At the invitation of Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves, about two dozen residents showed up at the police department Wednesday morning to ask questions about plans for an indoor/outdoor sports complex the village unveiled Jan. 28.
The estimated $21 million sports complex is planned for a 26.3 parcel of land (the former Tri Central Marine Terminal) roughly bounded by the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and Industrial Park Drive, from the end of Stephen Street north of the post office and continuing west under the Lemont Street bridge and beyond.
The proposed development would feature four outdoor fields for sports such as soccer, lacrosse and football, and an indoor facility that includes four areas for field sports and convertible spaces to accommodate two IHSA basketball courts, five volleyball courts and one tennis court. The indoor facility would also feature areas for concessions, multi-purpose rooms, party rooms and storage.
Reaves, Village Administrator Ben Wehmeier and Village Trustees Paul Chialdikas, Cliff Miklos and Ron Stapleton were on hand Wednesday to answer residents’ questions and concerns.
Reaves prefaced the meeting by emphasizing that Lemont can’t necessarily rely on Cook County, the State of Illinois or the Federal government to help it grow and prosper – but needs to be as self-sufficient as possible.
“In the last 10 years, we have built a public works department, a new police station and renovated the village hall, all under our own means,” Reaves said. “We have always borrowed money, then paid the money off. We have had to do more with less.”
But besides doing more with less, the mayor also sees benefit in the village being “forward thinking” by launching projects such as the sports complex to generate revenue, give a boost to local businesses and spur economic development in the community.
Reaves envisions the proposed sports complex as being more than just a facility for travel teams and their fans, but also as a site for outdoor festivals, conventions, trade shows, home shows – and even water shows tied in to the canal corridor.
Residents' Q&A Session
If you were unable to attend the meeting on Wednesday morning, following is a general summary of questions residents asked – and the answers provided by village officials and staff.
Q: How many people could show up at the sports complex at one time – and how does the number of visitors convert to revenue for the village?
A: Reaves pointed out that 4,000 people attended a state wrestling event at the high school recently – and he predicted there are “a lot of events like that” to bring players and fans from other areas to Lemont. The village has estimated that up to 650,000 people could visit the proposed sports complex each year.
Q: How will the village deal with increased traffic - and how will people enter and exit the complex?
A: Reaves said that “as of right now,” Industrial Drive* will be the main entrance in and out of the sports facility, and the village will work with the police department to provide crowd control for special events that draw large crowds. “I don’t want people to bypass [the downtown area],” Reaves said.
*Correction - 12:01 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8: According to Village Administrator Ben Wehmeier, access to and from the facility will be from Stephen Street. Thank you to commenter "Todd," who alerted us to the error.
Q: How will the sports complex provide benefits for the entire town? How will the facility help drive revenue?
A: Reaves said the village is working on ways to attract sports complex visitors to local businesses, as well. He envisions sponsorships by local businesses [via banners and signs during games] and marketing efforts such as the village’s new www.ilivelemont.com website as ways to promote not only the downtown area, but all of Lemont.
Q: “Will the facility have its own board and team to maintain it?
A: Reaves said a facility management company will be responsible for hiring a staff and recruiting sports groups to rent the facility. The management group would report directly to the mayor and village board, which could cancel the management company’s contract if deemed necessary, Reaves said. He said maintenance costs for the sports facility will be paid through a budget line item for public works.
Q: Will other neighbors (such as nearby industrial sites) pose problems for the facility?
A: Reaves said industries near the proposed complex “are on board” with the village and “understand our philosophy.” He expressed confidence that the village will be able to work with the facility’s industrial neighbors to make their sites “as aesthetically pleasing as possible.”
Q: Why is the project on a “fast track?”
A: Reaves said village officials and staff have been “doing their due diligence” on the project over the past year. He said if the village can “get the jump on” other entities, it can capture the travel sports teams for their new seasons with “something that nobody else offers.”
“I don’t think anyone in our region has the borrowing power that could facilitate a facility like this,” Reaves said. “I think we have the property and the uniqueness to be able to draw a tremendous amount of people.”
Q: Why can’t we demand a project like this goes toward reducing the government’s debt? What are you going to do to go back to getting this village debt free?
A: “We have always had a balanced budget in this town,” Reaves said. “We have always been good fiscal stewards – refinancing debt, taking debt loads down.” Reaves added proceeds from the sports complex and more visitors will increase the village’s revenue stream through sales tax.
Q: Does MWRD (Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the owner of the land proposed for the sports complex) pay taxes on this property now?
A: No, so there will be no lost tax revenue if the village develops the site, Reaves said.
Q: What happens if the economy doesn’t improve?
A: Reaves said he sees signs that the economy is getting better. “I see people putting money into their companies,” Has there been a downturn? Yes. Economists show there may be a dip, but then things will [get better]. “People will spend money on their kids for sports.”
Q: One of the alternative revenue sources the village mentioned is income tax. What does that mean?
A. Village Administrator Ben Wehmeier explained Lemont gets about $1.5 million per year from state income tax. He said the state’s debt to communities does eventually come in, albeit late.
“When cash comes in, it goes into the state coffers and [Lemont] gets in line like everybody else. Until they have enough cash to pay everybody, they don’t pay anybody on the warrant list.”
Q: Why didn’t we (residents) have a say in this project?
A: Reaves said the village is continuing to work its way through the planning process for the sports complex. The village board began the process for issuing bonds for the project Jan. 28, and a public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, at Village Hall to solicit public comment and answer residents’ questions. No vote will be taken by the village board at the Feb. 11 meeting.
The mayor said anyone who objects to the village issuing bonds to build the sports complex can pick up a petition form at Village Hall, although the time has already passed for placing the issue on the April 9 ballot. If someone collects 785 cumulative signatures of Lemont registered voters stating the bonds need to be put to a referendum, the next opportunity to vote on the measure would in the spring of 2014, Reaves said.
For more on the proposed sports complex, read:
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