Naperville City Council looks to help fund Sportman’s Park upgrades

Jim Monk, of Naperville, fires a shot in the snow at Naperville Sportsman's Club as Jim Chakour, back, of Naperville, waits for his turn on Thursday, January 12, 2011. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Jim Monk, of Naperville, fires a shot in the snow at Naperville Sportsman's Club as Jim Chakour, back, of Naperville, waits for his turn on Thursday, January 12, 2011. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

As long as people keep coming to downtown Naperville hungry and thirsty, officials are confident there will be money to pay for the celebrations and amenities that bring the big crowds.

While they mostly went with the recent grant recommendations forwarded by the Advisory Cultural Commission, City Council members at a workshop Monday agreed that the Special Events and Cultural Amenities fund can be used to help the Naperville Park District pay for redevelopment of the downtown shooting range at Sportsman’s Park, to create areas for everyone to use.

The straw-poll consensus, after the advisory board declined to recommend a SECA grant for the park project, represented a change of direction from past patterns that have kept the grant awards largely confined to specific programs and activities in the city.

The council was clearly uncomfortable with rejecting entirely the Park District’s initial request for $574,130 in SECA funds, more than one-quarter of the $2 million available annually for grants funded by the 1 percent tax collected by the city’s restaurants and bars. In the end, they agreed to piece together the needed funds over a series of years, using smaller sums within the program.

Councilman Steve Chirico’s proposal for coming up with the money, without shorting many of the other 82 applicants recommended for SECA portions, was well received by his peers. The plan calls for giving the project the $27,253 that was not committed to other grant applicants from the $2 million pool for next year, along with about $42,000 in funds that were allocated in the current grant cycle but were not spent and must be returned to the city.

Also planned for designation to Sportsman’s Park, which is on city-owned land leased to the Park District, is an annual 2 percent “escalator” officials have built into the SECA program, anticipating increased revenue in that proportion each year from the food and beverage tax. That will provide $40,000 in 2015, with amounts increasing annually from there.

“That would give us about $350,000 in three years,” Chirico said. “At that point I think we could give it another look.”

Audacity understood

Councilwoman Judith Brodhead called it “audacious” that the agency asked initially for such a large sum, but said a more important consideration was that the project would open the property to broader use — something many people in the city have said they want to see.

Council member Paul Hinterlong thought so too, noting that the money that will go to the project is provided largely by visitors to Naperville, rather than being funded by local property owners.

“I think this is a great amenity to the property,” he said of the site, which now is undergoing $5 million worth of remediation work to remove lead-tainted soil. “It’s something that’s going to last forever here… and the beauty of it is, it’s not going to be paid for by the taxpayers directly.”

Ray McGury, the Park District’s executive director, was pleased by the council decision.

“The Park District not for one second wants to take any money away from anyone,” he said, emphasizing that none of the SECA money will be used for the lead removal now being done.

“This all goes for the trails, the ADA accessibility for the clubhouse, the fishing ponds, so we can dredge them.”

McGury expects the overhauled park to be open to visitors within a year.

Allocation discretion

The council also wrestled with much smaller funding requests, rejecting some that, relative to the Sportsman’s Park sum, were miniscule.

An application from the Police Department for $4,000 to help offset the cost of its yearly crime prevention-themed calendar, which came in after the Nov. 1 filing deadline, came up empty. While council members acknowledged the value of the well-liked publication in strengthening the bonds between public safety and the community, some were skeptical about the funds being absent among the line items in the department’s $35 million budget.

City Manager Doug Krieger said the expense was not considered a crucial operational outlay and so was not budgeted. He also noted that the calendar’s coordinators didn’t find out that their usual funding from the Exchange Club might not be coming this year until after the SECA application deadline had passed.

Councilmen Doug Krause and Bob Fieseler were the only supporters of providing the funds. Krause noted that “we cut everyone’s budget,” in numerous instances telling those affected that they should seek aid from SECA.

“That’s the best $4,000 you’re ever going to spend,” he said.

According to Council member David Wentz, however, it’s unlikely the calendar money won’t be found elsewhere.

“This will get funded. Four thousand dollars is not a lot of money,” Wentz said.

Also debated at some length at the workshop was a request from the Century Walk that drew a recommendation from the advisory panel for less than half of the $259,000 sought, in part because it would have covered expenses deemed beyond the scope of SECA.

Krause again was in a minority as a proponent for allocating the funds, saying the outdoor art works draw people downtown, where they spend money.

“This is one of the few organizations where if you want to talk about (return on investment), they do generate a lot of sales tax income,” Krause said.

Hinterlong also argued for providing the grant, emphasizing the organization’s enduring results.

“At the end of the day, what they have here stays here. …The art that they do remains here for generations,” he said, adding that nearby communities have begun to replicate the Century Walk’s public art model. “I think they’ve done a fabulous job up until now.”

Bigger umbrella

Council members, who will vote on the SECA awards next month, last April agreed to adjust the way they distribute the city’s receipts from the food and beverage tax. In addition to capping the SECA fund at $2 million, they voted to designate 25 percent of the fund’s revenue for paying down the shortfall in the police and fire pension funds; to earmark $500,000 for social services grants; and to use anything left over after those allocations are made to pay down long-term debt.

While the council has discretion over the disbursement of a majority of the $2 million available for the grants, nearly $433,500 of the sum is already committed in the upcoming cycle, through existing agreements with such entities as the DuPage Children’s Museum and the Naperville Municipal Band. An additional $146,500 is designated for the city and Park District’s shared responsibilities for upkeep of the Riverwalk.

Councilman Joe McElroy echoed the assurance that the allocation for Sportsman’s Park will prove to be money well spent. “The city’s going to be better off,” he said. “It will be a good thing for the average resident, and their visitors.”