Input on Allerton plan encouraged
MONTICELLO — With the Allerton Park and Retreat Center in the midst of drafting a master plan, state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, chipped in with his own input at a meeting with Allerton and University of Illinois officials Wednesday at the park.
Rose cited both professional and personal reasons for calling the session at the park, where he was joined by state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville. Rose applauded the master-plan efforts that will guide major decisions for the next three decades, but said he believes the document should get more public input and be completed while Robert Easter is still president at the UI, which owns the facility.
The plan is to present a proposed master plan to the UI Board of Trustees in January. Easter retires next July.
"He loves Allerton Park, so I think we have an opportunity to maximize this vision process while we have a sympathetic president at the University of Illinois," said Rose, who called the recreational site "a huge economic driver for the local area."
On a more personal note, Rose said finding out that a friend did not use the park or retreat center for a wedding recently "broke my heart," and prompted questions on long-term, stable financing to fund upkeep of the facility.
The 2,800 acres of tillable farmland surrounding the facility used to provide funding, but in 2007 the land was transferred to the UI in pursuit of more stable funding through a university endowment.
"The problem before was we were getting large fluctuations, making it hard to budget," said Allerton Interim Director Bruce Branham.
Revenue has dropped about $100,000 in the past five years because funding is now based on a seven-year rolling average of endowment returns, which still include bleak post-recession years. Branham said those dollars should start rising again in the next year, when the economic recovery years are included.
Concerning the master plan, Kevin Duff, the UI's assistant director of capital programs, said the "biggest challenge has been getting good input," as seen by a crowd of just 12 showing up to a public meeting in July.
About 40 people attended Wednesday's meeting, which Davis hopes is a "call for more participation. I would hope that everyone in this room would go back into the community and talk about the need, the need for participation. Without it, you're going to put together your initial plan with limited information."
Some ideas shared at the meeting included: adding more hotel rooms so the 39 guest-room mansion could host larger events; making the 12-acre meadow a Ravinia-style concert venue; and maybe even making room for a privately owned hotel.
Monticello City Council member Tim Hayes said he remembers when the UI football team spent Friday nights at Allerton Park, and wonders if opportunities like that could return if occupancy was expanded.
"The park may have been a tarnished jewel for a while, but now I see us putting some fine polish on it again to bring it back to what it was in its heyday," Hayes said.
Duff is on board with netting more input for the plan, even if it delays the current timeline.
"I'd rather go slower and get it right," he said.
Steve Hoffman is editor of the Piatt County Journal-Republican, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit journal-republican.com.