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PONTIAC — The expression is "money talks." Turns out a lack of it speaks pretty clearly, too.

Unable to raise the $5 million needed for construction, operation and endowment, the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) has decided to end its pursuit of establishing a Basketball Museum of Illinois in Pontiac.

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Basketball museum

The IBCA has had to abandon plans to open the Basketball Museum of Illinois in the former Kmart at Vermillion Plaza in Pontiac.

The museum was to be located at the former Kmart in Vermillion Plaza with 25,000 square feet of space for the IBCA.

In March 2017, Pontiac's city council approved a redevelopment agreement and letter of intent to allow the project to proceed. Owners of the retail space, Pontiac Partners LLC, agreed to give the IBCA the Kmart space for free. The goal was for the museum to open sometime in 2018.

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Bruce Firchau, museum chairman of Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, and longtime ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale stand for a photo during Dick Vitale Night on Sept. 7, 2017 at the Pontiac Elks Lodge. The event was a fundraiser for the Basketball Museum of Illinois project in Pontiac.

"This is one of the big disappointments of my life that this didn't happen there (in Pontiac)," said IBCA Museum Chairman Bruce Firchau. "There wasn't anything more we could have asked from the government of Pontiac, the school district and the park district. They bent over backwards and were very  patient with us.

"It (fundraising) was like pushing a big rock up a hill. Colleges and universities have hired staff with a dozen or more people to raise the kind of money I was trying to raise by myself. Where we struggled was we just could not get the lead donor where the dominoes could fall in place."

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Basketball museum rendering 2

A rendering shows an exhibit planned for the Basketball Museum of Illinois. The IBCA had planned to open the museum next year in Pontiac.

The basketball museum was projected to join four other museums in Pontiac: the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum and Resource Center, the Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame and Museum, the Livingston County War Museum and the International Walldog Mural and Sign Art Museum.

"From day one, their biggest challenge was raising sufficient funds to develop the museum," agreed Pontiac city administrator Bob Karls. "As time went on, it became quite apparent that was a bigger challenge than they were able to do. They came to that conclusion and I know it's difficult.

"This is almost two years ago we had our initial agreement. There were mile posts along the way to seeing what the status was. Each of those passed and the agreement really had expired in terms of 'they would have the funding by such and such a time.' But we agreed with nothing else in the pipeline, let's see if we can make this happen."

Firchau said he put nearly 24,000 miles on his vehicle over the past two years, traveling to speak with potential donors. He had meetings with corporations, businesses and individuals.

"One of the things that consistently came up was the sustainability of the museum," Firchau said. "We used the attendance figures from Pontiac's other museums, but it just didn't seem to register with people.

"We had those attendance figures in our five-year business plan. We had the portfolio. We had a lot of tools in our toolbox, but it was getting someone to make that big commitment as a step forward."

Firchau said the IBCA and Basketball Museum of Illinois will take the next few months to evaluate its options.

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Basketball museum rendering 3

A rendering shows a court section planned as part of the Basketball Museum of Illinois, which the IBCA had hoped to open in Pontiac.

"We're not dead," he said in regard to establishing a museum. "This project is going to be evaluated and we'll go from there. Let's just say we're optimistic."

Karls said the city plans to "regroup and figure out where we go from here" in regard to filling the former Kmart space.

"We're not tied to a museum as such," he said. "We want to find a use that will generate traffic, that would be beneficial to the shopping center as well as the community. Whatever that may be, we're open to it. We're all ears."

He and others had been hopeful about the basketball museum. Basketball has a rich tradition in Pontiac, led by the prestigious Pontiac Holiday Tournament each year.

"It was a perfect fit," Karls said. "It just wasn't meant to be."

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Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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