SPRINGFIELD - A bill to create a bonding authority that would use hotel taxes to build new sports facilities and improve existing arenas downstate is on its way to the governor's desk.
One possible project is building a new ice arena in Champaign-Urbana for the Danville Wings hockey team, according to state Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, who sponsored the bill.
The Downstate Sports Facilities Authority would be modeled after the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority in Chicago, which sold bonds for the new Comiskey Park for the White Sox and to help pay for the Soldier Field renovation project. The bonds are repaid with a 2 percent tax on city hotel bills.
The measure passed the Senate on a vote of 43-14 Tuesday after earlier passing the House 82-32.
State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, opposed the legislation because she said she is not for raising taxes.
Winkel said the bill is an issue of fairness, to give communities outside Chicago the same opportunities that city has had for so long.
"It would put us on the same footing, so if opportunities were to come to attract a professional, semipro, amateur or even university sports team or club, we'd be able to at least have a way of potentially creating a sports facility that would accommodate that team," Winkel said.
State Sen. Wendell Jones, R-Palatine, asked Winkel whether the bill could lead to a new Assembly Hall for the Illini.
"Theoretically, but that's not my intention," Winkel said. "It's for all downstate sports facilities as opportunities arise."
The facilities can be owned privately or publicly, by the authority or by a governmental body, and may be leased to a private entity to manage, according to the bill.
The facilities would be exempt from property taxes either way.
The bill would allow the Downstate Sports Facilities Authority to sell a maximum of $40 million in bonds in connection with facilities owned by the authority and no more than $40 million in bonds owned by other entities.
The members of the Downstate Sports Facilities Authority Board would be appointed by the governor with the approval of the Senate, and each of the communities involved would have to endorse the projects.
If a group of towns or counties wanted to use the authority to build a stadium or other sports facility, each of those municipalities would have to pass an ordinance enacting a hotel tax to repay the bonds, Winkel said.
The idea is that the spectators who come to town to enjoy the sports events would help pay for the arena when they book hotel and motel rooms on game nights, he said.
A message left at the Danville Wings office was not returned Tuesday. University of Illinois spokeswoman Lex Tate said only that Champaign-Urbana already has a facility for hockey that is open to the public for skating and other activities.
"The UI Ice Arena is a wonderful arena," she said. "We just redid it a few years ago."
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