BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington-Normal's soccer community isn't standing by while local leaders contemplate how to replace Community Fields.
As a Peoria-based developer stumps for a $28 million sports complex on the community's west side that would include soccer fields, leadership with the local Prairie Cities Soccer League and Illinois Fire Juniors travel club are looking at other options and planning a fundraising campaign of their own.
"We want to be part of a big, beautiful complex like this, but we can't wait around for that," said Tim Koch, IFJ's president-elect, to a gathering of about 100 soccer players and family members Monday at Normal Community High School. "We need to have a backup plan."
Koch laid out four options for the future, including leasing fields at the complex — his best-case scenario — and moving from Community Fields to a variety of local parks, some not intended for soccer — his worst-case option.
"We would be spread out throughout Bloomington-Normal, so those families that have three or four kids playing PCSL may be at different locations on a Saturday, and they ... might have to stop playing," said Koch. "We wouldn't be able to host any tournament, and we'd have very few home games."
In between those extremes are two tougher alternatives: finding another space in the Twin Cities to replicate Community Fields, and creating a smaller complex that would not require an investment from the city of Bloomington, which has thwarted the developer's plans so far.
Officials with the city and the town of Normal, which is commissioning an expert study on costs and benefits of a sports complex, told The Pantagraph they're willing to help find a new Community Fields, but Koch said that process has just begun, and the groups' needs make it tough.
Community Fields is 60 acres, and that's already cramped — PCSL fills it on Saturdays, IFJ uses most of it during the week and it's not big enough to host all of IFJ's spring tournament. What's more, local players and visitors alike are often frustrated by the lack of a permanent concession stand or bathrooms, and the parking lot is a frequent complaint during tournaments, said Koch.
The clock also is running on Community Fields, which is on property owned by Central Illinois Regional Airport on Bloomington's east side. While the lease was extended last summer through 2020, CIRA's Federal Aviation Administration grant money may be threatened if Community Fields remains on airport property beyond that.
The sports complex proposed by real estate developer Katie Kim, on behalf of landowner Dave Stark, could use 158 acres, she said. A similar facility in Rockford, Mercyhealth Sportscore One, uses 147 acres.
“If it’s not in that complex, we would probably be looking at something we own or manage, but we’d be willing to partner as well,” said Koch.
While some officials have mentioned prospective sites to The Pantagraph — Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner suggested the city rail yards, Normal City Manager Mark Peterson mentioned land north of Raab Road and Millennium Football Club could share its Nord Fields in Bloomington, said President Fernando Cornejo — PCSL and IFJ are still looking over their options, said Koch.
"We have not gotten a point where we’ve sat down seriously to talk about a piece of land, but we’re having as many conversations as we can,” he said.
Regardless of which plans succeeds, the groups will need capital, and they're ramping up to start a fundraising campaign this spring. No goal has been set, but Koch said it's likely to be more than $1 million.
“A lot of this depends on how much support we get from the private community,” he said.
Koch also looks forward to seeing results from the town's study, which Peterson said could also address smaller options like what PCSL and IFJ are discussing. He said the study will be useful even if it kills the complex project.
“We’ll continue to look down the path that says … there’s still a need from our perspective, and we’ll still pursue our avenues for a new complex,” Koch said.