Rantoul wants to be paid by Free Fall organizers

Rantoul wants to be paid by Free Fall organizers

RANTOUL – A village board member says he thinks the World Free Fall Convention should pay compensation to the village for failing to meet the final two years of its contract to hold the event in Rantoul.

Convention organizers announced on Tuesday they were canceling this year's convention, which had been scheduled for the Rantoul airport. The village had a contract to host the event through 2008.

"The village kept its end of the bargain," village board member Mike Graham said Wednesday. "It is up to the convention to keep its end of the bargain. If there are any contract obligations left, they need to pay us now."

Convention spokeswoman Beth Mahlo said she wouldn't respond until after she had read a copy of the contract it signed with the village.

"We'll have to examine the contract, but I don't think we owe them a monetary amount," Mahlo said. "All our payments were based on head counts. Without a head count, there is no money due."

According to village records, Rantoul spent more than $226,000 to host the sky-diving convention since it first arrived in 2002.

Rantoul Comptroller Scot Brandon said the village spent $130,000 to have M&R Builders construct permanent shower facilities.

The village originally intended to pay for the 13 men's and 11 women's showers from money paid by convention participants and the convention itself.

Under a contract the village board approved on Dec. 13, 2003, all convention participants were supposed to pay $10 per person to reimburse the village for the cost of the showers and other costs related to the convention.

Under the agreement, the village would keep the first $30,000 generated each year by the fee. Money over and above the $30,000 would be spent for marketing and advertising for the convention.

At the time the contract was signed, the village expected to raise between $28,000 and $57,000 a year from the fees.

But actual money received by the village was much lower, according to Brandon.

Brandon said the village received $15,130 in fee revenue in 2004, $10,640 in 2005 and $6,508 in 2006.

According to Brandon, the village only recouped $32,278 for the $130,000 it spent on the showers.

"The idea all along was to make it a better show from one year to the next to pay for those costs," said Rantoul Mayor Neal Williams. "When it didn't happen, we looked to (convention) management to improve that attendance. But the number of participants fell from 2,800 the first year in Rantoul to 800 the final year."

Brandon said the village spent $6,835 on utility services, $5,316 on legal costs and $54,193 on other expenses, which included installing electrical and water hookups and leasing all-terrain vehicles for the police.

The village also gave the convention $10,000 in both 2002 and 2004 in Rantoul to pay for advertising and marketing.

Rantoul Recreation Department Director Rich Thomas said some labor from his staff was used to set up bleachers and mow the grass, but he said the costs were "negligible."

"We enjoyed having the convention here, and they were good for the hotels, motels and merchants," said village board member Ron Loy. "But it was a yearly expense for the village. I hate to see them go, but it really isn't a loss."

Village board member Chuck Smith said he was concerned over the expense of the convention.

"We did invest quite a bit of money into the facilities to support their activities," Smith said. "The costs are there."

Williams said that, while the village lost money on the convention, local businesses received a boost from the visitors who spent 10 days each summer in Rantoul.

"I spoke to a mechanic who said the convention represented an additional $1,000 of income for him over a 10-day period," Williams said. "Our hotels, gas stations and retail stores all got extra business. Our bars and restaurants were filled with people during the convention. All that money will be missed."

Brandon estimated that the village received $11,701 in additional hotel-motel tax revenue attributable to the convention over the past four years.

Williams said the money spent on the showers won't completely go to waste. He said they will also be used by the Illini Boy Scout Jamboree and the I&I Tractor Club.

Village board member Herman Fogal said the public relations Rantoul received from holding the convention outweighed its costs.

"I think we got some good publicity out of it," Fogal said. "I think people had a lot of fun at the convention. I wish we would have them back again, but that's the way it is."

HOW MUCH THE CONVENTION COST RANTOUL

New shower facilities, $130,000

Marketing payments, $20,000

Police overtime, $9,983

Utilities, $6,835

Legal costs, $5,316

Other expenses, $54,193

Total, $226,327

Source: Rantoul Comptroller Scot Brandon

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