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 — Normal officials are seeking a second opinion on the costs and benefits of a possible Twin City sports complex that would include soccer.

As The Kim Group, a Peoria-based real estate developer, promotes a $28 million west-side complex that Director Katie Kim said could generate more than $100 million for the local economy in its third year, the town is reviewing proposals to get such financial data on its own.

"We have not seen any data to confirm that,” said City Manager Mark Peterson on Tuesday of Kim's estimates, presented Monday to a meeting of local soccer parents at Normal Community High School. “We need to get all the facts on the table in terms of economic benefit before we start worrying about the details.”

The town hopes to pay between $40,000 and $60,000 for an expert study, including a detailed budget for such a sports complex and what it might generate in new dollars. A request for proposals for such a feasibility study was approved in December, and Peterson said a study could be approved in the next 30 days and be finished 90 days later.

Kim said Monday the city of Bloomington and town of Normal need to act soon on her plan or risk losing the facility to an unnamed nearby community. She's developing the project on behalf of Dave Stark, who owns land that would be used for the complex near the Rivian Automotive plant on the Twin Cities' west side.

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said Tuesday that Kim's comments will "not particularly" change the city's approach to the facility, which he said needs to include an independent study like the one Normal plans to fund.

Peterson said he hopes the city, and possibly the Bloomington-Normal Convention and Visitors Bureau, will sign on and help fund the study, but those discussions haven't yet taken place.

"What we have not seen is an economic analysis vetted by an external group. ... That, at a minimum, would be necessary for us to seriously consider it," said Renner of Kim's plan. “What might move the needle is somebody donating the land or making a substantial contribution toward that end.”

Both said they're unfamiliar with the funding structure Kim presented Monday, in which the city would pay $350,000 per year, the town $250,000 and hotel users $420,000 via a tax increase — a 1-percentage-point hike to the city and town's hotel/motel tax rates, which are both currently 6 percent.

Kim referred Monday to that $1.02 million per year as payment on debt service for the project, but she didn't specify how long the loan would be or what interest rate was used for the calculations.

Kim could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

“What was presented to us is something that was more costly, especially if you’re talking about the land. I’m not sure how they got down to that figure,” said Renner. "If we were realistically down to that kind of money, that would be a whole different story, but I don’t know that that’s where we are.”

Normal Mayor Chris Koos said even if the $250,000 figure were accurate, it could be difficult for the town to promise. Normal plans to cut 20 positions this year and eliminate services in response to a budget deficit.

“We haven’t discussed that, and, given our budget issues right now, it would be very difficult for us to do,” said Koos.

Peterson said he's also interested in the operating costs of a complex, which Kim did not address Monday. She suggested the city and town could share ownership and management duties, but Peterson said similar facilities generally don't make money except through related economic development.

An estimated 2,000 youths currently play soccer at Community Fields at Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, but the Federal Aviation Administration wants that land to be vacated. The Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority has given local soccer leadership three years to get a replacement plan in place.

“We certainly want to help keep soccer viable in the community, but we have to keep it in fiscal balance,” said Koos. “It’s prudent of us to do a study and see if there is a market first."

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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