Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves Jan. 28 unveiled a proposal to build a $21 million indoor/outdoor sports complex in the village’s downtown area. At the meeting, Reaves said he hoped to put the project on a “fast track” and begin construction of the project in March of this year.
But some Lemont residents are saying, “Not so fast.”
A group of citizens calling itself the “Let Us Vote” campaign, has been circulating petitions around town, gathering signatures to place a measure on the March 18, 2014 general primary election ballot - allowing Lemont citizens and taxpayers to “have a voice and a vote.”
“I’ve been to the [Metra] train station every morning, gathering signatures on petitions,” said Jim Ladas, a 25-year resident of Lemont and one of the petition drive’s organizers. “The village has really painted us into a bad corner with very short notice.”
The proposed sports complex
The Lemont sports complex is an indoor/outdoor facility the village has proposed for a 26-acre site at the north end of Stephen Street in Downtown Lemont (Sanitary and Ship Canal). The project’s 190,000 square-foot outdoor venue would feature two fields and a winter ice skating rink; the indoor venue would consist of 122,000 sq. ft. with four fields and 450-person seating capacity, as well as an optional court sport section to house two basketball courts or five volleyball courts or one tennis court. The site would also feature 280 parking spots.
On Jan. 28, the Lemont Village Board approved a preliminary bond ordinance to finance the $21 million facility – and the village has said revenues from the sports complex (including rent from sports groups, concessions and other operating dollars) will pay for the debt service on the bonds. The village has projected it will earn enough revenue from the sport complex to show 133 percent debt coverage.
But because the financing involves alternate revenue source bonds, the village is required to pledge other sources of revenue in the event revenues from the complex are not sufficient to pay the debt service. In this case, the village is pledging operations revenue from the sports facility, sales tax receipts, income tax and TIF increment.
Why a petition drive?
The language defining the alternate revenue pledged for the bonds has made citizens like Jim Ladas and fellow petition-drive organizers Hank Olenick and Janet Hughes, more than a little nervous.
“Our bottom line is, we think we ought to vote on something of this nature – especially if we have to use tax money to cover losses on a $21 million project,” Ladas said. “We are a town of just 16,000 people – and we are paying taxes to the library, schools, fire district, township and village. Although the mayor and board are convinced this is a winning proposition, we just aren’t convinced.”
Ladas said that as of Thursday, 600 residents had signed petitions, which have been notarized and are ready to turn in to the village - and dozens of petitions are still “out on the street.”
Among the signatures is that of Illinois State Senator Christine Radogno (R-41), whom Ladas said “made a point to do this as a citizen of Lemont.”
In a statement released by her press office, Radogno said, “I believe a project of this magnitude deserves a thorough review. Like others familiar with it – I’m currently taking time to educate myself on the details. Some believe they need more time to study the proposal and its merits. I signed the petition as an individual resident of Lemont to give those residents that opportunity.”
What does the petition say?
The text of each petition reads as follows:
In accordance with and pursuant to Section 2 of an authorizing ordinance of the Village of Lemont, Cook, DuPage and Will Counties, Illinois (the “Municipality,”) adopted ___________, 2013, and entitled:
AN ORDINANCE AUTHORIZING THE ISSUANCE OF LEMONT SPORTS COMPLEX REVENUES/INCREMENTAL TAXES/ GENERAL SALES TAX/REVENUE SHARING RECEIPTS ALTERNATE REVENUE SOURCE BONDS OF THE VILLAGE OF LEMONT, COOK, DUPAGE AND WILL COUNTIES, ILLINOIS, FOR THE PURPOSE OF FINANCING A LEMONT SPORTS COMPLEX AND RELATED COSTS
Each of the undersigned hereby certifies, as applicable to each, that each is an elector (a registered voter) of the Municipality, and hereby petitions and asks that the question of issuing up to $21,000,000 alternate bonds, payable from one or more of Lemont Sports Complex Revenues, Incremental Taxes, General Sales Taxes and Revenue Sharing Receipts (as defined in the above ordinance) as the alternate revenue source(s) to pay costs of the acquisition, construction and installation of a Lemont Sports Complex, as set forth in the above ordinance, be submitted to the electors of the Municipality at the general primary election to be held on March 18, 2014, if such question can be and is presented at such election, and otherwise at the next election at which such question could be presented under the general election laws.
Issue has awakened citizens, petition organizer says
Ladas, who is 64 years old and retired, said that although he has lived in Lemont for 25 years, he has never really paid much attention to the inner workings of his village government. But the sports complex project has made him sit up and take notice.
“This is, in a way, our fault as citizens for not getting involved in our local government,” he said. “But this has woken up the citizens of this town. Very few people I have talked to have expressed opposition to taking a vote on this.”
Ladas wants to make it clear that he is not opposed to building recreational facilities for children, although he thinks that should be a function of the park district, not the village – and he emphasized he has “voted for every single referendum for the kids in this town.” But this particular project, he said, “isn’t for our kids specifically, but for out-of-town groups.”
“If the people of this town vote “yes” for [the project], then I’m all for it,” Ladas said. I just don’t think a decision from six board members should be enough.”
And he thinks there are plenty more Lemont residents who agree with him. Ladas said the “Let Us Vote” group plans to keep pounding the pavement to gather signatures over the next week – and will meet from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Illinois Bar and Grill, at 1131 State St. to collect their signed petitions and have them notarized on the spot.
“Many of us are committing every available minute to get this on the ballot,” Ladas said. “We just don’t want [this project] shoved down our throats. Janet Hughes has been working very hard on this – and Hank Olenick, and others who I don’t even know. It’s sort of like a kitchen table campaign – and I’m proud of all the people who have gotten together on this.”
For more information on the proposed sports complex, read:
Standing-room-only Crowd Packs Public Hearing on Sports Complex