CHAMPAIGN — Richard Pontious, who is seeking to build a $30 million multisport complex in Champaign's Clearview subdivision, said he got the idea from watching his brother's family travel for games.
"I kept watching my brother traveling all over the place with his kids," primarily for volleyball and basketball competitions, said Pontious, whose family is best known for their berry-picking farm near White Heath.
He did further research over the last 31/2 years, visiting multisport complexes across the nation.
Pontious concluded there was a need for such a complex in central Illinois and chose Champaign as the site for what he calls the Midwest Athletic Complex.
He has taken a two-year option on 60 acres in the Clearview subdivision and has begun seeking financing for the first phase, which would include a 300,000-square-foot indoor athletic facility.
As proposed, that facility would be at the southwest corner of Mattis Avenue and Olympian Drive — just a short distance south of the High School of St. Thomas More.
The indoor facility would include a turf area that could accommodate baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and football and a hard-court area that could accommodate basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, wrestling and roller hockey.
Pontious said consultants completed a facility analysis report in October.
"Now we're at the stage where we're securing additional funds for pre-development and seeking funds for construction and operations the first year," he said.
Pontious said it will take about $500,000 for the pre-development work — including architectural costs, permits and preparations for breaking ground. Construction costs are estimated at $28 million to $30 million, and operations for the first year are pegged at "just under $1 million," he said.
Pontious said he plans to raise that through private investors, a mix of state and federal grants and standard loans.
He said that if he comes up with sufficient equity from private investors and grants, he can proceed with $10 million in lending commitments from financial institutions.
"The investors will be people who want to make a difference," Pontious said. "They want an income, a return on their investment, but they want to make a difference in central Illinois."
Pontious has pitched his plan to the school and park districts in Champaign and Urbana, Parkland College officials, representatives of Christie and Carle clinics, the city of Champaign and the Champaign County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"This is being built as a destination for tournaments and education," he said, noting that it could draw teams and athletes from 100, even 250, miles away.
Schools and park districts have some facilities to accommodate tournaments, but "they don't have enough room, they don't have enough facilities," he said. "The lack of facilities is noticeable across all the sports."
Jayne DeLuce, president and CEO of the Champaign County Convention &Visitors Bureau, said the need for such a complex is great because University of Illinois facilities aren't always accessible when needed for large sports tournaments.
"The location is very good because of interstate access" and proximity to hotels and restaurants, she said.
DeLuce said some local volleyball club teams travel to Bloomington for practices and some baseball club teams practice inside Reynolds Towing in Urbana during the winter.
Having a multiuse facility here would allow local teams to practice locally and give Champaign County "an opportunity to increase sports tourism," she said.
Pontious said schools that host tournaments generally have one gymnasium that must be used by multiple teams over the course of the day.
But the proposed Midwest Athletic Complex would have eight basketball courts, making it much easier to host a large tournament.
Teams would pay for use of the athletic complex, and Pontious used baseball to illustrate the potential for revenue.
He said entry fees for baseball tournaments can range from $250 to $700 per team. A two-day tournament could involve 50 to 100 teams, generating anywhere from $12,500 to $70,000 in revenue per weekend.
That doesn't count the revenue spent on overnight lodging and meals while teams are in town.
A proposed layout of the Midwest Athletic Complex shows a hotel just to the south and a restaurant to the north.
"We're in discussions with hotel and commercial developers, but there's nothing I can discuss further" along those lines, Pontious said, adding he wouldn't own or develop those himself.
But he added, "Travel team sports want hotels and want them close."
The Atkins Group is developer for Clearview subdivision, but Pontious said the company is not an investor in his project.
"Right now, their involvement is, I'm purchasing the ground from them," he said. "They're supportive and see this as an opportunity for the community. I have not asked them to be an investor. Whether they will or not in the future, that's their call."
Pontious said his option on the property runs until August 2014, but could be extended.
Work on the second and third phases of the project wouldn't begin until the indoor facility is "up and operational," he said.
The second phase of the project would begin development of outdoor fields — potentially for baseball, soccer, football, track and basketball — and could include expansion of the indoor complex for aquatics.
However, Pontious said the facility analysis report — which confirmed the need for a multisport complex — cast doubt on whether aquatics would generate sufficient cash flow.
"Right now, it's difficult to get aquatics to cash-flow itself," he said.
Pontious said Mick Nelson, facilities development director of USA Swimming, advised him not to put in a 50-meter pool "because the swimming community, in his words, doesn't want to pay for it. They want it, but they don't want to pay for it."
But Pontious said if he could find a way for the pool to generate positive cash flow, he would proceed with it.
"Cash flow pays for all the other sports," he added.
Pontious said he has been working with two Chicago-based consulting firms — Metronomic Inc. and C.H. Johnson Consulting — in planning for the complex.
The whole project would involve more than 100 acres, with the outdoor fields expected to be built on the north side of Olympian Drive, mostly west of the High School of St. Thomas More.
For all three phases to come to fruition, Pontious predicted it would take "a minimum of five years" and "could stretch out from there."
Pontious said the indoor complex could operate 365 days a year, and the outdoor fields could be used for six to nine months a year.
He cited 10 other multisport facilities in the United States and said the Spire Institute in Geneva, Ohio, is the "best representation" of what he has in mind.
DeLuce, the visitors bureau president, said multisport facilities are cost-efficient, but they need a lot of use to cover overhead and utilities.
"Like any place, you can't build a church for Easter. You can't build a facility for weekend tournaments," she said. "You need a strong consistent market that utilizes the facility Sunday through Thursday."
That use can take the form of practices and fitness classes, among other things, she said.
Pontious, who lives in White Heath, said he has been involved in development the past 10 years, principally the AppleTree subdivision on the west side of Monticello.
Before that, he worked in the telecommunications industry for 30 years as a sales engineer and customer service engineer.
His parents owned the Pontious farm in White Heath, and today he owns the farm.
"We announced last year that we're no longer going to promote it, but we're not tearing the stuff out," Pontious said. "We still have blueberries and raspberries, and people can continue to come out and pick them."
Midwest Athletic Complex at a glance
Proposed by: Rick Pontious
Location: Champaign's Clearview subdivision, west of Mattis Avenue near intersection with Olympian Drive.
First phase: Includes indoor facility with eight basketball courts, 16 volleyball courts, eight tennis courts; plus two fields for soccer, football and lacrosse and two fields for baseball and softball with batting/pitching/golfing cages, plus room for roller hockey, wrestling, gymnastics and cheerleading. Could also accommodate rock climbing, rappelling, a cross-country track and bleachers for championships.
Second phase and beyond: Could include aquatics facility for competitive swimming, water aerobics, water polo, water therapy. Plus, 16 baseball/softball fields; 14 soccer fields, four convertible to football and lacrosse; six sand volleyball courts; basketball/roller hockey courts; a stadium for football/soccer/lacrosse/track and field.