It was standing-room-only Monday night as residents packed Village Hall to express their views during a public hearing on a $21 million sports complex the village has proposed for downtown Lemont.
Following a presentation by Mayor Brian Reaves, Village Administrator Ben Wehmeier, Village Attorney Jeff Stein, a market feasibility advisor, sports management consultant and public bond expert, nearly 20 residents walked up to the microphone, one by one.
Here’s a sampling of some of their comments:
Resident Mary Pollard praised the mayor and village board as “people of integrity,” and credited them for all the work they have done so far on the sports complex project. She said would rather pay a Lemont facility for her children’s travel-team practices and games than spend her money at other area sports complexes.
Bill Douglass, representing Lemont Youth Lacrosse, characterized Lacrosse as the “fastest growing youth sport in the country.” He said he has seen increasing participation by kids from surrounding towns such as Orland Park, Tinley Park, Oak Forest and Beverly, as well as teams from Oswego, Plainfield, West Chicago, St. Charles and Batavia, and even Indiana – and envisions those teams all playing on fields in Lemont.
“We are sitting smack dab in the middle,” Douglass said of Lemont. “I can tell you by experience, kids will come to these games, then have time to kill and go right to this downtown and look for something to do … you have an opportunity here, and I think you should take it,” he told the board.
Lisa Bitsky expressed concerns about levels of toxicity at the former industrial site where the sports complex would be built – and said she doesn’t think revenues generated by the facility will be adequate to support it. “I think it’s a little risky for the town at this time,” she said.
Resident Tim Steiber said his children play soccer, and although he “loves the idea” of a new sports facility in Lemont, he worries that the village’s projections for the number of teams that will pay to use the facility are unrealistic.
“Come back to me with half the revenue stream and show me you can still do it,” Steiber said. “If you can, you walk on water.”
Thirteen-year resident Mike Gardner said he has two daughters who are “very involved” in youth sports, and currently, he is paying for them to play at facilities outside Lemont.
“If I had my choice to generate revenue to Lemont, I would,” said Gardner. Activities are what drive a community. I hope one day that I live in Lemont long enough to see my daughters play at a complex like this. It’s not about right now. It’s about the future.”
Harve Schlachter, who has lived in Lemont for 30 years, said that although he didn’t think there was a person in the room who didn’t want the project to be successful, he was concerned about the speed with which it was advancing. He cited a recent article in Crain’s Chicago Business, which detailed several area sports complexes that are in financial trouble and even foreclosure.
“I don’t think anyone is trying to deny anyone the opportunity [for athletics] – but if we can be assured there is financial stability here, I think we’d all be in a better situation for the future,” Schlachter said.
Other speakers stepped up to the podium as well – some optimistic about the project, others skeptical. Several expressed the desire to see the sports complex issue go to referendum – which Mayor Reaves said could not be voted upon until March 2014.
One man said he would like the board to pledge that revenues from the project would be used to reduce the village’s debt. Another worried that if the sports facility were unsuccessful and the debt has to be paid from sales and income taxes, residents would see cutbacks in police or other services.
Proposed to be built at the north end of Stephen Street south of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the sports complex would encompass 26 acres and feature a 190,000 square-foot outdoor venue and a 122,000 square-foot indoor facility.
At its Jan. 28 meeting, the village board approved a preliminary bond ordinance to allow the village to borrow money and issue alternate bonds to finance the project in an amount not to exceed $21 million.
Village officials have projected that fees collected from groups renting the facility, as well as concessions and other operating revenues, would pay for the debt service on the alternate revenue source bonds. With alternate revenue source bonds, the village is required to pledge other sources of revenue – in this case, revenue from operation of the facility, sales tax receipts, income tax and TIF increment.
Mayor Reaves told those assembled at the public hearing Monday night that no village board action will take place on the project during the last meeting in February – but action could be taken in March.
Reaves said he and Village Administrator Wehmeier had taken notes during the public hearing and would provide additional information about the project online.
The mayor encouraged residents who have questions, comments or concerns about the sports complex or its financing to contact him, any of the village trustees or the village administrator. Click here for contact information.
For more information on the proposed sports complex, read: