Woodstock stadium plans still stalled
Land along Highway 14 expected to be used for a multitude of entertainment possibilities has hit a standstill since being approved more than four years ago.
In 2008, the Woodstock City Council approved a special-use permit for Merryman Aggregate, a Woodstock-based gravel extraction company, to mine gravel on land along Highway 14 between Lake Shore Drive and Lily Pond Road.
After the decision was reached, Merryman Aggregate purchased the 240-acre property. About 80 acres of oak savannah and wetlands were immediately turned over to the McHenry County Community Foundation, which worked with The Land Conservancy to keep the area preserved. Another 38 acres of land was to be given to EquityOne Sports Development, which has been working toward privately funding a 6,000 to 6,500-seat baseball stadium on the parcel. The McHenry County Fair Board had shown interest in moving the fairgrounds to the location at one time as well.
Following the approval, Merryman Aggregate began gravel excavation on the site. The company also purchased a seven-acre parcel of land to the southwest of the site that the council approved in 2009 to be a part of the excavation plan.
Despite the many possibilities for the site, economic challenges have plagued progress, but city officials and business leaders remain optimistic about the potential for what has become known as a Multi Purpose Event Venue.
Rick Zirk, project manager for Merryman Aggregate, said the economy has put a hold on much of the activity on the site.
“We’ve been selling stockpiles on and off,” Zirk said. “We’ve had a couple of projects, one in Crystal Lake, but they have been sporadic.”
The physical excavation has basically ceased due to the lack of projects coming through, he said.
“The crushing equipment isn’t even out there anymore,” Zirk said.
The Illinois Department of Transportation has long planned a Highway 14 widening project between Woodstock and Crystal Lake. That project would put Merryman Aggregate in a position to make competitive bids for material. While IDOT has planned to start construction on the project next year, property acquisition is expected to take longer than expected, making construction more likely to begin in 2014.
Zirk said another year wait means the product will likely sit on the property another year.
“I think everybody’s plans have slid a couple of years,” Zirk said. “One or two large projects like this [are needed]. A lot of guys in this area could [use that work].”
Minor league baseball
While EquityOne Sports Development had initially expected to break ground on a minor league baseball stadium in spring 2009, issues with wetland areas initially delayed those plans. The Army Corps of Engineers claimed jurisdiction on the nearby wetland property and that issue is yet to be resolved. Even if it was resolved, funding the project is the major hurdle.
“The bottom line is it’s still the financing [that is holding us up],” said Mark Houser, owner of EquityOne Sports Development.
After a multitude of changes to the timeframe for construction, Houser said he is “somewhat optimistic” construction could begin as early as next year.
“The goal is to be ready to go, as far as funding is concerned, by next year,” Houser said. “2014 is the goal [for the first baseball season].”
If built, the stadium would be home to the McHenry County K-Nines, which would be a member of the Frontier League. The league does not have an affiliation with Major League Baseball.
While the Frontier League had deadlines for the stadium to be built, Houser said the league has granted additional time due to the economic struggles.
“They really like [the McHenry County] market,” Houser said. “If we can get our financing together, they would still put us in the league.”
Houser said the Frontier League has not been immune to the economy, indicating that while sponsorships are down, attendance has been close to previous years.
“Hopefully we’ll get this thing off the ground,” Houser said.
If the stadium doesn’t get built by May 1, 2014, the land reverts to city ownership. Mayor Brian Sager said the city would still work with EquityOne Sports Development to bring a stadium to that site, but would have the opportunity to develop it as a different use if the stadium doesn’t come to fruition.
Metra train station
Plans for an additional Metra station on the MPEV site are still on the table even after changes within Metra leadership, but a possible timeline has not been determined.
The Metra Board has identified a station in southeast Woodstock as a preferred site for a new station.
Metra has indicated the site would be beneficial to communities that don’t have train service, including Huntley. Still, the project could be as many as 10 years away.
McHenry County Community Foundation
John Small, president and chief executive officer of the MCCF, said his organization continues to monitor progress on the site because it owns 80 acres of natural area on the overall site.
“The economy has kind of put it on hold for a little bit,” Small said.
The MCCF was integral in coordinating efforts from the various parties involved with the project and helped to develop the proposal.
McHenry County Fair
The McHenry County Fair Board expressed a desire to move its location to the site in early stages of dialogue with the MCCF. Calls to Dick Crone, fair board president, were not returned.