RANTOUL — The director of O’Fallon Parks and Recreation said the Rantoul Village Board faces a “hard decision” when it votes this week on whether to approve construction of a $20 million sports complex. But she said it would be worth it.
“It’s a wonderful thing you can do for your community,” said Mary Jeanne Hutchison, who has overseen construction of that southern Illinois community’s sports complex since 2005.
There’s one difference, though. O’Fallon started with natural grass on some of its fields. If she had it to do over, Hutchison would have made all the fields artificial turf like Rantoul is proposing to do.
“This year we got dinged hard. We had seven rainouts on baseball,” she said. “That’s about a half-million-dollar hit to the community.”
The village board heard an exhaustive presentation at its latest study session, outlining the benefits to the community.
O’Fallon’s population has grown from about 25,000 a decade and a half ago to about 32,000, Hutchison estimated. She said until a year ago, when a new hospital was built, the city’s parks department was its No. 1 employer.
Three hotels have been built since the town’s sports complex was created, giving O’Fallon about 1,200 hotel rooms. Hutchison said three residential subdivisions have sprung up around the sports park.
“Like any park, they want to be close to that,” she said, “so they can go out and walk on the trail ... or go out and kick a ball around.”
Like O’Fallon’s, Rantoul’s complex would have not only with sports fields but also a walking trail and a playground area complete with a splash pad, Rantoul rec director Luke Humphrey told the village board. A site has also been set aside for a possible veterans memorial.
The board heard a report from real estate officials who said potential business developers have been calling since the village said it was considering creating the sports complex.
Hutchison said the O’Fallon park has half a million users annually.
The Rantoul property is owned by the Warner family.
Zach Wetherell of Coldwell Banker Commercial said the family asked Coldwell to market the lots near the interstate about a year ago, but there wasn’t much interest.
“Since this sports complex was announced ... we have an entertainment center, two strip (malls), a Mexican restaurant (and) a local hotel developer” that have expressed interest.
Wetherell said he spoke to a gas station developer who didn’t think Rantoul would be a good site for development until he heard about the sports complex.
Byrne and Jones general manager Jameson Sheley, who would oversee construction of the complex, said it would include eight baseball/softball fields, two T-ball challenger fields and eight soccer/football/multipurpose fields. There would be three buildings for concessions, restrooms and maintenance, a splash pad, playground and 800-plus parking places.
The plan also includes potential for an indoor facility, and a site would be equipped with electrical service to host food trucks. Berms will be created so fanbs can watch the games.
The village board, which meets Tuesday, will be asked to OK a not-to-exceed contract with Byrne and Jones for $16,513,792 for surveying and design, earthwork, storm and sanitary sewers, electric service and the completion and stabilization of all fields.
The remainder of the work will be made available for bidding by local contractors at a cost ranging from $4 million to $7 million.
Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said if the board OKs the proposal, discussions will proceed with potential donors and sponsors, vendors and partners.
He said earlier the goal is to have private contributions, sponsorships, donations and grants pay for part of the cost, with the bulk of the funding coming from bonds paid for by income generated from the village’s tax-increment financing fund. Local athletes would be able to use the facility at no charge.
Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.