RANTOUL — Rantoul Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said action by the city of Danville, where he served as mayor, helped to spur an economic boom in the north side of that city.
He would like to see the same thing happen in his new community.
Eisenhauer, who headed government in the Vermilion County community for more than 15 years, said a K’s Merchandise Mart store closure bogged down development in that part of town.
Potential developers that might have wanted to build there saw it would cost $2 million to buy the land and another $1 million to tear it down, causing them to walk away.
"Finally, I said, ‘We’ve got to do something.’ I began negotiating with the property owners. We got them down to $800,000. We tore the building down and prepared the lot, so the next time (potential developers were) looking at a clean site," Eisenhauer said.
It prompted Kohl’s/TJ Maxx to build in Danville. Meijer then opened up, spurring other businesses to flock there.
Eisenhauer would like to see Rantoul replicate that action. He has some things in mind.
"Without going into too many details, I think there is a property on the west side (of Rantoul) in a pretty key location that probably isn’t as beneficial to the community as it needs to be," he said. "If we can think of a way to get that in our hands or somebody else’s hands and get it down on the ground, clear that space, I think you would see developers completely all over that space.
"And you’re going to see that develop around the (Holiday Inn Express), around the Walmart and that area. I think we’re one building demolition away from seeing an explosion on the west side."
There has been development in west Rantoul, but not as fast as city planners would like.
The administrator said he believes Rantoul has an advantage.
Studies show about 27,000 vehicles pass Rantoul on Interstate 57 daily, which is a positive thing — Eisenhauer calling the community "the most visible city between Kankakee and Tuscola.
"I’m not putting down Champaign-Urbana, but it sits off I-57. It’s not visible," Eisenhauer said. "It really is a marketing tool that we need to take advantage of.
"To me, that’s the biggest selling point we have to offer," he said. "If we can get developers here to Rantoul, we’ll sell them on locating here."
Eisenhauer told the Rantoul Exchange Club he believes Los Angeles developer John Van Der Velde was interested in buying the four hangars and the building that houses the AT&T call center on the former Chanute Air Force Base because of the possibilities posed by the municipal airport.
If the runway can be extended, more companies can be enticed to locate out there.
"Not only do I think that is a possibility, I think ... that’s the real reason (Van Der Velde) is interested in the property," Eisenhauer said.
Airport Manager Eric Vences recently met with U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) about the airport runways.
"It’s not just about extension, because for some haulers, they are long enough," Eisenhauer said. But it’s also about the shoulders on the runways."
He said the University of Illinois also might be interested in using some of the former Chanute space.
Eisenhauer said he has experienced a great deal of cooperation with the university, and Illinois State University has expressed interest in the possible development of satellite programming here.
Another prime possibility for Rantoul, in his estimation: Tourism dollars. The community has already proven it can host large events. Witness the Half Century of Progress farm show.
There are other opportunities, he said, such as a three-day outdoor music festival or a Spartan run or go-kart races.
"When you look at some of the sports-related complexes, if we can develop those more fully, we can put ourselves on the map as a sports-destination location," Eisenhauer said. "I had a great conversation with the U of I head baseball coach (Dan Hartleb), and we talked about whether Rantoul could get in the game of hosting some baseball tournaments, and what that competition would be like. The U of I, with their facilities, has no interest in youth baseball events. Why? Because they don’t have to."
Eisenhauer said job one should be to help the community believe in itself. He said when he first started as Danville mayor, the community had an attitude of doom and gloom. He said he hears the same thing about Rantoul: "The base closed, and woe is us."
Eisenhauer could be just the name to help turn around that attitude.
He is not just a glass half-full kind of a guy. He’s a glass entirely full kind of guy.
"I will be very honest with all of you," he said of his new job. "I never thought I would find anything as personally and professionally rewarding as what I was doing in Danville."
He said he found it in Rantoul.
He and his wife, Amy, have bought a new home here, and he said he is "blown away" by the talent he has found working for the village.