Youth soccer organizers in Bloomington-Normal are hoping a new multisport complex will solve their facility needs when they lose their current home, but they aren't counting on it.
Illinois Fire Juniors is in the quiet phase of a $3 million fundraising campaign to help fund rental fees for a youth sports complex that town officials in Normal have said is back on the front-burner.
Normal City Manager Pam Reece said on WGLT last week town officials want to bring the sports complex proposal idea to a resolution, since a consultant’s recommendations would soon become outdated.
League Secretary Jeremy Kelley said if that complex doesn't materialize, they will need to build their own facility.
“We have a ticking clock and we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here,” Kelley said. “We might need to go and build our own facility if stuff is not coming together in that larger way.”
That’s something the league has been preparing for over a decade. The soccer league's lease at Community Fields in Bloomington expires at the end of next year. The Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority has extended that lease three times, even as the Federal Aviation Administration has told Central Illinois Regional Airport it wants the land vacated for safety concerns.
Kelley said $3 million would likely pay for a facility that’s comparable to Community Fields, which features about two dozen soccer fields.
He added that a sports complex that could provide indoor and outdoor fields would expand economic development by allowing for play at night and year-round, which will expand the potential to host more regional tournaments.
Kelley said Illinois Fire Juniors will take its campaign public once it knows for sure if the multisport complex will happen. For now, the league is asking its supporters to buy into a future that’s still unclear.
“It would probably be helpful if we were in a different situation where we had that sign out there that said ‘Future Site of Illinois Fire Juniors’ and we had the site plan,” Kelley said. “We know that we’d probably get more donations out there, but there’s still a dedicated fan base. There’s still people that understand soccer in this community.”
Kelley isn’t saying how much the league has raised so far.
The league’s director of coaching, Myron King, said last spring showed how much the soccer community would suffer without Community Fields.
They were flooded for much of the spring, sending teams elsewhere to play in any park or open field they could find. Aside from the logistical headaches of relocating all over Bloomington-Normal, King said few fields were big enough or level enough.
“It’s a safety thing,” King said, “You’ve got some families with five or six children participating and particularly when you are working with younger children. Parents don’t want to (have to) leave one location to go and pick up another one, so having all the children at one location certainly helps.”
King said one-third of the games had to be canceled because they couldn't find enough suitable fields to use, in part because many other fields in the community were also unplayable because of rain.
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