Interest builds in Rantoul property after sports complex gets green light

Rantoul village Trustee Terry Workman (foreground) reads a statement last week in support of approving a contract with Byrne and Jones to construct a sports complex at Rantoul. The village board voted 6-0 for contract approval. Also shown are, from left, trustees Sam Hall, Hank Gamel, Mark Wilkerson, Mayor Chuck Smith and trustees Gary Wilson and Sherry Johnson.

RANTOUL — Scott Eisenhauer was wrong.

The Rantoul village administrator predicted the village would be contacted the next day by a prospective developer or tournament organizer after the village board approved construction of a $20 million sports complex.

It didn’t take nearly that long.

Less than two hours after the vote, a national sports organization contacted Recreation Director Luke Humphrey.

“They were wanting to know when they could start booking baseball and softball tournaments,” Eisenhauer said. “We thought that was pretty impressive.”

Eisenhauer said there were already standing appointments set up, including the day after the board’s vote, “to start talking about land acquisition.”

The Warner family owns the land on which the 60-acre sports complex will be built. In all, the family owns 300 acres on the east and west sides of Murray Road. The complex will be built south of Rantoul Walmart.

Warner family member Kristi Pflugmacher said she has been receiving phone calls from individuals and developers interested in property.

“It is a very good feeling,” she said. “This is something my dad (the late Joe Warner) and my uncle (Gene Warner) have been wanting for many years. I’m just wanting to try to fulfill those dreams and ideas.”

Pflugmacher said it’s an exciting time for Rantoul.

“My dad had a vision for a long time, and it feels good to see something finally happen,” she said. “We owe a huge thank you to Scott Eisenhauer. He has made a tremendous change for Rantoul.

“This has been a dream of Luke Humphrey for a long time, and I’m excited for him along with everybody else. (Former village trustee) Chad Smith is a great asset, too, and so is (Public Works Director) Greg Hazel.”

Pflugmacher also credited Mike Royse, former head of Center for Community Adaptation, which used to provide economic development services to the village. She said Royse has continued to work with her.

Pflugmacher said negotiations have gone well with the village to buy the land for the sports complex.

“We’ve met once a week for quite a while, and everything’s going really well,” she said.

Now that the project has been approved, there’s lot of work to be done now and in the distant future.

Interstate 57 second interchange

With the sports complex and the possible addition of other economic projects — including the 257-acre Illinois Automated and Connected Track on the grounds of the former Chanute Air Force Base — a second Interstate 57 interchange at Rantoul might be needed.

Mayor Chuck Smith said he recently met with State Rep. Mike Marron (R-Fithian) and State Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) about the second interchange to connect with Chandler Road.

“They were excited about it,” Smith said, noting the project would not be forthcoming in the near future. A great deal of study would be necessary first.

“The Illinois Department of Transportation would have to be involved,” Smith said, adding that the interchange would probably be “five to 10 years away.”

Said Eisenhauer: “It is certainly a long-term project. We would anticipate that the increased traffic that we would see both for the proposed developments on the base grounds as well as the sports complex ... would warrant an additional intersection.”

He said congressional officials have also been approached about the interchange.

Kensil A. Garnett, IDOT Region Three engineer, said the Federal Highway Administration would also be involved with coordination/approval of the project.

Knights Inn site

One possible new-development site is the Knights Inn hotel property.

Eisenhauer said a developer is interested in the land.

There is a standing court order against the Knights Inn owner that outlines a time frame for closure of the facility until all violations have been abated.

“We have suspended the whole court order because the intention of the potential developer is for demolition of the property,” Eisenhauer said. “We are not going to make them abate the violations only to have the building torn down.”

If the developer, who will be meeting with village officials to make sure the site plan would be acceptable, opts not to develop the site, the present owners would be required to correct a number of inspection violations.

Eisenhauer said the current owner does not have a franchise with the Knights Inn but continues to use the name. He said the hotel is still booking guests.