RANTOUL — Members of the public who spoke at last week’s village board study session said construction of a sports complex on Rantoul’s west side would provide a golden opportunity for growth.
Jennifer Fox called the project “an amazing opportunity for the community.”
She said a sports complex has been discussed at the board level for at least eight years and said the complex will bring in additional hotel-motel tax money and create jobs.
Fox said she has heard the comment, “Why build a $20 million sports complex when we can’t fix our roads?”
She called it “comparing apples to oranges.”
“Not funding the sports complex does not equal more money for fixing potholes,” Fox said. “They don’t come from the same coffers.”
Fox said the village would not be spending any out-of-pocket money. The complex would be funded by sponsors and donors and would include money generated by the sports complex itself. She said it would not raise taxes and would generate additional money for the village to be spent on other projects such as road repair.
It would also benefit downtown, Fox said.
“Downtown is in the same TIF district” as the sports complex, Fox said. “Any revenue can be used to help downtown. It’s the proverbial chicken and egg. The revenue will trickle into downtown. It can make it a weekend destination.”
Fox said another comment she has heard is the project would be “elitist.”
A former village board member, Fox said her experience with the board and the administration is that no one is trying to be discriminatory toward any members of the community.
“On weekends there will be out-of-town teams” using the facility spending money locally. During the week it would be open to local teams.
“To my knowledge, no other plan has been put forward that will pay for itself and bring in millions of new revenue,” Fox said.
“Either build a complex and bring in new revenue or stay as we have been for the last 20 years. If you do not choose to support this project, you might as well toss your hands up in the air and say, ‘We give up. We don’t want to improve this community. We don’t want progress, and we’re happy to have the status quo.
“This is the first opportunity in a long time that can actually put Rantoul on the map.”
Allen Jones Sr., who said he has been involved with baseball and sports in general in Rantoul for many years, called it “an exciting time.”
“When Luke Humphrey (Rantoul rec director) played for me as a high school student, we talked about athletics and making young people grow into productive young men,” Jones said.
Jones said he has gone to many locales to watch sports. Most recently he traveled to watch a tournament in Champaign, where he saw people sitting in their cars because it was raining.
The proposed Rantoul sports complex will be equipped with artificial turf fields that would allow play to continue despite bad weather.
Jones commended the village board for considering the proposal.
“Isn’t it about time we do something for our town?” Jones said. “If we don’t build this, somebody else will. Why not Rantoul?”
Jones said Rantoul hosted the American Legion state tournament at Wabash Field two years ago.
“People came from (all over) the state, and they commented about Rantoul and what it could become,” he said. “Can you imagine what kind of tournament we could (have) if we had more than one diamond, especially if we had something with a little bit of turf on it?”
He said the high school could “piggy back off the contractor and buy some extra turf and extra lights. We’ve got a new track. We could put up a turf football field” and turf diamonds.
Gary Hardin, who sells sporting equipment to American Legion teams, school teams and travel teams across the state, said the all-turf sports complex is a great idea.
He said 27,000 vehicles go by Rantoul’s I-57 exit daily.
Hardin said when people ask where he’s from and he says Rantoul, they say, “Oh, Bell Helmets” (Vista Outdoor).
“Why do they say that? Because you’re driving up and down I-57” and see the facility.
“How about this? You’re driving downstate and you see this glow in the sky about 5 miles away and you wonder what it is. That’s the sports complex. When you drive by it, you see that facility and they’re going to say, ‘Why don’t we play here? Why are we going to Nashville, Wisconsin, Indianapolis, St. Louis?’
“We have the opportunity to have that facility here. We know they will be staying in hotels, eating at restaurants. You’ll be eating at a Cracker Barrel and Steak and Shake (in Rantoul) and you don’t have to go to Champaign.”
Hardin said he is excited about the revenue expansion.
“When opportunity knocks, some people complain about a loud noise,” Hardin said.
He urged the village board to approve the complex.
Champaign resident Bob Biehl, National Softball Association director, said he has run youth softball tournaments for 25 years and started a 16-team tournament that grew to 100 teams in Rantoul years ago.
“I know what an impact it can be for you folks and this community,” Biehl said.
“Teams will come if you supply this. I believe I can direct it, and I’ve even told (Assistant Rec Director Andy Graham) and will give them a head start. As state director of the NSA, I would promote the south state tournament to be held here in 2021 and ‘22.”
He said he has the “support of the national office “of doing baseball as well as adult slow-pitch softball.”