Slowed by pandemic and construction costs, Rantoul business development ramping up
RANTOUL — There aren’t many area restaurants that have repeat customers from a variety of Midwest states. ET’s in downtown Rantoul can make that claim.
Owner Eric Thompson said the opening of the Rantoul Family Sports Complex is a big reason for that. It’s also why Rantoul’s economic development is pointing up.
“Our revenue’s been quite a bit improved because of the sports complex, especially since the remodeling” Thompson said.
Business had been so good that Thompson expanded the popular restaurant to encompass a neighboring downtown building.
“We actually have regulars already from Wisconsin,” Thompson said. “We see people from Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa as well as all through Illinois.”
More business is coming to Rantoul. A strip mall at the corner of Murray Road and U.S. 136 that will include Starbucks, Jersey Mike’s, Little Caesars and Verizon stores has piqued the interest of other business developers, according to Rantoul Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer.
“I got a call last week from a developer who was reaching out on behalf of clients looking for any land that may be available,” Eisenhauer said. “In the middle of the conversation he said, ‘Why do I have clients who are interested in Rantoul?’
“He was not aware of the activity and growth, particularly in the area of tourism. It was interesting to let him know what was happening.”
Eisenhauer said the site of a former gas station across Murray Road from the new strip mall is a hot property. Land around and adjacent to the sports complex and property along U.S. 136 (Champaign Avenue) is hot as well. A piece of heavy equipment is parked beside a single-story house on Champaign Avenue that Eisenhauer said will either be moved or demolished because the site is suitable for development.
Eisenhauer said while it might be disheartening to the public that there isn’t “a ton of construction actually happening right now,” he is excited about the conversations being conducted behind closed doors with new businesses and restaurants potentially coming to town.
Todd Modglin, who with his father, Kevin, owns 3 acres adjacent to the Wal-Mart store, which is just north of the sports complex, and 1 acre across Murray Road from Wal-Mart, said they are seeing an uptick in interest as well.
“We’ve heard from a couple of different people from out of town that represent national clients,” and interest in the community has increased, Todd Modglin said.
“Basically once that development on the corner of 136 and Murray Road broke ground, that’s when the phone calls started coming,” he said.
“I would attribute it to the sports complex. We were really excited there’s another hotel that was practically contracted to go out there, but the pandemic put that on hold.”
Chris Milliken, village of Rantoul urban planner, agrees about the effect of the sports complex.
“I’d say it’s been a huge impact on the economy, just in terms of the traffic and what it’s doing for the existing restaurants and existing development.”
Prior to the building of the complex, there was little interest in the lots in west Rantoul near Interstate 57, according to Milliken.
The COVID-19 pandemic and higher construction costs have delayed development. Modglin said the price of construction materials has pretty much stopped increasing but has not started to decline.
“Materials we use such as concrete rock aggregate, rebar and pipe” have been high. “Pipe has really risen over the last couple of years and has not come back down.”
Milliken anticipates land prices will continue to rise in that area because of additional interest in development. He said economic development can be the work of a variety of sources — from developers who construct the buildings/malls and contract with tenants, to companies that develop their own property.
Elsewhere in Rantoul
The opening of the popular B-52 Hangar MX, an off-road motocross race track in a hangar on the former Chanute Air Force Base, also draws many people to town.
Milliken said it’s harder to track how many people who drive in from outside the area, including other states, are buying gas or staying in local hotels.
“If we’re only capturing 25 percent of those (people’s business), that’s put us ahead,” he said.
Meanwhile, the owners of the Agave Mexican restaurant are purchasing and upgrading the former El Toro restaurant at the Rantoul Plaza on the east end of the village.
Also in east Rantoul, the bowling alley has been sold and will be upgraded, and Fashion Nails will move out of the Maple Grove shopping center to the site of a former gas station at the corner of Maplewood and Grove Avenue, and “significant funds” will be spent to rehab and occupy the building, Milliken said.
In downtown, in addition to the expansion of ET’s, Milliken said there have been more “owners/occupants,” and the village has taken ownership, through a court proceeding, of the former Hallmark building.
The village will seek proposals to develop the property.
“It’s in OK shape,” Milliken said. “It’s certainly not in great shape. It’s a very large part of that block of Sangamon (Avenue) downtown.”
Rantoul was also awarded a $3 million state grant to revitalize downtown through the Rebuild Illinois Program.