020817-blm-loc-1soccer

Bloomington High School soccer players warm up for a game in September 2015 at Community Fields while a plane takes off from Central Illinois Regional Airport behind them. 

STEVE SMEDLEY, Pantagraph file photo

BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington-Normal could lose a soccer field complex now under development for the west side if the city keeps dragging its heels.

"If they delay too much longer, this will go to another community because they're starting to reach out to us," said Katie Kim, who is developing a sports complex on the community's west side on behalf of landowner Dave Stark. "We've been courted by other cities ... to take this project, aggressively. I've had multiple meetings with a community nearby."

Kim has spent the last year trying to drum up support for a complex to include soccer fields on land near the Rivian Automotive plant that's now projected to cost $28 million.

She has asked for $350,000 per year from the Bloomington, $250,000 per year from Normal and $420,000 in hotel/motel tax from a projected 1-percentage-point increase, but the city of Bloomington has balked at funding the concept despite an estimated $26 million-plus return in local economic impact in the first year.

She took that dilemma to a Monday meeting of about 100 parents with Prairie Cities Soccer League and Illinois Fire Juniors, two local soccer programs that need fields to replace their current Community Fields on Bloomington's east side.

Despite a recent three-year lease extension on that site owned by Central Illinois Regional Airport, the leagues know they need to find a permanent home or risk being scattered to local parks, most of which are not intended for soccer, come 2021.

"Politicians don't see the light until they feel the heat. Bring the heat," Kim told the group at Normal Community High School. "We've heard from the city, 'We don't want to do Coliseum 2.0,' but this one is really a no-brainer."

She's gearing up for a full public rollout of the plan, which has been presented privately to city and town officials, as well as many other local stakeholders, since Normal signed on for a 1-percentage-point sales tax increase, effective Jan. 1, 2016, with plans to use part of the money for such a complex.

Those soccer groups similarly are gearing up for a fundraising campaign so they can work on a new home. That could involve splitting off into local parks, finding a 60-acre site similar to Community Fields or leasing part of a complex like Kim's, which would give parents better parking facilities, bathrooms, a concession stand and possibly lights and turf fields.

Officials have promoted the project as both a local amenity and an economic development driver. Kim estimates a 158-acre facility, owned by Bloomington and Normal in partnership, could bring in enough tournaments and other events to pump more than $100 million in the local economy annually, from hotel stays to restaurant business to tournament fees.

"What business in your community is doubling every single year? That is the opportunity to do that (for several years)," she said. That's based on the impact of similar facilities in Rockford, Westfield, Ind., and Overland Park, Kan.

Such a facility would take time to percolate, however: two years for construction with grass fields, or somewhat less with more-expensive turf, following a preparation process that's slated to take another year, said Kim.

That makes it critical for planning to get in motion soon if the facility is expected to open before the lease at Community Fields expires, though the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority board, which oversees the fields at CIRA, has the option to keep them open for another two years under the lease if a replacement is progressing.

"Our new lease doesn't fix our problem. It is a short-term fix," said Tim Koch, vice president of PCSL's board. "The need is real. The urgency is real. And the time is now for a new complex."

Subscribe to The Pantagraph

Reporting like this is brought to you by a staff of experienced local journalists committed to telling the stories of your community.
Support from subscribers is vital to continue our mission.

Become a subscriber

Thank you for subscribing

Your contribution makes local journalism possible.

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

5
3
0
0
5

Reporter

Reporter for The Pantagraph.

Load comments