MONTICELLO – When Mike Sieniarecki and the Monticello Model Makers lost their flying field in 2006, the future of the club appeared destined for obscurity.
With no airspace for their radio-controlled models, the nearly 20-member group quickly began to disband.
But, as fate would have it, this setback was only a precursor to better days.
Sporting a new name, the Monticello Model Masters, the group is only a few weeks away from debuting their new RC model haven, Eli Field.
"The spirt of the club was always there, but with nowhere to fly we needed to do something," said Sieniarecki, the club's president. "That led to this idea of an RC mecca. Once we got the key players involved, we were on our way to this little dream field."
A 20-acre parcel located next to the Monticello Railway Museum and the future Piatt County Museum, Eli Field will feature a paved runway with more than 100 acres of open fly space, off-road and oval race tracks, a multiple-story control tower and a full-scale hangar.
"I don't know of any other park at this level," Sieniarecki said. "I don't think this type of park has ever been done before. It's really unique, which was the goal with this project."
Floyd Allsop, superintendent of city services, said the flying field is a welcome addition to Monticello.
"We're very pleased to see that project get under way," he said. "It's my understanding they plan to host a number of events each year, all of which will bring tourists to Monticello – which will relate to sales tax and overnight stays – and we're very excited about that. Their events bring people from all over country and some from all over the world."
Designed by Sieniarecki and fellow M3 members Peter Bergstorm, David Ribbe and Chris Huhn as an attempt to save their club, the four found financial backing from their employer, Horizon Hobby.
Based in Champaign, Horizon Hobby is an international supplier of hobby products owned by Rick and Larry Stephens. The park is actually named after their father, former Monticello resident Eli Stephens.
With some help from the city of Monticello, M3 and Horizon eventually bought the current site from Scott Wiegel and Steve Koss in June 2007, with construction beginning last month.
Scheduled for phase construction, the approximately $1 million project will debut its 50-by-800-foot runway next month, with the off-road and oval race tracks expected to be completed by September.
The next phase of the project is a full-scale, 60-by-100-foot hangar, constructed by RC aircraft manufacturer Hangar 9.
"The hangar has been modeled after their brand logo," said Sieniarecki. "It will serve as a meeting place for the club, and we'll probably hold banquets and work shops out there."
The most exciting and expensive feature of the park will take a couple years to arrive. A three- to four-story control tower will be erected to create a real airport feel.
"The goal is to create a facade of an actual airport," Sieniarecki said. "Visitors will be able to check out the tower and it will have bleachers built above the pits. This will provide a unique view for spectators who will be able to see the models take off from above."
In anticipation of the debut, M3 began accepting charter memberships on July 2 and will continue until Aug. 6. A membership is required for use of the facilities. The public will only be allowed to watch.
"We are really just trying to get the ball rolling," said Sieniarecki. "We lost some members and now we want to revamp the club. It's open to anybody. We really just want to promote this hobby."
M3 will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 6 in the community building to provide membership information and details about the structure of the club.
Sieniarecki said membership will be vital for the parks development as funding remains a work in process.
"Funds are going to have to come from various places," he said. "We don't have all the money we need at this point. We have enough for the fundamentals, but eventually we are going to need help from donations, sponsors, corporate sponsors and membership fees."
One avenue the club intends to use for revenue is community events.
"We hope to hold some international events out there at some point," Sieniarecki said. "Really, it's just about getting the park established and drawing more people in. We'll begin with inaugural events, continue the RC displays we've put on in the past. We really just want to show the place off and build a reputation so more people want to come. These events could be a big boost for the community, which is the idea."
Information on Eli Field and the Monticello Model Masters is available at www.elifield.com.