Champaign Council Backs Exploring Minor League Baseball Locations
By Jeff Bossert
Champaign city council members have narrowly approved a feasibility study, prompting city staff to explore possible sites for a minor league baseball stadium.
The 5-3 vote came after concerns about who ends up footing the bill for a ballpark, if the discussion gets that far.
An exploratory committee appointed by Mayor Don Gerard recommends the city pursue a single-A team, or one affiliated with a major league ball club, rather than an independent team – saying the return on investment is higher.
The committee received some assistance for their study from the Illinois Business Consulting group, a student run organization that operates from the University of Illinois College of Business.
The group’s study shows the stadium would cost about $20 million, with the fan experience, and not team performance, being top concern. Committee Chair Tony Johnston also notes Champaign offers little for family summer entertainment, like a zoo.
Any stadium would involve a level of private investment. Council member Vic McIntosh said he is adamantly opposed to using public funds at a time when the city cannot fill police and public works positions.
“I just can’t support this because I don’t see a stopping point until it comes back here and it’s going to be – can we bond this?" he said. "No one’s going to bond it but the city, and that’s the reality of it.”
Voting no with McIntosh were council members Michael LaDue and Deb Frank Feinen. However, council member Tom Bruno said he is not ready to give up on the idea yet.
“I want us to still have a vision for a great community," he said. "I want us to look at these opportunities as they come up. And our role would be to just fertilize the soil, til the property, and hope that something grows here. We don’t have to be the owners and operators of a baseball team. But maybe we can put it together, and it make it feasible for someone else to do it. And we can do so with very little risk to the city."
Supporting the feasibility study with Bruno were council members Paul Faraci, Marci Dodds, Karen Foster, and Mayor Gerard.
Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight said there are underutilized areas of town, including some brownfield sites, that could be suitable for a stadium.