Korean War museum leaders looking at site in Rantoul

RANTOUL – The National Korean War Museum and Library could soon be moving from Tuscola to Rantoul.

The museum's building committee visited Rantoul and met with village leaders three times in recent weeks, and the museum's board is expected to vote on May 22 to pursue a new site in Rantoul, according to museum Executive Director Larry Sassorossi.

"The gloried history of Rantoul and Chanute Air Force Base are known worldwide and are the perfect setting for a national museum and library honoring all the Korean War veterans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice," Sassorossi said.

"It is our intention to strongly recommend to our board of directors that we, in fact, make the village of Rantoul our new home – as quickly as possible."

Museum leaders had been working to establish a facility in Tuscola, had set up a temporary museum in the Tanger Outlet Mall and had purchased 22 acres on U.S. 36 east of Interstate 57 as a permanent museum site.

But Sassorossi said the cost of developing farmland into a modern museum made the project, which he estimated at $10 million or more, too expensive.

Sassorossi said he could establish the museum on the former Air Force base for $4.5 million to $5 million, a sum he said was much more reasonable to raise.

"We've already talked over the idea with our chapters in Chicago, Minnesota and Arizona," Sassorossi said. "The most common response we heard was that nearly everyone who served in the Korean War was familiar with Chanute Air Force Base, but very few of them had ever heard of Tuscola."

Tuscola Mayor Dan Kleiss said he was disappointed with the museum board's decision.

"I'm always disappointed when something doesn't happen that you think would be good for the community," Kleiss said. "Rantoul has an old Air Force Base property that needs to be used, and we don't have too many vacant buildings here in Tuscola."

Kleiss said the people of Tuscola will miss the Korean War veterans who had been visiting the community on a regular basis in recent years as well as the tourism dollars spent by those veterans.

"The community really embraced the Korean War vets," Kleiss said. "The biggest problem we had was that funding that they hoped to get from the state never materialized."

Sassorossi said the museum intends to sell the 22 acres in Tuscola and use that money to develop the Rantoul museum. Until the land is sold, it could be used as collatoral for a loan to pay for new construction.

He said his organization would like 3 to 5 acres, with the village providing a long-term lease at a minimal cost.

A temporary museum would be set up in the former Chanute Air Force Base library, which he said was four times as big as the Tanger Outlet Mall facility. Sassorossi said he was negotiating a lease with the building's owner, Warren Manley of Rantoul.

An initial 12,000-square-foot museum building would be completed within two years, and two more 20,000-square-foot buildings would be built thereafter to complete the complex.

Sassorossi said the museum board also hopes to get utilities from the village at no charge or at a reduced charge for the first few years while construction takes place.

The village board will consider the requests at its next meeting at 6:15 p.m. May 11 at the Rantoul Municipal Building, 333 S. Tanner St.

"I think we need to get further information on this," said village board member Dan Molloy on Tuesday night.

Sassorossi said he has already met with Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum President Bill Geibel and that he believes having two military-themed museums will increase attendance at both facilities.

"We think they will complement each other," Sassorossi said. "Someone might not come to Rantoul from across the country to see a single museum, but, if you have two museums in close proximity to one another, the community suddenly becomes a prime tourist destination."

Rantoul Mayor Neal Williams said he hoped the addition of the Korean War Museum and Library would boost sales at Rantoul's motels, restaurants, gas stations and retail stores.

"The way I look at it, any increase we can have for the motels and restaurants is a positive," Williams said.

You can reach Tim Mitchell at (217) 351-5366 or via e-mail at tmitchel@news-gazette.com.

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