PONTIAC — Before his death in 2014, Illinois Basketball Coaches Association founder Chuck Rolinski envisioned an attraction that would chronicle the history of the sport in this state and recognize the people who have made a significant impact on the game.
That vision has moved closer to reality than ever before as plans for the IBCA’s Basketball Museum of Illinois were detailed during a Wednesday news conference at Pontiac City Hall.
“This is really kind of the culmination of a dream that Chuck Rolinski had back when the organization began, in terms of being able to properly recognize the tremendous history of the game and specifically the (more than 3,000) Hall of Famers we now have,” said Jim Tracy, Rolinski’s successor as IBCA Executive Director.
“I’m thrilled on behalf of the organization but particularly for Coach Rolinski and the opportunity to honor his memory and his legacy with the fact this is so much closer now to becoming a reality.”
On Monday, Pontiac’s city council approved a redevelopment agreement and a letter of intent to proceed with a project to turn the former Kmart in Vermillion Plaza into 25,000 square feet of museum space for the IBCA.
Mayor Bob Russell said the owners of the retail space, Pontiac Partners LLC, agreed to “give” the Kmart space to the project, believing the museum can serve as an anchor for drawing other retailers to the plaza.
“We were pretty happy with that price — free,” said Russell.
IBCA Museum Director Bruce Firchau said the next step is fundraising, with a minimum of $2.5 million needed for the possible soft opening of a first phase in 2018.
“If we had the money to open everything at once, it would be in the neighborhood of $4 million,” he said, adding the effort will require two separate funds, one for operation and construction and one for an endowment.
“We do have a strategy to help raise the money,” he said. “We will have a capital campaign committee to help us, people that are well-connected basketball-wise, people that can be advocates for us. We are looking for advocates to help us get to people that can make this museum possible.”
Remodeling needed at the site includes new flooring, added walls and an upgraded electrical system to handle lighting and interactive kiosks. Once renovations are complete, it will take 4-6 months to install the galleries.
Along with displays and galleries, the museum will have a conference room, a theater, offices, storage space and two half courts.
“This museum is just not going to be a museum, it’s going to be an events center as well,” said Firchau. “Museums, it’s hard for them to make it today if they just stand alone. … We have to reach to all parts of the state with this museum-slash-events center. We believe we can do that.”
The Maude Group will design and build the facility for the IBCA. Joe Maude of the Chicago-based firm said he was impressed by the organization’s “passion” for the project.
“I tried to throw as much cold water at them about getting a museum, because the reality of it is that it’s an uphill climb, it’s a vision and you’ve really got to work hard to get there,” he said. “I didn’t slow them down a bit. I think the more cold water I threw on them, they just kept coming back saying ‘we have to do this.’”
Firchau said in the event of a soft opening, inclusion of certain displays would take highest priority, such as galleries dedicated to Rolinski, the Pontiac Holiday and McLean County tournaments and the IBCA Hall of Fame inductees.
“We want to tell the stories behind those plaques,” he said. “We need to tell the stories behind those teams and those players and those coaches and the media.
“When you come in, we want you to smell the popcorn and hear the shoes squeaking. We want you to feel like you are back in time, that you’re going to get a chance to learn about some of these great players.”
Russell believes the museum will become a can’t-miss destination.
“Here we are with the start of something I think is going to be amazing, not only for the city of Pontiac but what they’ve got planned is a first-class facility that will draw people not only from Illinois and the other states, but around the world,” he said.
Ridgeview High School coach Rodney Kellar, a member of the IBCA’s museum board, also is eager to see the project come to fruition.
“The process has been long, but I think the goal is finally getting close to being reached here once we can formulate the funds to get it all done,” he said. “But they have the building and as they say ‘if you build it, they will come.’ We will build it and hopefully they will come.”