Champaign council makes mayor's stadium plan a city project

Champaign council makes mayor's stadium plan a city project

CHAMPAIGN — Exploring the potential of Mayor Don Gerard's minor league baseball stadium is now a bona fide city project after it got the minimum amount of city council support this week to become an assignment for city staff.

To this point, a committee of volunteers assembled by Gerard had been on the project. On Tuesday, they passed their report to the city council, which said in a 5-3 straw poll that it wanted to continue discussions on where a stadium might go and who might finance, build and operate it.

Those are big questions to answer before the project can go any further, and some council members said they would not be interested in financing the project with taxpayer dollars.

But making development incentives available — just like the city would for other projects — might be another story.

The first step for city administrators will be figuring out what options they have as far as property where they might encourage a private investor to come in and build a stadium.

"We can't even think about stealing second base if we don't take a little bit of a leadoff," Gerard said.

Council members Deborah Frank Feinen, Michael La Due and Vic McIntosh, the three who voted against moving forward on Tuesday night, had different reasons. None said they would stop a minor league baseball proposal if it came from the private sector — in fact, they would be happy to have a stadium in Champaign.

But they worried about what it could mean for the city if they supported it now without a pre-existing proposal from a private investor.

McIntosh worried that, although Tuesday's discussion was about hypotheticals instead of actual proposals, it could ultimately lead to more city money being spent on a risk as big as a stadium.

"I just can't support this because I don't see a stopping point," McIntosh said.

La Due was not against the idea either, but he said that encouraging projects like this is exactly what city administrators already do. Economic development incentives from the city are available, and if private investors see an opportunity, they could already move on it.

"I don't think there was any impediment existing that we needed to remove," La Due said.

Gerard first started talking about the idea last summer, just a couple months after he had been elected mayor. He later set up an exploratory committee to prepare a report for city officials on the feasibility of the stadium.

The report described the stadium as more of a theme restaurant for families to enjoy a night out — no one really goes to a minor league game to watch the team win or lose, it said.

The report envisions a $20 million facility with 5,000 to 6,000 seats and 10 to 15 luxury boxes. It could be leased to a minor league team for anywhere between $222,000 and $333,000, according to the report, and the stadium owner could sell the naming rights for $150,000.

The key to success would be ensuring a vibrant fan experience, the report says. That could include gate giveaways, family-friendly attractions and discounts.

Tony Johnston, the chairman of that committee, told city council members that a minor league baseball stadium is different from most development projects. Private investors do not typically offer to build a stadium, he said. It usually takes encouragement from the local government.

"It wouldn't happen," Johnston said. "It needs facilitation from the city for it to happen."

Council member Tom Bruno said when he first heard Gerard talking about the idea last summer, he thought it was a bit "far-fetched." But the more he thought about it, the more he started thinking about the potential benefits, he said.

And he worried that a no vote on Tuesday to deny even exploring the idea would be a missed opportunity.

"I'm not sure we ever want to do this," Bruno said. "But I know I don't want to pull the plug on the idea at this early stage."

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CULater wrote on August 30, 2012 at 10:08 am


We DON'T want a baseball stadium.

We want to fill the already EMPTY storefronts across town.

Fill the Potholes!

Beautify the City!

Create more tourism with already established businesses!

Do NOT invest our money or lose Taxes to a stadium sinkhole. It will be empty just like all the other buildings in our community.

As American citizens of Champaign we have to stand together against wasteful government spending.


drmagoo wrote on August 30, 2012 at 10:08 am

Actually, some of us would love a minor league team. As long as we can find private investors, it's one of the best things the city could do is attract that kind of resource, at least to me.

jammin wrote on August 30, 2012 at 11:08 am

Using citizen tax dollars for a pet project certainly is a red flag for a cautionary approach. There is much research that needs to be done, and especially research in whether or not a Central Illinois market can support such a venture when there are already minor league teams within a 45 minute drive. 

In addition, and this hasn't been covered much in the media, I believe the site location at this point is between Neil and N. Market Street, an area that is potentially slated for a city "take-over" for "development purposes". 

Yes, the area is poor and largely African American and Hispanic. But I have serious reservations about the line of thinking that would use eminent domain to displace a neighborhood so that a recreational facility could be built, in spite of the "urban blight" such an area represents for those who have economic interests in their homes and land (Yes, the area is indeed poor so why not use city funds to assist these low income folks in their neighborhood instead of pushing them around?).

This is not to say that building a stadium, or any other recreational facility (indoor pool, etc,) shouldn't be encouraged here. But not without thorough, and non-biased, research AND without displacing low income residents who are "oh so inconviently located between the highway and downtown Champaign". 

787 wrote on August 30, 2012 at 11:08 am

I'm sorry... but don't we have a University of Illinois baseball team?  Isn't that good enough?

Mr. Mayor Man-child, stop acting lik a 7 year old.  There's issues that need to be dealt with before you can start wishing for your own baseball team... with other people's money.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 30, 2012 at 3:08 pm

"If you build it, he will come." ; referring to the movie Field of Dreams of course.  The revenue from the plastic bag fund would offset the tax break needed for a private investor to become involved.  After the investment fails; the city could take it over for the park district's use.

drmagoo wrote on August 30, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Even a low-A minor league team would be worlds better than any Big (12) Ten team. Not the same thing at all.

Mark Taylor wrote on August 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Goldangit -- I'm against anything and everything that I wasn't already familiar with 40 years ago, including this!!!!!

I saw this one empty building in town once and last week I ran over a pothole. So of course we shouldn't build anything new!~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We need to beautify the city but we can't spend any money on frivolous things like statues and fountains!!!!!!!

We need to attract tourism and new business but we can't spend one red cent on anything that might bring people and business in!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We need to fix everything to better than perfect before we can even talk about other opportunities.

And the mayor is -- OBVS!!! -- just in this to flesh out his paper bag smuggling ring and liquor concession skim.

And he's relatively young and he's also a poopyheaded poopypants!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mark Taylor wrote on August 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm

I also suspect he wasn't born in Champaign -- why are you hiding your birth certificate mister 'mayor'?

EL YATIRI wrote on August 31, 2012 at 7:08 am
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If Gerard wants a baseball career for his baseball playing son, let him finance it himself and stop pretending this is for economic development.

Mark Taylor wrote on August 31, 2012 at 11:08 am

I tell you what, that mayor needs a good Eastwooding!!!!!!!!!!!

Mark Taylor wrote on August 31, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Also, VERY CLASSY. You sure stuck it to the mayor's son.


mankind wrote on August 31, 2012 at 8:08 am

Love the idea of a minor league park but it can't be bush league. I think it needs to have affiliation with a major league club to have a chance at the kind of long term economic stimulus that they're talking about. That said, kudos to the mayor for thinking outside the box. It's about time this city had some vision other than how to salt the streets every winter.   

EL YATIRI wrote on September 01, 2012 at 7:09 am
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The feasibility study presented at the City Council meeting was for an affiliated single A club.

Lostinspace wrote on August 31, 2012 at 11:08 am

Well, that's one way to get a roundabout.

CULater wrote on August 31, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Very mature Mr.Taylor , I would like to hear your ideas to benefit our community as opposed to the child-like response you have delivered. They can explore the idea of a stadium but the fact of the matter is that it is not financially sound and during these hard economic times it's almost laughable.

 Do you see the empty buildings scattered across town including downtown?

 3 blocks of downtown look beautiful and quaint and the rest of the streets look like an industrial slum.

Do you experience the bad roads when you drive around our community? or will you ignore the bumpy ride on the way to the brand new stadium?

Please explain to me what you think we should do with our tax money? I think money should be spent on infrastructure, trying to bring private businesses into our community , education and police/fire. I do believe tourism can help our community but I don't believe that a minor league baseball stadium will benefit us in anyway.

Perhaps it's because the Illini sports teams aren't having record seasons lately that we forget how we are already a sports town. We have an amazing Football stadium and Basketball arena, and we have a college baseball team too. How many people attend those baseball games? Please don't tell me that more people will attend because of liquor because that is ridiculous. Are we nothing more than alcoholics in this town?

I respectfully disagree with the idea of a baseball stadium built with taxpayer money.

It's that simple.

Bridgeview, IL in debt from stadium.


Article on how sports teams take advantage of local economies.

Mark Taylor wrote on August 31, 2012 at 3:08 pm


We DON'T want a baseball stadium.

We want to fill the already EMPTY storefronts across town.

Fill the Potholes!

Beautify the City!

As American citizens of Champaign we have to stand together against wasteful government spending.

I appreciate the etiquette lecture from such a refined and mature writer as yourself.

I was agreeing with your first comment that some currently vacant buildings and the some potholes means that, if a city official even wants to look into the possibility, then that official should be told on no uncertain terms "STOP WASTING OUR MONEY!!!!!!!"

Obviously looking into the possibility of a stadium has nothing to do with spending on "infrastructure, [or] trying to bring private businesses into our community."

Of course you're right that anyone who would enjoy a beer at a ballgame is an alcoholic.

And citing the CATO institute -- TOTAL WIN!!!

read the DI wrote on August 31, 2012 at 5:08 pm

1. That Cato Institute study is 12 years old and the data are 16 or more years old.

2. That study, as I have noted previously, covers only major league franchises, whose stadiums are significantly more expensive (and thus the ROI significantly longer) than what is being considered here. 

I'm all for data-driven decisions, but what you are offering is about as relevant to this discussion as the dog on Mitt Romney's car roof.



pattsi wrote on September 01, 2012 at 7:09 am

I happened to watch the Champaign city council discussion concerning this issue. I am intrigued that the council decided to use previous staff time to dig further into such a possibility--the same staff that over the past few years is smaller in size due to budget constraints.

There is so much research that one can access of this issue by using the social science index--professors in urban planning, business, recreation, etc. have published extensive pieces--available in the UIUC library. Here is a research piece I quickly found on the internet

Whether the issue is public dollars building a stadium for a professional team or a minor league team, the situation is the same--this does not generate return rate for the public dollars, but does generate increased revenues for the privately owned teams. This is why the teams just love for the public to spend monies on building.

I brought Jim Bouton, Yankee pitcher and author of Ball Four and several other books, here for one of the annual UIUC Planning Institutes. Here is his statement made during his lecture about public monies being used to build stadiums--"if this is such a great idea and a money generator then why are not all of the athletic team owners in the business of building and owning these stadiums?"

During public comment at the council meeting a citizen pointed out how building a stadium could be used as a means to clean up ugly areas in the community. Does this dovetail with some of the conversations relatred to why is Bristol Park being targeted for demolition? This is the area where Habitat for Humanity has recently built two new homes.

EL YATIRI wrote on September 01, 2012 at 9:09 am
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I found it interesting that the feasibility study had to include a "theme restaurant" that would be rented out for weddings and group partys in order to make the stadium profitable.  The "volunteer committee" was led by Gerard's chum who was also his son Will's coach and a self-admitted baseball fanatic, yet he wanted everyone to believe that this was purely a business plan not influenced by self-serving motives.

CULater wrote on September 01, 2012 at 11:09 am

Great points.

Local Yocal wrote on September 02, 2012 at 9:09 pm
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I wonder if Gerard tells the black churches he's so proud to visit, that some in the congregation are in the damn way of his stadium. Shameful the way the City is treating these people in the Bristol Park area and will be even more shameful when they kick the residents of Shadowood out as well. Maybe Gerard should consider first rescinding that nasty discrimination allowance landlords now have in Champaign to deny renting to a potential tennant simply on the basis of having a Section 8 voucher, before he goes all hee-haw on a bulldozer for some millionaire's profit. What was the outcome of Auler's Champaign County Colts way back when? We've seen this movie before, and they didn't come.  

pattsi wrote on September 03, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Found this on the internet--great history of past attempts to bring baseball and a stadium to this community.

Marti Wilkinson wrote on September 03, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Many of the baseball fans in this area travel to Chicago or Saint Louis to watch games. As it is I think it would be best for Champaign to focus on growth in area's that aren't related to sports. We already have the University of Illinois sporting events in this area, and a strong booster culture established. I'm not convinced that we can successfully draw on that to bring minor league baseball here.

If anything, I would like to see high speed rail lines run throughout Illinois. It would make traveling between Champaign and Chicago more doable for people who may be willing to commute to work. When you consider the student population from both Chicago and downstate Illinois, it also makes more sense to improve the rail lines. Unfortunately, some of our issues stem from the fact that our rail lines are owned by Canada.

read the DI wrote on September 04, 2012 at 10:09 am

Oh my god! High-speed rail? No one wants to work in Chicago and live in Champaign. What an incredible waste of money that would be. Besides, it would be a federal project, not a C-U one.

rsp wrote on September 03, 2012 at 6:09 pm

A lot more kids are playing soccer now. There's less interest in baseball. Maybe they should look at how much interest there is in that before they do anything. After all, we are seeing a cultural shift in the country, people who didn't grow up with baseball. They grew up with soccer. Should a place be built that decreasing numbers are interested in? Should it be built at all?

read the DI wrote on September 04, 2012 at 10:09 am

If you haven't noticed, no one goes to professional soccer games, yet more than 60 million tickets are sold to major league baseball games each year, and scores of millions more to minor league games.

This isn't about PLAYING a sport, it's about WATCHING it.