Monthly Archives: March 2009

Celebrating a major milestone at Heartland

Bright sun, a spring breeze, and the smell of grilled hot dogs punctuated the groundbreaking ceremonies Monday for the new $12 million multi-purpose stadium on the east side of Heartland Community College’s Raab Road campus.

Heartland athletes were among the guest of honor at Monday's stadium groundbreaking.  They will begin playing next year in what has to be one of the nation's premier facilities for community college athletics.

Heartland athletes were among the guests of honor at Monday's stadium groundbreaking. They will begin playing next year in what has to be one of the nation's premier facilities for community college athletics.

The large turnout demonstrated the high level of community interest and excitement surrounding this project.   

The stadium will open next March as the home of Heartland’s baseball, softball, and soccer programs and a Frontier League baseball franchise.

  Ad-hoc baseball committee chair Alan Sender explained how a $3.5 million college facility became a $12 million, privately-owned multi-purpose stadium for the community.

Steve Malliet leads the Normal Professional Baseball ownership group which includes a number of partners.   He’s been involved in the launch of several successful minor league franchises and says the excitement level here is the highest he’s seen.

Malliet said the team has received an amazing 1,000 entries so far in the Name the Team contest.  

 The winner will receive a gift package that includes special recognition on Opening Day 2010 and season tickets.

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Filed under Baseball, Heartland Community College

Meet Mr. Normal Professional Baseball — Alan Sender

He’s the straw that stirred the drink, our fearless leader, our clean up man and closer all rolled into one.

He is Alan Sender — Chris Koos’ neighbor, a poor unfortunate Cubs fan, and the citizen most responsible for attracting professional baseball to Normal.heartland-cc-stadium-groundbreaking-033009-001

As the unelected head of the ad-hoc baseball committee, Alan rode herd over the rest of us as we listened to the sales pitches of league commissioners, met potential owners, worked with consultants, weighed stadium proposals, and received our indoctrination into the crazy business of professional baseball.

Alan was the first to articulate our committee’s purpose.  He visited minor league ballparks, courted potential owners, and lit a fire under us as it became evident that the clock was ticking on Heartland Community College’s $3.5 million contribution and our committee seemed no closer to landing a team than we were the day we first met.

Alan pushed to get consultant Mike Thiessen hired, and Mike’s efforts helped accelerate interest in the project.   In the final push, we saw a flurry of interest from various leagues and ownership groups, which included some of the biggest names in sports.

 We were actually able to pick and choose who we wanted to work with. 

Alan’s work wasn’t done.  He addressed the Town Council and the Heartland Community College board and was our spokesman in the news media.    He accompanied the ownership group on visits to local businesses, helped put together the ballpark financing, and became a part owner of the Frontier League franchise himself.

As a citizen-volunteer, Alan Sender put his money where his mouth is.   And before the first pitch is ever thrown or first corner kick ever taken at the new stadium on Heartland’s beautiful campus, this community is better for it.

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Filed under Baseball, Heartland Community College

Nielsen goes on record against red light cameras

OK, I’m going to make an announcement:

I will oppose any plan to erect red light cameras or laser speed control devices in Normal for the purposes of collecting revenue.red-light-camera-2

This Wall Street Journal article does a nice job of capturing the outrage these devices are creating around the country. 

The village of Schaumburg, Ill., installed a camera at Woodfield Mall last November to film cars that were running red lights, then used the footage to issue citations. Results were astonishing. The town issued $1 million in fines in just three months.

But drivers caught by the unforgiving enforcement — which mainly snared those who didn’t come to a full stop before turning right on red — exploded in anger. Many vowed to stop shopping at the mall unless the camera was turned off. The village stopped monitoring right turns at the intersection in January.

Once a rarity, traffic cameras are filming away across the country. And they’re not just focusing their sights on red-light runners. The latest technology includes cameras that keep tabs on highways to catch speeders in the act and infrared license-plate readers that nab ticket and tax scofflaws.

I will write a letter to Gov. Quinn respectfully requesting that he not sign any enabling legislation for the devices in Normal.

In return for my opposition to red light cameras, I ask only that you drive carefully and please don’t ask for speed humps on your street.

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Filed under NPD, Traffic signals, Transportation

When 90 seconds just isn’t enough time to make an opening statement

God bless the League of Women Voters of McLean County, but I needed a little more than 90 seconds to make an opening statement at Thursday night’s candidate forum.

Being incoherent and under the weather didn’t help my cause either.

That’s why I’ve got this blog.

I’ll spare you the personal introduction and the obligatory thank yous.

The economy and Town financial management

We are faced with the worst economic conditions in my lifetime.   Compared to other places, we are fortunate to live in a university town.  The Wall Street Journal reported last week that college towns are doing quite well compared to the rest of the economy.  With our diverse employment base,  Normal clearly fits into the that catagory. 

Still, citizens of this community have lost a lot of money in their 401k’s.   I know our retirement accounts took a huge hit, as have our kids’ college funds.   I’m not alone wondering how much longer I’m going to have to work to make up for the collapse of the stock market.

At the same time, I wonder whether my kids’ college decisions will be impacted by this recession.

I hope I’m wrong, but I sense the economy recovery won’t be quick or particularly dramatic.    

That’s why I think those of us in Town government have to remain extremely sensitive when it comes to asking the citizens and property owners of this community for more.

Recognizing the economic conditions will influence sales and income tax revenue, we must continue our policy of fiscal responsibility.   I will be satisfied if we are able to continue funding our core services and programs at a sustainable level while mixing in a reduced program of prioritized capital improvements.

While I remain very optimistic about the future, my near term decision making will be greatly influenced by current economic conditions. 

I am confident that our administration will continue to watch the budget situation carefully, continuing Normal’s conservative philosophy of underestimating revenues and overestimating expenses.

I recognize that the purchase of a home or business represents a major investment in our community.   My decisions will continue to be influenced by my desire to protect and enhance your investment.

Uptown

It’s exciting to think that in a few short months the Marriott Hotel and Normal Conference Center will be open for business, generating economic activity and adding a new dimension to Uptown.   This year will see the beginning of a brand new, attractive streetscape and hopefully the overdue burying of utility lines.   The JSM development will rise out of the rubble of the former University Christian Church.

The Marriott and Normal Conference Center will open this summer marking a major milestone for the Uptown plan.   In 2009, the Town Council should begin to review where we've been for the past ten years and refine where we're going in Uptown.

The Marriott and Normal Conference Center will open this summer marking a major milestone for the Uptown plan. In 2009, the Town Council should begin to review where we've been for the past ten years and refine where we're going in Uptown.

At the same time, there are many important decisions facing the council.   The developers of Uptown One insist they are getting closer to nailing down financing to get their long awaited mixed use project out of the ground.

We have been patient as they have tried to adjust to a very chilly lending climate.   Uptown One remains a very worthy project.   The residential component is very difficult because it is tough to make sales when prospective home buyers don’t know when the project will start.  

That said, it’s difficult for me to even contemplate Uptown Two or Three until they start to raise steel on Uptown One.    And that’s going to have to happen fairly soon. 

We are still working to attract federal stimulus funding for the transportation center.    It is a worthy project and will require our attention. 

The library’s planning process calls for more space and more parking either on the current site or somewhere else in the community.   The Normal Public Library is where it belongs, as a major Uptown asset.   In the next four years, we will certainly be addressing the library’s needs.

In general, the council and community must  review where we’ve been and refine where we’re going with the Uptown plan.   It’s been ten years since it was conceived.   Obviously, over the years it has evolved.   Ten years into it seems to be a good time to chart its course for the next 10 years.

Communications

Just About Normal has improved my ability to connect with the community.   I am committed to stay with this for as long as I have the honor of serving you.    I feel an obligation to share useful information and opinion and give you a place for civil dialogue.

Thank you for your contributions to this space, and I look forward to interacting with you here and in person in the years ahead.

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Filed under All About Normal, Town Council

Mayor’s race boils down to whether Normal should have borrowed

I felt old in the Prairie Room Thursday night.   Like pushing-up-the-average-age-in-the-room-kinda old  

Actually, it was a good old feeling. 

At Thursday’s Normal candidate forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of McLean County, ISU Senior Professionals, and the Student Government Association, the room was filled with students who seemed to be motivated by something other than the promise of extra credit.

Instead of applauding the victorious ISU basketball team over at the arena, student supporters of both mayoral candidates enthusiastically applauded their favorite candidate’s best lines and comebacks.

It was the local mayoral race as a spectator sport.   And it was fun to watch the students’ reactions.

Too bad for everybody that critical portions of candidate discussion focused on  a decision made when many of applauding students were still in braces.

I felt like I went back into a time machine with all of the talk about that old chestnut — “pay-as-you-go.”    Are we ever going to stop talking wistfully about the brief moment in Town history when the council thought it was a great idea to never borrow again?

“Pay-as-you-go.”   Sounded good.  Catchy phrase. 

Probably helped someone win an election or two. 

But even some of its staunchest advocates would concede that “pay-as-you-go” in its strictest sense was not a fiscal strategy suited for a growing community (or any community for that matter). 

Here’s how it would have worked.    Before the Town built something,  it would have saved up the money over a period of years.   Meanwhile, inflationary cost increases ate up any savings gained by not borrowing and major projects were unnecessarily delayed.

That’s just one of the problems with it.

I would have thought that the overnight success of a facility like the Children’s Discovery Museum would have ended the lingering obsession over pay-as-you-go?    Or how about when the Town saw the interest rate on its variable rate bond issue drop to about one half of one percent?

Guess not.

If  “pay-as-you-go” means living within your means, then yes, we’re still doing it.

But’s that’s not what all the back-and-forth discussion between the mayoral candidates was about.

As I see it, the 2009 Normal mayoral race really boils down to one question:  Should the Town of Normal have borrowed money?

That’s it.   

That’s what this race is ultimately about.  

Should the council have borrowed money earlier this decade?

My recollection is that the citizens of Normal answered that question affirmatively in the 2003, 2005 and 2007 election cycles.

(In 2003, voters didn’t care much for the publicly-owned hotel concept, but they supported the construction of the CDM.)   

Now with students finally interested in a local election, voters are being asked the same question again in 2009 — the year when one of the biggest Uptown investments, the conference center, will begin to pay dividends for Normal and Illinois State University.

Interesting time to ask the question again.

I wonder what the answer will be this time.

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League of Women Voters of McLean County candidates’ forum Thursday

The League of Women Voters of McLean County and ISU Senior Professionals will host a candidates’ forum at 7 p.m. Thurs. Mar. 26 at the ISU Bone Student Center Prairie Room.

Not only is the public invited to attend, but you are also invited to submit questions.logo_lwv

Both mayoral candidates and the four Normal council candidates will answer questions posed by forum moderator Bob Bradley.

Between now and Election Day this is the only forum where all six candidates for elected office in Normal are invited to speak.

As a candidate, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to address the issues with the other candidates and thank the League and ISU Senior Professionals for their work in staging this event.

We’ll have two minutes for opening and closing statements and a minute for each question.   So, anything I can’t fit into my answers at the forum, I’ll take the opportunity in this space –as they say in Congress– to extend and revise my remarks.

Hope you can make it.

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Filed under Town Council

Normal Police Department says 2009 off to a good start

It’s always good news when the crime rate drops.

Normal police say calls  for service were down 15 percent in the first two months of 2009 compared to a year ago.

Also down were total crimes (-2.6%),  arrests (-14.4%), armed robberies (-50%),  robberies (-20%), thefts (-36%), and reports of criminal property damage (-26%) compared to Jan.-Feb. 2008 crime figures.

We are even driving better in 2009.   Traffic accidents were down 9.2% compared to the same two-month period last year.

Normal police received 9,417 calls for service the first two months of the year, a level not seen since 2005.

Everyone breathed a little easier Feb. 24 when Normal police made the high profile arrest of an accused rapist.  

This sketch turned out to be pretty accurate after all.

This sketch turned out to be pretty accurate after all.

McLean County prosecutors have charged 17 year-old Joseph Primm with sexually assualting a woman Feb. 12 in her apartment on West Hovey and with beating another woman a week later in a home invasion on Cardinal Court.

Looking ahead to the warm weather months, police are working with the managers of the three largest apartment complexes on West Orlando.   Each of the complexes are again giving police the green light to arrest trespassers who have been banned from their properties.

Coupled with increased patrols, arresting trespassers has been an effective tool in keeping a lid on things in that neighborhood.

Police plan to be visible again when Fairview Pool opens for the summer.   And a group of community volunteers will take to the trail this spring in a program designed to improve safety for users of Constitution Trail.

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Filed under Crime, NPD