Libertyville Sports Complex revenue drain continues
Libertyville 11/20/12 Nine-year-old Conor Enright of Mundelein, shoots with the Kessel Heat basketball club inside of the Libertyville Sports Complex. | Michelle LaVigne ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 28, 2013 1:57AM
LIBERTYVILLE — Blame it on the village build-out. Blame it on the overzealous projections. Blame it on America’s waning interest in golf.
But wherever you point the finger, it doesn’t change the fact that the village has a drain on its revenue because of the 10-year-old Libertyville Sports Complex. Projected as a cash cow for the village, the three-pronged recreation haven has never lived up to the financial hype and requires annual subsidies from the village to meet its debt service.
“When they did it, they were doing what was best for the village,” Village President Terry Weppler said of former village officials’ decision to build the multi-facility complex. “Knowing what we do now, would we start over and do things the same way? Absolutely not.
“Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. We do not have a separate park district. Our job includes providing recreational services to residents.”
Of the complex’s three pieces, two – the Golf Learning Center and the Family Entertainment Center – will likely be sold off within the next three years.
“The facilities never could generate the money that was expected,” Village Administrator Kevin Bowens said. “The profits do not cover the debt service.”
While the Sports Complex does make an overall profit, it has never paid its own way and has needed as much as $500,000 annually from the village to meet its bond payments. The $1 million annual bond payment will rise to $1.7 million in December 2014, likely requiring an even bigger infusion of village support. It is unlikely the Golf and Entertainment centers still will be in the village’s hands at that point.
The Golf Learning Center has been the biggest bust. By this point, the facility was supposed to be making an annual profit of $315,000 for the village. Last year, the facility cleared $40,000.
“Early on, we saw the Golf Learning Center was not generating the revenue we expected,” Bowens said.
The village, which runs its own parks and recreation department, broke ground for the Sports Complex in 2001.
Opening in 2002, the three facilities were seen as a space and financial answer for the village.
“We were already renting space at schools in town,” said Bowens, who has been with the village for more than two decades. “… We were looking for anywhere we could put our recreational programs. There was an intense demand for space.”
The need for program space coincided with the village reaching a point of being built out residentially. Because of that, the park impact fees the village had been receiving from new housing developments to fund its parks and recreation department dried up.
Needing money for recreation programs, as well as recreation program space, the Sports Complex, a 25-acre development, was proposed at Peterson Road and Route 45.
When the Family Entertainment Center did not meet expected revenues, the village shuttered the mini-golf facility in 2007 and looked to sell off the property. Two contracts for the property fell through when the economy soured.
The facilities continue to increase their profits and lessen the amount of money needed from the village.
What was once a $500,000 annual subsidy from the village has dropped to $350,000.
The 160,000-square-foot recreation center continues to thrive with eight basketball courts; two indoor artificial turf multi-use fields; a climbing mountain; fitness center; preschool; conference, meeting and party rooms; and an athletic training business.
“It’s well-used,” Village Administrator Bowens said. “The indoor facility does well and it continues to do better.”
Still a state-of-the-art facility, the Golf Center has 80 stations, including 40 with automatic ball-setting on tees.
“Revenue has been improving at the driving range due, in part, because the marketing of the facility improved, as did customer service,” said Conrad “Connie” Kowal, director of the Sports Complex and recreation for the village. “It is now a place for golfers.”
The village also now has a three-year lease on the Family Entertainment Center, which opened this summer as a privately owned miniature golf course.
“We are seeing financial benefits,” Kowal said of the golf and mini-golf facilities. “They are doing better than several years ago.”
Selling the naming rights to the recreation center is one idea under consideration to generate additional money.
Kowal said the naming right is a sponsorship opportunity that could generate significant money for the indoor facility. He said it is too early to guess how much those naming rights could produce.
“That is up to discussions and dialogues on potential sponsors’ interest,” Kowal said. “I can safely say it would be a multi-year agreement in the six figures for the annual sponsorship.”
Selling the parcels where the Golf Center and mini-golf course sit remain a village priority.
Village President Weppler said while the municipality would like to sell off the two parcels, it will only do so for the right price. Until the right offer or offers come along, he said, the village will continue to increase the facilities’ profitability.
“We are doing all we can to increase revenue. We rented out the miniature golf course,” Weppler said. “We are still looking for purchasers because the miniature golf course and driving range continue to run in the red.
“The real estate market is just starting to turn around. We need to get the right offer. We can’t give the land away because we are still on hold for the debt service. Unless we get a reasonable price, we are not going to sell it.”
The Sports Complex’s Kowal said he and his staff continue to reach out to let people know of the multipurpose facility as an event destination. He said Mundelein High School’s 2012 graduation, two mixed martial arts events and Chicago Blackhawk Road Watch parties are just some of the varied events that have been held at the facility.
“It is Job 1 for us to get as many events and programs as possible in the multipurpose facility,” Kowal said. “We take a very aggressive approach to bring in different events, activities, programs and special events to help our overall operation.”