RANTOUL — A Los Angeles man has tentatively agreed to buy three of the four large hangars on the former Chanute Air Force Base for $3.4 million.
The purchase must be approved by the Rantoul Village Board, and the village must receive possession of two of the three hangars from the Air Force and a release from the Federal Aviation Administration. The buyer, John Van Der Velde, will have 180 days after the tentative agreement is reached to ensure that the properties adequately meet his needs.
Village documents indicate Van Der Velde has prospective tenants for the hangars, including a bioengineering technology company.
Van Der Velde told the Rantoul Press that he is reluctant to say too much about the purchase until it becomes official, but noted, "I wouldn’t be buying that property if I didn’t have a use for it. I do have some entities that have shown interest in it."
Van Der Velde said it is his experience that "tenants don’t want to be known until it’s a done deal."
The village has leased out the properties to companies in the past, including Rantoul Products, Bell Sports and currently Donco. But Rantoul Products went out of business, Bell Sports built a new facility west of Rantoul, and Donco won’t be in hangar 1 much longer as its contract to install automated utility meters throughout much of Illinois for Ameren is winding down.
Hangar 2’s interior has been used in recent years for storage, and the grounds outside of it have been used for displays for the biennial I&I Half Century of Progress show, which draws upwards of 100,000 visitors to the airport grounds.
Russell Buhr, who co-chairs the show with John Fredrickson for the I&I club, said village officials informed him a couple of weeks ago there was a possibility hangar 2 might no longer be available.
Airport Manager Eric Vences said when the deal is approved by the village board, the new owner will be asked about the possibility of continuing to use the ramp area for farm show displays.
Buhr said he was told that hangar 4 (Grissom Hall), which has been closed by the village, is a possibility for Half Century use.
Added Fredrickson: "It will affect our show, but I guess I don’t really want to comment on it until it actually happens. I understand the city’s situation. If they can get half the money I heard they were getting from it," they should proceed with the sale.
Said Village Administrator Rick Snider: "We’re going to have to work with the I&I tractor club to determine contingency plans if the sale goes to closing. I believe they use a significant part of the ramp space in front of the hangar. Obviously that would require some changes. We’ve already started looking at contingencies."
While Grissom Hall could be used for storage space, the village would have to identify another location for displays that would normally be in place for the farm show.
Snider said the village has been working on the deal with Van Der Velde for several months.
He said execution of the agreement will kick off a 180-day due-diligence period that will allow the buyer to inspect the buildings and make assessments of whether the hangars will suit the purpose of his tenants.
Snider said Van Der Velde has one tenant slated for one of the hangars.
"The (bioengineering technology) company needs a lot of light," and the company will gauge whether the hangar suits its needs.
If the sale goes through, the $3.4 million sale proceeds would be retained in the airport fund to help with maintenance and potential future development, Snider said.
Maintenance of the hangars "is a major burden to the village right now in terms of upkeep and utilities. We have so many buildings in our inventory," Snider said. "Until recently, the hangars had to be heated to prevent water lines from freezing."
Vences set the village converted from a wet to a dry system in hangar 1 only to reduce the chances of pipes freezing and to reduce heating costs.
In the 1990s, Rantoul Products constructed a building to the east that is attached to hangar 1. That building would be included in the sale.
The sale would also place the properties on the real estate tax rolls.
If the Federal Aviation Administration does not grant the village authority to sell the hangars within the 180-day due-diligence period, the agreement will be void.
Snider said the village has been working with U.S. Rep. John Shimkus to expedite the approval.
The administrator said the pending deal was arranged by AJ Thomas of CBC Devonshire Realty, with which the village has a deal to market several base properties.