LEMONT — Plans for the community to develop a new sports complex in downtown Lemont have taken a new turn as village leaders invite private investors to take the reins on the project.
“We will explore all options as they relate to the financing of the facility," said Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves.
The change in direction comes after residents calling themselves the Let Us Vote campaign submitted a 185-page petition with 1,675 signatures seeking to put the bond issuance on the ballot in the 2014 election.
“We felt very strongly that we should vote on this issue. We wanted to have a say,” said Lemont resident Janet Hughes, who was among those circulating petitions with a door-to-door campaign. “We need to be responsible for our tax dollars. The board needs to be responsible.”
In late January, the board initiated the process to sell up to $21 million in alternate revenue source bonds for the proposed 26-acre facility with indoor and outdoor components. The proposed site is on the north end of Stephen Street. In the proposal, the village would construct and manage the facility that would offer rental opportunities for youth sports teams seeking practice and tournament space.
The Lemont Village Board approved an ordinance to initiate the bond process Jan. 28, setting off concerns among residents like Jim Ladas.
“I was very disturbed when I read about the passing the bond ordinance,” he said.
Ladas said he is uncomfortable with the risks associated with the project, in particular the village and taxpayers’ responsibility if the project is not profitable. He said there are many questions about the project including how it will meet the objective of drawing more people to the downtown and helping local businesses.
“Now we have time to get the answers to them,” he said.
Reaves had wanted to see the project break ground this year and have the complex ready for sports teams to use in the fall. He said the proposal was to issue bonds, build the facility and use funds generated from the facility to pay down the bond debt service.
“We had an opportunity to make a business decision,” Reaves said.
Reaves said no one is questioning the petitions. And should the Village Board want to proceed with the project and sell bonds to finance it, the item would appear as a referendum on the March 2014 ballot, he said.
“In talking to the residents, I truly do understand the fear,” Reaves said.
State Sen. Christine Radogno, R-41st District, of Lemont applauded the mayor’s decision to pull back on the sports complex. In a statement Radogno said, “I believe a project of this magnitude deserve a thorough review. Like others familiar with it, I'm currently taking time to educate myself on the details. Some believe they need more time to study the proposal and its merits. I signed the petition as an individual resident of Lemont to give those residents that opportunity.”
Lemont resident Bill Douglass is involved with youth sports including the Lemont Indians Youth Lacrosse. He said he’d like to see the sports complex develop, whether by the village or a private investor.
“I would like to see it work. It would be good for everybody and nice to be able to support our town,” he said.
According to a village fact sheet on the project, the sports complex project was initially brought to the village by a private investor. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago owns the property of the proposed project. The village had been in the process of negotiating a lease for use of the land for this project.
Hughes said members of the Let Us Vote campaign will be meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, March 24, at the Illinois Bar & Grill 1131 State St. in Lemont, for an informal meeting.