Illinois Public Media News


Illinois Public Radio - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

Will County Pushes Peotone Airport While Jackson’s Absent

Story by Michael Puente

On a chilly Saturday morning back in April, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.  stood in the middle of a cornfield in eastern Peotone.  He was there to host a symbolic groundbreaking for a new airport he calls Abraham Lincoln National Airport.

Categories: Business, Transportation

Illinois Public Radio - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

Will County Pushes Peotone Airport While Jackson’s Absent

Story by Michael Puente

On a chilly Saturday morning back in April, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.  stood in the middle of a cornfield in eastern Peotone.  He was there to host a symbolic groundbreaking for a new airport he calls Abraham Lincoln National Airport.

“The point is it’s the people’s groundbreaking. We still need to have a ground breaking with the politicians at a later date when the deal is done. But right now, the ministers, they are the point,” Jackson said back in April at the groundbreaking.

A few hundred people made up mostly of ministers and church-goers from Chicago’s South side boarded buses to take the 30-mile trek south to Peotone.

At the time, Jackson touted the project as a way to bring thousands of construction jobs to his district. He proposed to start with a $200 million, 12,000 foot-long runway and a five-gate terminal. Jackson hoped the airport would eventually be three times the size of Chicago’s O’Hare International.

“We have found developers who are willing to put up $700 million of their own dollars," Jackson said. "They want to be on this land by June 1st of this year.”

June 1 came and went. Today, the site is still filled with rows and rows of corn fields.

However, Jackson isn’t the only elected official who sees big things for this patch of farmland.

“Transportation is always the pivotal part of a growing economy in a county that is going to be able to succeed,” said Will County Executive Larry Walsh.

Walsh has all long promoted the benefits of a south suburban airport.

“To create jobs and to have good paying jobs and to bring the quality of life that our people expect and deserve,” Walsh said.

Congressman Jackson wants the Peotone airport to fuel job creation not only for Will County, but Cook County’s south suburbs. He also wants those areas to have a say in operating the airport.

But that’s a non-starter for Will County.

Walsh wants Will County to have control of any airport that’s built.

“­­­If that doesn’t take place and if we can’t commitment to having that take place, then I don’t know whether we need the airport,” Walsh said.

Up until now, the debate over who gets control of a future airport has been hypothetical. But recently, the FAA approved the exact location of an airport runway and terminal in Peotone. Now, Walsh hopes to meet with Governor Pat Quinn and the Illinois Department of Transportation later this month to push for Will County to oversee the airport.

“He understands the issue but we just can’t get him to commit to our way of thinking in regards to our plan,” Walsh said.

Jackson’s continued absence could make it easier for Walsh to get his point across to Quinn.

“There is no question that Jackson’s illness. He is kind of the inspirational leader. He’s a charismatic guy. He’s in congress of course. He can make things happen there,” said DePaul University professor Dr. Joseph Schwieterman, who is an authority on urban transportation and economic development in Chicago.

“I think you might say Will County is gradually you might say gaining the edge," Schwieterman said. "Without Jackson, there’s a lot of energy that’s going to be sucked out of the Abraham Lincoln Airport faction.”

But some disagree.

“Because of this unfortunate illness for the Congressman [Jackson], there are some people who want to be opportunistic about this whole situation,” said Al Penn, who is chairman of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC).

Penn said that with or without Jackson, ALNAC’s mission remains the same.

“Congressman Jackson, yes is a singular voice; a very powerful, very dynamic voice in his own right but there are other people who can talk about the viability of an airport,” Penn said.

Penn argues since ALNAC is a state-sanctioned commission set up to operate an airport, Quinn should give them control.

Besides, he said, people from the south suburbs – like the ones bused in for Jackson’s groundbreaking – deserve to have first crack at airport construction jobs. After all, Penn said they did support Quinn’s re-election two years ago.

“When do they get rewarded for their loyalty for Governor Pat Quinn,” Penn said.

Penn believes Jackson will be coming back soon.

Will County’s Walsh scoffs at the notion that it’s trying take advantage of Jackson’s being out of the picture right now.

Walsh said Jackson’s absence isn’t playing a role in Will County’s moves.

“No, that’s doesn’t play a role either,” Walsh said.

Meanwhile, DePaul’s Schwieterman said this airport squabble is turning into a circus which doesn’t help either side’s cause.

“The whole thing is rather silly in a lot of ways," Schwieterman said. "The spoils of an airport really flow to a whole region regardless of who controls it."

Gov. Quinn said if the state can figure out pension reform, then there is no reason why they cannot find common ground on the South Suburban airport.

“We’re trying to do pension reform.  If we can do that I think we can also climb another mountain and get everybody singing out of the same hymn book when it comes to the third airport that we need in Peotone, Illinois,” Quinn said last week in Chicago. “It’s a bustling area of economic activity.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has his own airport dreams. He wants billions to expand and modernize O’Hare. Once that’s done, Emanuel said there is no need for an airport in Peotone.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

Sports Maker Breaks Ground on Rantoul Center

Story by Sean Powers

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.

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

Champaign Offers Storefront Improvement Program

Story by Jeff Bossert

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.

Categories: Business, Economics, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

Union Leaders Push for Pension Compromise

Story by Sean Powers, with additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio

Illinois union leaders are asking political leaders to negotiate with them before approving a plan to overhaul the state's pension systems. They made their plea on Monday in a teleconference with reporters.

Lawmakers are scheduled to gather in Springfield on Friday, Aug. 17 to consider options for fixing Illinois' underfunded pension system. It is a task that could include shifting pension costs for public school teachers from the state to school districts.

Sean Smoot, with an association of Illinois police officers, said the pension proposals currently under consideration are unconstitutional and will not solve the funding problem.

"Let me be clear: the path they have chosen, they have chosen alone, without meaningful input  from retired or working employees," Smoot said.

Christine Boardman, the president of a union representing government workers, said it is legislative leaders who have walked away from discussions.

"It is not the workers, it is not the people who actually add value to the state every single day," Boardman said.

In a conference call with reporters, Boardman and other labor leaders outlined what they'd like to see in pension legislation.

They want tax law changed to close what they call "loopholes" benefitting corporations. They want to make sure current retirees are not affected by the changes. And they say state funding of retirement benefits should be automatic and guaranteed.

Cinda Klickna is the president of one of Illinois' two big teacher unions.

"The pension crisis was caused by past governors and legislatures that failed the people of our state," Klickna said.

Klickna said union members have been paying for their retirement out of every paycheck, and should not have to pay for past decisions to underfund pensions.

“For decades, our members have made their payments to the retirement system, while the state has not," Klickna said. "Our members are asking, ‘What guarantee will the legislature make going forward, so that we protect tax payers, and pension system participants against a repeat of the bad  behavior that caused the pension crisis.’”

Consistent underfunding over the years is one of the main reasons the pension system is  roughly $85 billion short of what it needs to meet future obligations.

With Illinois talking about pension cuts, more than 4,500 state employees have retired in the past fiscal year. Roughly the same number of University employees also retired. That’s the highest in at least five years.

Categories: Economics, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

DOT Grants to Help Willard Airport Attract DC Service

Story by Jeff Bossert

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”.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2012

Mayo Clinic: Jackson has Bipolar Disorder

Story by The Associated Press
  Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Doctors say Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is under treatment for bipolar disorder.

A release Monday from the Mayo Clinic states that the Democrat underwent an extensive evaluation and is responding well to treatment for the disorder at the facility in Rochester, Minn. The release says Jackson is regaining his strength.

Jackson spokesman Frank Watkins declined to comment.

The clinic says that Bipolar II disorder is a treatable condition that affects parts of the brain controlling emotion, thought and drive and is likely caused by a complex set of genetic and environmental factors.

Jackson has been away from the public eye since June 10 when family members said he collapsed at their Washington home. He's been on an extended leave of absence from Congress.

Categories: Health, Politics

Illinois Public Radio - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2012

Lawmakers Return to Springfield to Deal with Pensions

Story by Amanda Vinicky

Members of Illinois' General Assembly weren't supposed to return to the capitol until November, but they will be back in Springfield later this week for a special session. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has called for the special session on Friday to overhaul the state's pensions, even though lawmakers are still divided over the best way to do it.

There is an $83 billion gap in what the state has promised its employees they'll get when they retire, and what Illinois actually has in the bank. Legislators are in widespread agreement they have to do something to cut the state's pension costs.

In the spring, the Senate passed a measure that begins to do that, but it only applies to General Assembly members and state employees. Not affected are the benefits of public school teachers, university workers, and judges. That pushes aside having to resolve a dispute over how much school districts should have to pay versus the state.

But House Republicans say they won't back that partial solution.

"So it's a really significant bill, there's no question about the sufficiency of the bill, it's constitutional and it's already passed one chamber,"  Senator President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) responded. "So, I don’t know why the House Republicans wouldn't want to vote for it, I think it's a mistake."

The House GOP has said a measure that only deals with two pension funds is too weak, and lifts pressure on lawmakers to finish the job.

Categories: Economics, Politics


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