MATTOON — Competition may be coming for Rantoul’s sports complex, which opened last year, but Rantoul Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer isn’t worried.
The Mattoon City Council is expected to approve a $65 million-plus sports complex that might involve a partnership of private- and government-funded sources. It is proposed for the intersection of Interstate 57 and Illinois 16, about 65 miles due south of Rantoul.
Eisenhauer said the Rantoul Family Sports Complex, which opened last year, has an advantage of having established deals with tournament officials as it approaches its second year of operation.
“It’s important for us to build our relationships,” Eisenhauer said. “As long as people who come to our facility have a great experience, then we’re going to be able to keep that business.”
Complex Director Ryan Reid said he prefers to take a wait-and-see attitude on whether both sports complexes can thrive.
“Honestly I don’t really have an opinion on it, because we’ve never had (nearby competition) last year,” Reid said. “It’s too soon.”
Mattoon Mayor Rick Hall said he expects the decision on whether to proceed with the project should come this summer.
“We’re still doing the final analysis, financial results — the projections of the revenue for the project and also the design work,” Hall said. “It’s still looking very positive going forward.”
Hall said he thought both sports complexes could easily co-exist in what is a multibillion-dollar industry nationwide.
“I don’t think Rantoul is going to be hurt by this or we’re going to be hurt by Rantoul,” Hall said. “A lot of these teams, the caliber of players that we bring in, they go to different sites all the time. My understanding is Rantoul is booked up a year to a year and a half in advance.”
Reid said the Rantoul site already has about a dozen more events booked than last year, and existing tournaments that will be returning “have seen a 10 to 20 percent increase” in participation numbers.
Scheduled events start this weekend as Rantoul Township High School baseball and softball teams host large tournaments with 30 teams total.
Reid said in addition to youth baseball and softball, the Rantoul complex will hold adult softball events as well as youth and adult soccer tournaments. Football, lacrosse and possibly rugby will also be played there.
Eastern Illinois University, based in Charleston, about 10 miles east of Mattoon, will also host a baseball game at the Rantoul complex.
The Mattoon complex would also include an a 140,000-square-foot indoor facility, large enough to host 16 volleyball matches or eight basketball games at a time. It would also host concerts, wrestling meets and other sports.
Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center would set up a sports-medicine facility inside, and Mattoon-based Lake Land College also wants to host events there.
Mattoon City Administrator Kyle Gill said its outdoor facility would be similar to Rantoul’s in terms of the number of fields. He believes both sports complexes could do well economically.
If Mattoon proceeds with construction, it would probably not begin until late 2022 or 2023, Hall said, noting the time frame “depends on bonding issues and how to get everything set in place.”
Hall said the Mattoon complex was initially considered a private venture but was placed on the back burner by the pandemic, “and then they picked it back up and really got the city involved late summer last year.”
Mattoon in Motion, the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce, Coles Together and Rural King, which donated land for the site, are also part of the project.
The public-private aspect of the project is among the details that have to be ironed out.
The Mattoon facility, with a current working title of Lincoln Land of Sports Complex, would be built on 95 acres.
Hall said Mattoon, population 16,870, is doing well economically. The Coles County area has a population of about 50,000.
“We’ve got an area of (Illinois) Route 16 and I-57 where we’ve already got some development with four hotels and a new one going up,” Hall said. “There’s lots of stores and restaurants right at that intersection.”
He said Illinois 16 is busier than the interstate because of the proximity of Mattoon and Charleston, with many people living in one town and working in the other, and with Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center situated between the two.
Hall said the sports complex would be located in a walkable area “so you can literally park your car at a hotel and either walk or ride a bike to all of the events, restaurants, stores, outdoor fields and indoor facility.”
Hall said three additional hotels and more restaurants are expected to be built in the vicinity.
He said the project would be built without increasing property or sales taxes for any existing businesses or residents.
A business development district could be established to fund the project.