Rantoul sports complex

This rendering shows the layout of a proposed development near Interstate 57 in west Rantoul that includes a 60-plus-acre artificial-turf sports complex on the southern edge, marked in blue

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RANTOUL — If village board members give their blessing, site work on a multimillion-dollar, 60-plus-acre artificial-turf sports complex could begin as soon as this fall on Rantoul’s west side.

The price tag: $20 million, according to one estimate. It would be paid for from private contributions, sponsorships, donations and grants, with the bulk of the funding coming from bonds paid for from income generated from Rantoul’s tax-increment-financing fund.

If approved, “you’re creating a Midwest destination location for some very large markets to travel toward a sporting venue like we’re proposing,” Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer told the board.

He projects the complex would spur restaurant, hotel and retail development along the Interstate 57 corridor. Greater interest would be generated by the sport complex’s turf fields, Eisenhauer added, which would lure multiple teams due to its no weather-cancellation possibilities.

If the complex is approved, site work could begin this fall, with construction taking place in 2020 and tournaments beginning in the spring of 2021.

Visit Champaign County, which has been working with the village on the project, has “already been in discussion with at least 10 regional and national sports organizations about hosting tournaments in Rantoul in 2021,” Eisenhauer said.

The sports complex would contain numerous fields for baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and rugby — and could host other sporting events, such as Ultimate Frisbee.

Officials believe the complex could draw traveling teams from a four-hour radius of Rantoul, including Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Louisville.

Thinking bigger

Rantoul officials had originally considered building the complex near the Hap Parker Family Aquatic Center but found that area too small and not likely to create as much economic development, said village urban planner Chris Milliken.

“If we’re going to propose a sports complex somewhere in the village of Rantoul, we want to make sure that location is supportive of development,” he said.

Its development inside a TIF district — south of Walmart — would also be a funding plus.

There is “a willingness of the property owner (the Joe Warner estate) to allow for development. Much of this property has already been platted out for commercial development,” Milliken said.

Milliken said 27,000 vehicles pass by the area daily, and the project fits “into a grander vision of the area.”

In addition to Walmart, that area includes the Holiday Inn Express and the new Shields auto facility.

“Without the sports complex out there, the pace of development … has been pretty slow,” Milliken said.

Eisenhauer said Rantoul needs more hotel rooms. Lots more hotel rooms. There are only 200 locally, which prompted some people attending last month’s Half Century of Progress farm show to stay in hotels as far away as Arcola and Gilman, Trustee Gary Wilson said.

Eisenhauer said the traveling sports team business is a large one, and the complex would be designed to draw teams from far away to spark hotel stays.

Nothing like it here

Trustee Terry Workman said he has been traveling “all over the country” to different sports complexes for the past eight years to watch his grandchildren play.

“We have not been anywhere in central Illinois” to watch them. He has been to Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago (“whose facilities were horrible”), Nashville, Atlanta and Kansas City.

“There’s no facilities here in central Illinois that will compare to what we’re making, and we have a perfect location. I wish it had been here eight years ago,” Workman said. “To me, this is a great opportunity for our community and the economic value of these people knocking on our door before we’ve even put a shovel in the ground.”

Eisenhauer said he has received feelers from several companies indicating they will develop businesses along the corridor if the complex is built.

He said his research into sports complex and sports tournament organizers found they prefer a four-hour drive market.

“If you get teams from 15 minutes away, you don’t get the overnight stays,” Eisenhauer said. “Four hours, the family will make the drive and stay overnight. You are creating a Midwest destination location for some very large markets to travel toward a sporting venue like we’re proposing.”

Eisenhauer said most national tournaments are held on the East Coast, primarily because that is where the sports facilities are.

The sports complex would also likely benefit neighboring businesses.

A Visit Champaign County marketing study found that a 60-team youth baseball tournament would generate overnight attendance of 2,534 — plus another 600 one-day attendees, creating a weekend attendance of more than 3,000. That relates to direct business sales of $656,000.

The tournament would require 1,477 hotel rooms.

Eisenhauer presented similar figures for softball and soccer tournaments, which on average pull in more people than baseball tournaments.

“We have already been in conversation with hotel organizations interested in the concept because it would be unique … to have hotels directly adjacent to the field itself,” Eisenhauer said.

All 'new money'

Trustee Sam Hall said he has “done some traveling” to follow sports teams.

“For me, what I envision, the potential economic impact sounds phenomenal,” Hall said. “But I think of the community impact. You have a facility that our children, our students can use and develop, and we can come out and cheer and yell at them and not have to travel as much.”

Hall said visiting families could see Rantoul “as a great place to live,” which could also benefit local schools.

Trustee Mark Wilkerson asked when the board would know how much the village will need to borrow.

Eisenhauer said final numbers will be presented at the Oct. 1 study session and that he hopes by then to have some commitments from donors, developers and sponsors and know whether grants are available.

“It will only be new money going into this project,” Eisenhauer said, “so if you’re concerned … we’re going to be taking local fuel tax money that we would be putting into the streets and putting into the sports complex, the answer is no.”

Meeting dates set

Rantoul Rec Director Luke Humphrey said the village received 14 proposals from design firms. That was cut to seven, whose representatives were interviewed by committee.

He said only one — Byrne & Jones — provided a master plan, which it had already completed.

“They definitely stood out among the group,” Humphrey said.

The firm would undertake the project as a design-build, and Eisenhauer said the village wants local companies to pick up as much of the work as possible as subcontractors.

Asked by Wilkerson how confident he is that 15 to 20 tournaments could be booked the first year, Humphrey said: “I’m concerned we might have to turn people away, quite honestly. From the research that we’ve done and people we’ve talked to, I have no reason to believe we can’t get 15 to 20.”

Village officials will present the sports complex concept at Monday’s Rantoul Township High board meeting and the Sept. 19 Rantoul Park District meeting. Eisenhauer said they also want to meet with officials from the University of Illinois, Parkland and Illinois State.

Meetings to take public comments on the proposal are set for 5 p.m. Sept. 17 and Sept. 24, both at the municipal building.

Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.