August 14, 2012

Sports Maker Breaks Ground on Rantoul Center

A California-based company that makes sports equipment broke ground on Tuesday on an 800,000-square-foot facility located in Rantoul’s Village Industrial Park.

Easton-Bell Sports is consolidating five of its smaller facilities in east central Illinois into one large structure, which should be completed by next year. The company sells equipment and accessories for hockey, baseball, softball, football and cycling.

According to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the new Rantoul facility will be financed with a combination of internal, private and public investment. David Vaught is the acting Director for the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. He said the state put nearly $3.5 million into the company’s expansion.

“You know, they employ a lot of people here already,” Vaught said. “They have plans to add another 50 jobs. So, the growth of jobs is hugely important as we come out of the recession. So, we’ve done all we could to help them achieve that objective.”

About 300 area employees will move to the new facility. Donna L. Flood is the Chief Operations Officer and President of Giro / Easton Cycling. She said the added space will improve operations, and ultimately lead to more jobs.

“We know that we’ll have to potentially add workers as we continue to get bigger,” Flood said. “Right now, it’s probably going to be neutral because what we’re going to bring on board in more efficiency and more operations.”

The company’s presence in Rantoul began in 1983, when Bell Sports acquired a motorcycle accessories plant in the area.

August 14, 2012

Champaign Offers Storefront Improvement Program

Champaign City Council members get their first look Tuesday night at a plan to upgrade old storefronts to their original appearance.

The program is open to owners of commercial buildings located within Tax Increment Financing Districts both downtown, and on East University Avenue. 

The program provides matching grant funds to cover half the expenses for a storefront on the ground floor, and 25-percent of any work for upper floors. The work on any one building can’t exceed $10-thousand.

Jane Addams Book Shop Manager Judy Elmore says ownership is willing to put some money into the store’s appearance, and has some ideas of their own, but would like to know more about the city’s wishes.

"Our upstairs is fine," she said.  "We have a nice brick front, so that's all really nice.  It could probably be cleaned up, but really, it's our front window and the painting around that (that could use an upgrade.)  We'd almost like to see that go back to brick, but we don't know what's underneath the paneling and such."  

The program is offered to any structures build before 1940.

Austin's Sportswear owner Autumn Bates is interested, but says funds are limited.

"I personally have worked downtown 40 years, so I'm familiar with a lot of programs that have come through," she said.  "Some have been successful, and some have been very self-serving for certain parts of the community.  Having the original facades is a great idea, but I do also know that, from the construction side of it, it is terribly expensive, and I'm not interested in re-building this building."

Champaign City Council member Michael LaDue says a 1950's or 60's veneer on a storefront doesn't serve as a good backdrop for the public art now on display downtown.

"Look at Galena (Illinois.)" he said. "People go to Galena because of the charming 19th century storefronts.  It's largely original, it's never been adulterated.  That we would make these funds available should make it fairly painless for anybody really interested."

The city council meets for a study session Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the council chambers.

August 14, 2012

DOT Grants to Help Willard Airport Attract DC Service

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s office has announced federal funding for the University of Illinois’ Willard Airport south of Champaign, to be used to attract air service to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

In a news release issued Tuesday, Durbin (D-Ill.) announced that Willard Airport would receive $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development Program. The money would fund revenue guarantee and marketing support for the new air service.

Willard Airport currently offers passenger service to Chicago and Dallas. According to the travel website Expedia, a trip from Willard Airport to Washington DC requires one or more stops to change flights.

U of I Director of Real Estate Services Bruce Walden says the funds come as a result of a research project with Sixel Consulting, analyzing where people are traveling.

"We felt that we had the best possibility of sustaining a flight if we could travel to the D.C. area," he said. "Hopefully we've done enough homework that we can also convince not only the federal government, but also the airline industry, of the validity of the route, and the likelihood that it could be sustained."

Walden said the U of I has been working with business groups in an effort to secure the required matching funds.  

Sen. Durbin’s announcement of funding for Willard Airport also included DOT funding for airports in Bloomington-Normal and Springfield.

Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington-Normal will receive $500,000 to launch new air service to Washington, D.C. or New York.

Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield will receive $250,000 in DOT funding for ground handling and marketing services to support new low-cost air service to Florida, Myrtle Beach, Las Vegas and/or Phoenix.

In the release, Sen. Durbin said that the grants “will support new air service to three important airports in Central Illinois and hopefully lead to more students, families and businesses taking advantage of these new routes”.

August 10, 2012

Danville School Board Files Complaint Against Union

It has been more than a month since the old contract between the Danville school district and its employees union expired --- and more than two months since negotiators for the two sides sat down at the bargaining table. Now, the school board has filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board --- accusing it of refusing to come to the bargaining table.

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