Kudos to Koos for handling of raceway project

      Editor: Dave Uphoff
This past week the other shoe finally dropped as the Minonk City Council pulled the plug on the I-39 Raceway proposed for Section Six north of Minonk. Developer Randy Hellyer had two years to pony up the money to start development on the $20 million dollar project but was unable to meet the deadline for coming up with the necessary funds to meet the March 1 deadline.

As Mayor Bill Koos put it, "I don't see tonight's development as a setback but rather an opportunity to go forward." Amen! At first everyone was excited about the prospect of having something developed in the land that originally was the site of a potential landfill. Mr. Hellyer and his associates put on a good show at the Fieldcrest gymnasium two years ago with a promise to bring professional drag racing, an oval racing track, and a road course to the city. While the prospect of a race track raised concerns about noise and traffic congestion on weekends, the general consensus was that at least it's better than a landfill.

At one point Hellyer told the City Council that he had turned down financing from potential investors because he felt that they may want to sell it a few years down the road. I don't know why that is a problem. Businessmen do sometimes want to cash in on their investments. I can only speculate for the reasons Hellyer failed to obtain the proper financing. It may be that he didn't want to relinquish control of the racetrack in return for financing. He may have forgotten the golden rule. He who has the gold, rules. Secondly, it just may be too risky of a venture for investors. If it takes two years to get a $20 million project started, it probably isn't worth starting.

The general consensus on the street is that the public is tired of waiting for the raceway project and is looking forward to new developments. I agree. I also agree with Mayor Koos that this is an opportunity for the city to proceed forward unencumbered with the constraints of a exclusive deal reserved for one developer. Now it is open season and all developers have an equal opportunity to approach the city with a plan to develop Section Six. It is preferable to get a development that will provide more jobs for the area than what the raceway would have created.

One good thing that came from the raceway project is that it gave the City of Minonk tremendous publicity on the potential developments that can occur here. Here is one square mile of flat, open, drained farmland, located 1/2 mile from a major north south interstate (I-39) that is located halfway between 2 major east-west interstates (I-80 and I-74). The most amazing part though is that it can be purchased for $3250 an acre and already has a TIF plan in place. If I was the president of a major corporation looking for a warehouse distribution center, I would be pounding on the city hall doors tomorrow morning.

What most people don't realize is how close the city came to having another fiasco on its hands. Last year Hellyer told the city that he had a buyer for the land and wanted to purchase the land. However, Mayor Koos was astute enough to require the developers to first sign an agreement that required the developer to have certain things in place at such and such a time. If the Mayor had not come up with that developers agreement, the land on Section Six could have been bought and the city would have been held hostage to the owner of the land in the same way that the Carolyn Development was held hostage by Jim Letso of Pontiac 10 years ago when the city had to buy back the Carolyn Development from Letso at a considerable loss in order to get things going again.

A few lessons have been learned from the raceway development experience. Any future development of Section Six must be handled through the City of Minonk. Secondly, the City Officials better start becoming promoters if they hope to get something going in Section Six. Thirdly, hats go off to Waste Management, owners of Section Six, for being a good neighbor to the City. They have granted an option for the City to buy the land at a very reasonable price and have stood behind the City through this whole process. In addition, Waste Management has been considerate to the tenet who farms Section Six.

Last, but not least, I give credit to the Minonk City Council for supporting the Mayor in his handling of the raceway project and to Mayor Koos himself for his professional manner in which he handled the situation. Kudos to Koos. The development in Section Six is now being controlled by the City.

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March 12, 2007