The Naperville Park District's plans to upgrade Sportsman's Park may receive funding from a somewhat unusual source.
City councilmen on Monday informally agreed to give the district a Special Events and Cultural Amenities grant not only this year, but for the next several years.
The move came during an annual workshop in which councilmen decided how to allocate $2 million in grant money that comes from the city's food and beverage tax. There were 91 applicants asking for about $3.2 million this time around.
The Park District had requested just over $574,000 for a project that will include improvements to the Sportsman's Park shooting range, handicap-accessibility upgrades and a new parking lot. There also will be nature trails, which officials said in their application will "open up more of the 27-acre park for community recreation, including running, walking, fishing and enjoying nature."
The city's Advisory Cultural Commission had recommended the funding come from other sources, but Councilman Steve Chirico disagreed, saying he doesn't mind using the grant money for capital projects.
"I like it because it's … the gift that keeps on giving," he said. "You get to enjoy these types of things for, in some cases, 100 years or more."
He proposed using just over $27,000 of grant money this spring for the project along with $42,000 in surplus from the previous grant allocation. Last year, councilmen capped SECA funding at $2 million with a 2 percent increase each year. Chirico said the city should also put that extra 2 percent toward the Sportsman's Park improvements for the next several years.
Councilmen voted 7-1 in favor of Chirico's proposal with Grant Wehrli absent. Councilman Doug Krause was the lone no vote. Krause said the group's large request was unfair to other applicants and the Park District "can levy their own tax."
Councilman Paul Hinterlong said much of the grant money comes from visitors to town instead of Naperville taxpayers. He also pointed out the councilmen had previously agreed to use the grant money to fund another large capital project, the Millennium Carillon.
"This is great amenity to the property," he said of the Sportsman's Park project. "It makes it more available to everyone that wants to go over there and walk around."
Councilwoman Judy Brodhead called the request "audacious," but said she was inclined to help with funding since the Park District was already taking on the major task of remediating lead from the site.
Some expressed concern about promising money to the project in future years – roughly $40,000 next year, followed by $80,000 and just over $120,000. However, councilmen will still have to give another approval to the funding in each of those years.
After the discussion, Naperville Park District Executive Director Ray McGury said he believes the project is a cultural amenity as it is on land donated to the city by Caroline Martin Mitchell for public use. He said he is grateful the city agreed to help with improvements.
The City Council will still have to give final approval to the Park District's grant request in April along with other SECA grant allocations.
Among the large allocations receiving the initial OK are $179,472 for the Naperville Exchange Club's Ribfest, $168,838 for the Jaycees' Last Fling, $150,000 to the Naperville Development Partnership for restaurant marketing, $150,000 for the DuPage Children's Museum debt, $146,494 for Riverwalk maintenance, $137,004 for the Naperville Municipal Band and $132,497 for Century Walk public art.
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