At the Jan. 28 Lemont Village Board meeting, Mayor Brian Reaves walked over to a pair of display easels and turned over two large posters that had been resting there since the meeting began.
“Today, at this board meeting, we will take action on economic development,” Reaves said, as he unveiled renderings of a $21 million indoor/outdoor sports facility proposed for Lemont’s downtown area.
Reaves projected the Lemont Sports Complex would bring 650,000 visitors to Lemont each year – attracting paying traveling teams and spectators from miles around. He also said the project is on a “fast track,” and he hoped to see ground broken for the facility sometime in March.
Although the mayor’s announcement was heard by a handful of people in attendance at the board meeting, a wider audience throughout the community has greeted the project with varying degrees of reaction – from surprise to shock, support and downright skepticism.
A Lemont Patch story posted on Tuesday prompted more than 200 comments about the proposal, for which the board approved a preliminary bond ordinance Monday night.
“This idea baffles me,” one commenter wrote. “Fast tracking a $21 million project seems reckless at a time when the economy is just starting to come back.”
“We need to draw attention to downtown Lemont,” posted another. “This is the first I have heard of this proposal and I think it’s a great plan …”
Mayor Reaves also added his comments to the story, thanking everyone who had taken the time to express their thoughts on the sports complex – and explaining, among other things, that the sports facility will not be financed by TIF funds or negatively affect residents’ taxes.
“… the bonds that the Village of Lemont issue do not go on your taxes,” Reaves commented. “We abate them every year so that you do not have an increase on the Village portion of your taxes.”
In another post, Reaves invited residents to seek him out if they have questions about the project.
“Also if anyone would like to set up a time and meet with me directly please contact my office at Village Hall and I would be happy to meet and answer any question you may have,” Reaves wrote.
Al Beaudreau seemed to sum up many of the concerns expressed by other commenters on the site, who were surprised to learn of the project and eager to have their questions answered.
“Mr. Reaves: Would it have not been easier to conduct a proper public forum to debate the pros and cons of the proposed project?” Beaudreau wrote. “Instead, the Lemont residents learn of this significant expenditure only weeks before it is implemented and categorized as ‘fast track.’ … Apparently most if not all of the discussion and planning on this project has been in private. That is not the proper forum. This is a public project, affecting all of Lemont's residents, who are on the hook financially if this project/development does not perform. It needs to be fully explained, debated and analyzed, by the residents of Lemont …”
On the other side of the debate, commenter Steve Larek said he sees great potential in the project, which he thinks will be a boon for the village’s downtown area:
“I applaud Mayor Reaves (and former Mayor John Piazza as well) for being bold and innovative in addressing an issue that has vexed the people of Lemont for many years, that being, of course, reinvigorating the downtown area,” Larek wrote in his comments. “This latest proposal will take derelict land and put it to use in a very imaginative way. The potential for a facility like this is tremendous. One example is the annual college showcase for high school lacrosse players, an event that draws people from all over the Midwest. This new facility will be a top candidate to host that event (and similar events like it for other sports), being newly constructed and being easily accessible from all over the area--and close to Midway for visiting coaches and out of town players. There's certainly no guarantees with any new venture, but this idea appears promising …”
Several commenters expressed surprise that they hadn't heard of the $21 million project before - and questioned if and when it had been publicly discussed.
What can the village board legally discuss in closed session?
In a nutshell, the Illinois Open Meetings Act specifies that all meetings of public bodies must be open to the public, but makes 29 exceptions to allow closed meetings for the purposes of discussions of, among other things:
- The purchase or lease of real property for the use of the public body, including meetings held for the purpose of discussing whether a particular parcel should be acquired.
- The setting of a price for sale or lease of property owned by the public body.
- The sale or purchase of securities, investments, or investment contracts ...
- Litigation, when an action against, affecting or on behalf of the particular public body has been filed and when the public body finds that an action is probable or imminent, in which case the basis for the finding shall be recorded and entered into the minutes of the closed meeting.
When was the sports complex project publicly discussed?
In a phone interview with Patch on Wednesday, Mayor Reaves said initial discussions of the project took place more than a year ago in closed session, under pending litigation.
He said the matter was again brought up in a board workshop (Committee of the Whole) in October, when board members discussed plans to lease land from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) for the proposed sports complex.
Following the interview with Reaves, Patch discovered the Oct. 15 COW meeting agenda lists “discussion of amending MWRD lease for Heritage Quarry Recreation Area” under item 4-F.
Recorded minutes from the Oct. 15 meeting, under “Discussion of MWRD Issues” read as follows:
“There was a discussion on three MWRD issues: The Alley vacation request of property located along Stephen Street, the lease for Safety Village, and the Lease for the Heritage Recreational Area. The Village has a positive relationship with MWRD and these items should be of little concern for the Village. There was no more discussion on the topic. The items would be up for approval at future meetings.”
In an Oct. 22 village board agenda memorandum on the subject “MWRD Lease Amendment – Heritage Quarry Recreation Area,” Village Administrator Ben Wehmeier presented background/history of an amendment to “effectively add parcel 25.01 to this current leasehold, adding 14.5 acres to the Lemont Heritage Quarry Area for a total of 99 acres. This effectively adds this parcel for use of general public as additional open space and passive recreation.”
That same night, the village board approved Resolution R-64-12, the “First Amendment to Lease Agreement Dated November 16, 2000 by and Between the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the Village of Lemont (Heritage Quarry Recreation Area).”
Mayor Reaves told Patch on Wednesday that the village plans to release a public statement this week to provide more details on the Lemont Sports Complex project.
A public hearing on the subject is scheduled to precede the village board meeting on Monday, Feb. 11.
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