Nathan Goebel admitted to a crowd of 60 people on Aug. 27 that lots of volunteers – and a fair share of money – is needed to make a 30-acre recreation complex on the west side of Monticello a reality.
“We need your time, and we need your wallet,” he bluntly told attendees at a public meeting held at the Monticello Christian Church on Aug. 27.
The Monticello Recreation Foundation board member followed that up by putting his money where his mouth was, pledging $2,500 over the next five years to the cause.
He hopes it helps spur others to do the same as the MRF kicks off a $10 million drive to fund construction of the recreation complex.
But there is plenty of work to go around, even for those who fall into the volunteer-only camp. Two committees – fundraising and administrative support – have been formed by the foundation, with another seven subcommittees below those. Several signed up to serve on at least one of those before leaving the Tuesday night meeting.
Discussions included whether the current recreation complex design was set in stone, whether volunteer labor could whittle the cost down from the estimated $9.2 million, and if there is a timeline for completion.
“That depends on support,” said Goebel.
Fellow MRF board member Doug Lilly said it would likely take two years to construct if the project is contracted out, which is the assumption made in the cost estimate.
Those who spoke at the public meeting agreed on one thing: The need for more ball fields in Monticello. The city currently owns just the t-ball/peanut league ones. Otherwise it depends on Forest Preserve, school district and even parks in White Heath and elsewhere to meet its needs.
Brian Quick noted the Monticello Youth Travel Ball Association and its 20 teams have renovated mostly-abandoned diamonds in Ivesdale, DeLand and Weldon just so they have a place to practice and play.
It was noted that the only city-owned fields lie next to the Monticello landfill.
“We, the Monticello Youth Travel Ball Association, believe we can do better for the boys and the girls of this community. We fully support the rec complex program,” said Quick of the complex, which as proposed would include not only three ball fields, but two football/soccer fields, four smaller soccer fields, a playground, basketball court, walking trail and fishing pond.
He also said the ability to host travel league tournaments would help pay for maintenance and contribute to the local economy through food sales and hotel stays.
Goebel said Champaign County estimated a positive economic impact of $800,000 from a 50-team tournament hosted there this summer.
“There is a lot of money, and it’s all going outside of our community,” he added.
Quick said entree fees of $350 to $500 would also go directly to the city to help maintain the rec facility, noting that the 30-acre development could host smaller tournaments of 10 to 15 teams.
Tanya Williamson of Appletree Subdivision, the homes that would border the complex, confirmed there is money to be made from travel league families.
“I’m a travel mom, and there is always some down time when you need to take your kids and do something,” she said, noting her family has spent up to $800 for weekend tourney trips when they include two nights of lodging.
“It’s a lot of money, it’s a lot of commitment, and parents will pay it,” said Williamson.
But even if no teams outside of Monticello ever played at the complex, Chris Patton noted there is just as much of an internal need for places to play.
“If you’ve been by the high school on a Saturday morning and there’s soccer, and there’s flag football, you know how insane it is,” said Patton. “Tonight, we’re at a middle school softball game at the high school softball field, and out beyond the fence you had rec soccer practicing at a little patch of grass out there. If there is a high school soccer game there are cars parked there too, and the high school linemen practice there. And I’ve seen the JFL kids practicing in the outfield of the Forest Preserve baseball diamond.
“I think it’s big to note that, just the city recreation has needed this for a long time,” he added.
Former mayor Phil Blankenburg – also a member of the recreation foundation – realizes commitment is scary, but pointed to a decision made by the city in the early 1980s to keep the railway under its purview instead of abandoning the land to adjacent property owners.
“There were naysayers,” said Blankenburg, noting he chose to accept the property in behalf of the city.
“It’s been a great asset, and that’s how I view this project. It’s one more asset,” he said, pointing to the success of the railway property that includes the popular Monticello Railway Museum train rides and holiday Polar Express event.
At least two questions were asked about whether the project could start without having all $10 million in the bank. One had to do with borrowing dollars and the other with phasing the project.
Goebel said the idea at this point is to get all of the money up front so that the complex can be built in one fell swoop.
Can the plan change?
Another common question was whether the plan can change, possibly to add a fourth ball field or tennis courts.
MRF board members said their main focus is on fund raising to help the city move forward on the recreation complex, and that changes to the current design would need to be made by at the city council level.
The 30 acres that lies between the now-full Appletree Subdivision and new Allerton Public Library building was purchased by the city in 2009. At one point the city was going to use its own staff to do a majority of the work, but that effort halted about three years ago. The price estimate of $9.2 million to hire an outside contractor was received by the city earlier this year.
How to help
Those who wish to help on a subcommittee or to donate can email email@example.com, or message the recreation foundation through its Facebook site.
Fundraising subcommittees include: Major Gifts, Community Gifts, Grants, and Special Events.
Administrative Support subcommittees include: Marketing and Advertising, Community and Media Relations, and Administrative Support.
Volunteer and Monticello Main Street Director Stefanie McLeese said those willing to help do not have to be experts. They just have to be willing to help and a place will be found for them, she said at the meeting.
The foundation is expected to give an update to the city council in November.
The non-profit Monticello Recreation Foundation was formed in 2013 by then-Mayor Chris Corrie.