Sports complex, newspaper sale among top stories

The new Amtrak station in Rantoul was opened last July.

The Rantoul Village Board took a giant step toward what it hopes is an economic boost to the community with the approval to build a $20 million sports complex on the west side of town. But 2019 will be known for other things as well in the form of an upgraded Amtrak station, the continued surge of a huge farm show, flying pumpkins and the change of hands of a long-time media company.

New train station open for business

The Amtrak 391 southbound left the Rantoul train station at 10:36 a.m. July 11 — the first train to use the newly remodeled facility.

A few minutes later the 390 northbound rolled into the station.

It marked the completion of an approximately 10-month project that saw a major upgrade to the facility.

Village of Rantoul crews hauled away the old shelter where passengers had waited in bad weather. A new shelter and other amenities have been added.

John Burke, field engineer for Jacobs Engineering, said the new train station, built on helical piers, provides a more-welcoming appearance for first-time visitors to the village who arrive by train.

The entire platform was redone. Also new or renovated: a location sign, a handicapped-parking area, nine LED lights mounted on decorative poles designed to match neighboring lighting, a wheelchair-life station and a newly graded parking lot.

Pour-only license gets OK in Fisher

With three board members absent, the Fisher Village Board voted 3-0 in August to amend its liquor ordinance to allow for a pour-only liquor license. It would allow Brandon Chandler to open a laundromat but also install video-gaming machines in a walled-off portion of a building he owns on the main business district block that used to be part of Ingold’s Grocery.

The Class L license will allow beer and wine to be served on the premises and up to five gaming machines after Jan. 1. To maintain the license, Chandler must own and operate a traditional laundromat featuring at least four each, washers and dryers, and be open from at least 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Chandler may choose to be open for longer hours. He has decided to open the laundromat on Sunday but not the bar portion.

The sale of alcohol will be restricted to a room separated by a wall but accessible by a door from the laundromat. Patrons of the laundromat will not be able see into the bar space. When alcohol is being served, Chandler must have at least one employee at least 21 years of age on site, and those under 21 years won’t be allowed to enter.

News-Gazette Media, owner of Rantoul Press, sold

At an all-staff meeting in late August, News-Gazette Media CEO John Reed announced to employees that an agreement had been signed to sell substantially all of its assets to the family-owned Champaign Multimedia Group LLC, an affiliate company of Community Media Group. The sale was expected to close in early November.

CMG, headquartered in downstate West Frankfort, owns and operates community newspapers with websites in several Midwestern states, including Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, as well as newspapers in Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York.

The acquisition of News-Gazette Media will include The Rantoul Press as well as other weekly newspapers Ford County Record, Mahomet Citizen, Piatt County Journal-Republic, Independent News, which serves Vermilion County, and Target shopper.

“We are pleased to announce that our search for the new owners for our properties has led us to a family-owned company, located right here in Illinois,” Reed said. “Community Media Group shares our values and represents everything we had hoped to find in the next steward of our newspapers and radio stations. They have a strong commitment to quality products, and they share our vision of a multimedia future where print, radio and digital media outlets continue to complement one another.”

Largest-ever Half Century show

Every year the story is the same. The Half Century of Progress farm show, which has grown to large proportions, surpassed its predecessors. And each time it’s true.

In August, organizers of the show held biennially on the grounds of Rantoul Aviation Center, marveled at how the event just gets bigger.

The show is staged by the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club with help from the village of Rantoul.

Ideal weather — meaning no rain and mild temperatures — helped to make it the largest show ever.

“We had a great show,” Co-Chairman John Fredrickson said. “The weather was beautiful. We couldn’t have ordered it any better.

“By visual observation, Friday was the largest crowd we’ve ever had. We had the most farm equipment we’ve ever had. It was a wonderful show. I’ve never had so many compliments of something I’ve done in my life as the last couple of days. (Co-Chairman Russell Buhr) and I are very elated at the outcome.”

He said one couple from Minnesota who sell embroidered shirts, jackets and other attire told Fredrickson they made more money at Half Century than at any other venue in the past 15 years.

“All the vendors were very pleased,” Fredrickson said.

People came from across the country, and Fredrickson said “seven or eight” people came from overseas.

Sports complex plans

In September the village announced plans to build a $20 million sports complex on the community’s west side.

The plan, which got village board approval later in the year, will be paid for from private contributions, sponsorships, donations and grants, with the bulk of the funding coming from bonds paid for from income generated from the village’s tax-increment financing fund.

If approved, “you’re creating a Midwest destination location for some very large markets to travel toward a sporting venue like we’re proposing,” Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer told the board.

He projects the complex would spur restaurant, hotel and retail development along the Interstate 57 corridor.

Greater interest would be generated by the sport complex’s  turf fields, which would lure multiple teams due to its no weather-cancellation possibilities.

Site preparation will occur this year and construction when the weather clears. A spring 2021 opening is projected. Initially, the village will lease the 65 acres from the Warner family and then pay $860,000 for the property over two years. In addition, the Warner family will receive acreage near the site as well as near Brookhill Golf Course owned by the park district In exchange, the park district will receive ownership of the Seeber sports complex land on the former Chanute Air Force Base, with the village continuing to maintain it.

Plane scrapper gets two years in prison

An Indiana man whose company was contracted to cut up and haul off the remaining Air Force planes at the former base was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for an Indiana case in which he illegally cut up and scrapped a metal bridge in Indiana.

Ken Morrison, 69, was sentenced in federal court in Indiana for stealing scrap metal from a bridge.

In light of the conviction, Champaign County prosecutors dropped charges against Morrison for wrongfully selling two ejector seats from a plane he was tearing apart at Chanute.

Morrison said he didn’t think he was violating his $39,000 salvage contract in selling the seats. Police got the seats back and banned Morrison from the base.

New store opens in Potomac

In some towns, the opening of a new Dollar General is just one more place to shop. To tiny bergs like Potomac, it can mean not having to travel many miles for necessities.

Dollar General opened its doors there in October.

Potomac resident Carl Hoshauer was grateful.

“I’m handicapped, and if I want to go somewhere I have to have somebody drive for me,” Hoshauer said. “I have a battery-operated electric wheelchair, and the aisles are wide enough I can get up and down them and turn around if I have to.”

Mary Stahl echoed his sentiments.

“It’s wonderful to have another employer in town,” Stahl said.

“Having another place of business in town is drawing more consumers to town. We seem to have just a little more space of interest. I don’t have to drive 23 miles to get what I need.”

Potomac Mayor Roger Porter, who has held the village’s top municipal post for four years, had pursued Dollar General from almost the beginning of his job, calling monthly until Potomac became part of their “hot list.”

He pointed out that besides the convenience, the potential revenue is significant. The property tax alone is projected to be around $2,000, and Potomac’s share of the sales tax will be 1 percent.

Taco Bell to return

The village learned in October that Taco Bell would be coming back to Rantoul.

Owners of the Taco Bell restaurant on West Champaign Avenue closed the business in light of required upgrades mandated by the parent company. But a new one will sprout a few doors to the east, Nick Kallergis, owner of Chicago-based Buddybells Inc., said.

Kallergis, owner of Chicago-based Buddybells Inc., said his company opted to build new rather than remodel the former restaurant location

“We were a franchisee at the other store,” Kallergis said. “We lost our lease.”

The company owns 21 Taco Bells in Illinois, including several in Champaign-Urbana.

Kallergis said the restaurant would be a Taco Bell only. There are no plans to also include a Kentucky Fried Chicken as it had done in the past before KFC left.

The village approved a zoning change for the new site from residential to commercial. It previously had been a used-vehicle sales business.

Flying pumpkins

They shot a pumpkin into the air. It fell to earth, they knew not where.

Rantoul became the new home for the Punkin Chunkin competition in early November in which teams try to see how far they can shoot a pumpkin.

It all took place on the grounds of the airport.

Cold weather a and fewer-than-hoped-for number of contestants put a bit of a downer on the event, but there was one world record set.

The crew of the Chunk Norris catapult hit a record shot of more than 4,000 feet. The pumpkin landed on the grounds of Willow Pond Golf Course.

Kevin Applebee, owner of the golf course, was called to see if he could find the pumpkin. He did.

The distance of 4,091 feet was a world’s record for a mechanical device — a catapult. It was the first mechanical to join the 4,000-foot club.

Cannabis sales banned

Also in November, the village board voted to ban the sale of recreational cannabis in the community.

While the location of such a cannabis dispensary was not likely in the community due to the cost, the village board — heeding the opinions of a number of residents — took no chances.

The board voted 4-2 to prohibit the start-up of cannabis business establishments in the community.

Trustees Hank Gamel and Sam Hall voted against the prohibition.

Baseball/softball field to be added in Fisher

The Fisher Village Board in late November approved a contract to buy property from Gale Sunderland to add a baseball/softball field for $12,500.

The 3.29 acres are situated directly south of the existing ball field at Richmond Park. The purchase will be made using surplus funds available in the capital improvement budget for fiscal year 2020.