” but the meeting was aimed at getting input on the site and design of the project. He said comments for and against the sports complex should be made at the Oct. 1 village board study session.
Just a handful of residents attended the meeting. A second such meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, at the municipal building.
Recreation Director Luke Humphrey said the fields will be used seven days a week, including Friday through Sunday for tournaments and the rest of the time open to local teams.
Responding to claims from Sweat that use of the fields would be limited to children from higher-income families, Humphrey disagreed and said the village wants all youth to be able to play there. He said it is hoped more youth will be wanting to go out for sports when they have a state-of-the-art facility.
“The trend that we’re seeing in the recreation world, we have in the back of our mind that we need to create a regional destination for youth,” Humphrey said. “We also see that a lot of the kids are not playing because of the competition. So if we can create a regional destination for these kids to be paired up because of their level of play, more kids will join. It will give the opportunity to play with kids at their level.”
Sweat said Rantoul has many sports fields in town and asked why the village can’t just put $50,000 to $100,000 into them.
Eisenhauer said there are two reasons.
Reasons for the location
One is that tournament organizers want events that are held at one location. The other is that the organizers want as much guarantee as possible that their events will be held, regardless of the weather, and that calls for turf fields.
“If they bring 80 teams into town and it rains Saturday morning and you get water on the fields, they are done for the weekend,” Eisenhauer said. “So they will only register at sites that have turf.”
Assistant Recreation Director Andy Graham said Rantoul used to host “some of the biggest traveling softball tournaments in the state in the late ‘90s-early 2000s.” But those opportunities dwindled because of the bad-weather threat.
Graham said if the sports complex is built, it will be made available to youth who play in rec league sports. They will be able to play traveling teams that come to town.
“My idea is to have different levels of play,” Graham said. “I want nothing more than to have every kid who wants to play, play. We are blessed to have a Kids Foundation” to pay the costs for low-income children who want to participate in rec league sports.
Village Trustee Terry Workman said he believes building the sports complex would be an attraction to get more young people out and active.
“To me they talk about kids sitting inside and not doing anything,” he said. “I think the influence of us building this complex and the location of it, ... people going in and out of Walmart every day and seeing this right by that location is going to have a positive influence on kids (and) parents, and they’re going to want to be part of it.”
Sweat also asked if any thought was given to building a high school near the proposed sports complex site.
Eisenhauer said the village “doesn’t control the high school nor its buildings.”
“I would suggest to you what we see locally and around the state, typically your high school alone does not generate this type of economic development around it. Not like what you have when you bring 150,000 visitors to the community on an annual basis,” Eisenhauer said.
He said it is not the village’s position to suggest a high school be built there.
“I would leave that up to (Superintendent) Scott Amerio and the Rantoul Township High School board.”
Conversations with potential sponsors, donors
Eisenhauer said the village has already had conversations with potential sponsors and donors for the project, and sports organizations are writing letters of intent that will be presented to the village trustees.
The complex 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 by the village’s tax-increment financing fund.
Village officials project the complex would spur restaurant, hotel and retail development along the Interstate 57 corridor.
The complex would potentially draw traveling teams from a four-hour radius of Rantoul, including Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Louisville.