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A new kind of football
SIU Carbondale officials consider taking on some of athletic facility costs

CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University Carbondale officials worked with its athletic department to finance renovations to its aging baseball stadium, Abe Martin Field, in 2013.

When private donors raised $1.8 million to build what is now known as Richard "Itchy" Jones Stadium, former SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng offered to match it with a loan from the university. Jones Stadium opened in 2014. To help pay off that loan, and battle a $4 million-plus deficit, university officials are in discussions to potentially take on some of athletics' debt.

"If you pulled out the facilities costs that are being charged to athletics, it probably would have them in the black, or close to it, on a yearly basis," SIU President Randy Dunn said. "Every campus does this differently. Some fold them into a plant fund, others, their costs are specifically charged out in their entirety to athletics. At other places, it's a hybrid. In my experience, being at all mid-majors, I do kind of like having the hybrid approach to sharing a facility."

SIU's enrollment dropped below 16,000 students in the fall of 2017, the fifth time in the last six years it went down. More than 50 percent of the athletic department's funding comes from student fees, which was one reason it faced a $4.3 million deficit in 2015-16, according to financial numbers reported to the NCAA. The athletic department also faced a budget deficit of $3.05 million in 2015 and $3.16 million in 2014.

Its facilities cost in 2015-16, $6.76 million, was one of the department's biggest expenses, as it includes a nearly $1 million annual bond payment toward paying off Saluki Way. The $83 million project renovated SIU Arena, built the $25 million Saluki Stadium, and financed the Lew Hartzog Track and Field Complex. The university may not be able to help, though, as it endured its own financial struggles with shrinking enrollment. Shortly before the state passed a budget for the first time in two years in 2017, the SIU Carbondale campus borrowed millions from sister school SIU Edwardsville.

SIU athletic director Tommy Bell said there are regulatory hurdles for moving some of the department's debt if the school decides to do so.

"The chancellor is really looking for potential opportunities to address our budget a lot differently," Bell said. "Because it's really simple. If there was a way to manage the debt situation on the facilities, by the institution, there would be no deficit spending in athletics. But there are some state regulations and some other university regulations, that they will have to go through."

In the meantime, school and athletic officials are working on the one thing that will help both of them immediately: improving enrollment. Dunn said the school is examining how they use recruiters and where they send them, in addition to implementing Chancellor Carlo Montemagno's controversial restructuring plan, which seeks to eliminate departments in favor of new schools that could be more appealing to prospective students.

Athletics is also looking at restructuring, as it still hasn't replaced former senior woman's administrator Kathy Jones, who retired last December, and is adding women's soccer in 2019. The athletic department believes the women's soccer team will bring in 25 to 30 student-athletes, few of which will be on full scholarship.

"There might not be a more closely-tied-to-the-region university more than Southern Illinois Carbondale," Dunn said. "We've got to strengthen the Carbondale campus, and this isn't a one-year fix. It's not even a three-year fix. This is an ongoing, long-term approach that, over time, turns the ship so that SIU Carbondale can once again realize it's service, and building up of the region that we're in, because our region so desperately needs us to take on that role."


Richard 'Itchy' Jones, a Herrin native who served 21 years as SIU's baseball coach, throws out the first pitch March 13, 2014, at the university's new baseball stadium. The stadium was named in Jones' honor.


A colorful sunset fills the sky behind the SIU Arena in Carbondale. 

Trump, Ryan face off in rare public GOP clash over tariffs (copy)

WASHINGTON — In a remarkably public confrontation, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican allies of President Donald Trump pleaded with him Monday to back away from his threatened international tariffs, which they fear could spark a dangerous trade war. Trump retorted: "We're not backing down."

The president said U.S. neighbors Canada and Mexico would not be spared from his plans for special import taxes on steel and aluminum, but he held out the possibility of later exempting the longstanding friends if they agree to better terms for the U.S. in talks aimed at revising the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"We've had a very bad deal with Mexico; we've had a very bad deal with Canada. It's called NAFTA," he declared.

Trump spoke shortly after a spokeswoman for Ryan, a Trump ally, said the GOP leader was "extremely worried" that the proposed tariffs would set off a trade war and urged the White House "to not advance with this plan."

Likewise, Republican leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee circulated a letter opposing Trump's plan, and GOP congressional leaders suggested they may attempt to prevent the tariffs if the president moves forward.

Trump's pledge to implement tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports has roiled financial markets, angered foreign allies and created unusual alliances for a president who blasted unfavorable trade deals during his 2016 campaign. Union leaders and Democratic lawmakers from Rust Belt states have praised the planned tariffs, joining with advocates within the administration including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.

But the president has been opposed internally by Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, who warned against penalizing U.S. allies and undercutting the economic benefits of the president's sweeping tax overhaul.

Likewise, the statement from Ryan's office said, "The new tax reform law has boosted the economy, and we certainly don't want to jeopardize those gains."

Asked about that public rebuke, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "Look, we have a great relationship with Speaker Ryan. We're going to continue to have one, but that doesn't mean we have to agree on everything."

Canada is the United States' No. 1 foreign supplier of both steel and aluminum. Mexico is the No. 4 supplier of steel and No. 7 for aluminum.

Congressional Republicans say any tariffs should be narrow in scope, and they privately warned that Trump's effort could hurt the party's hopes to preserve its majority in the fall elections.

As the president dug in on his position, any potential compromise with foreign trading partners and Republican lawmakers was expected to still include some form of tariffs.

"Trump is not someone who retreats," said Stephen Moore, an economist with the conservative Heritage Foundation and a former campaign adviser. "He's going to need to be able to declare some victory here."

The tariffs will be made official in the next two weeks, White House officials said.

"Twenty-five percent on steel, and the 10 percent on aluminum, no country exclusions — firm line in the sand," said Navarro, speaking on "Fox and Friends."

Republican critics on Capitol Hill and within the administration argue that industries and their workers that rely on steel and aluminum for their products will suffer. The cost of new appliances, cars and buildings will rise for Americans if the president follows through, they warn, and other nations could retaliate.

Two dozen conservative groups, including the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and the National Taxpayers Union, urged Trump to reconsider, writing in a letter that the tariffs would be "a tax on the middle class with everything from cars to baseball bats to even beer."

The Trade Partnership, a consulting firm, said the tariffs would increase U.S. employment in the steel and aluminum sector by about 33,000 jobs but would cost 179,000 jobs in the rest of the economy.

The end result could erode the president's base of support with rural America and even the blue-collar workers the president says he's trying to help.

"These are people that voted for him and supported him in these auto-producing states," said Cody Lusk, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association. Lusk noted that of the 16 states with auto plants, Trump won all but two.

The administration has argued the tariffs are necessary to preserve the American aluminum and steel industries and protect national security. But Trump's comments and tweets early Monday suggested he was also using them as leverage in the current talks to revise NAFTA. The latest round of a nearly yearlong renegotiation effort is concluding this week in Mexico City.

At those talks, U.S Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Monday that progress has been less than many had hoped and "our time is running short."

"I fear the longer we proceed, the more political headwinds we will feel," he said. And he added that if three-way negotiations don't work, "we are prepared to move on a bilateral basis."

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Perry County
Proposed solar array in Perry County could be the biggest in the state

PICKNEYVILLE — A recently inked agreement between Wabash Valley Power energy co-op members and Prairie State Solar Project will be historic for two reasons — officials say it will bring the largest-ever solar array in Illinois to Perry County and will more than double the state’s solar energy output.

According to a news release from WVP, the co-op just signed a long-term agreement to be the sole purchaser of power from Prairie State’s Perry County array for the next 30 years.

The release said the array, which will produce about 99 megawatts of power, is being built on private property by New York-based Ranger Power, a utility-scale solar development company. Groundbreaking is slated to begin in 2019 with operations to begin in 2021. The energy generated is estimated to be able to power about 15,000 homes.

In the release, it is estimated that the project will bring nearly $100 million of new investment in southwestern Illinois and will also contribute millions in tax revenue.

"We're excited to be one step closer to moving forward with this meaningful investment in our country, which will support new jobs and new revenues for our community to invest in schools, roads and bridges," State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said in the news release.

The release states the project supports the objectives of Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act, which went into effect last year and requires at least 4,300 megawatts of new solar and wind energy to be built in the state by 2030. It will also create an estimated 200 jobs during the construction phase, and three to five full-time positions once the site is operational.

Zoning for the array, which will sit in the northwest corner of the county, has been one of the biggest questions for the county. Becky Tracy, zoning coordinator for Perry County, said the county, along with others in the region, began getting calls from solar companies late last summer, asking about zoning for solar farms.

She said it was then that the county realized it didn’t have anything too specific on the books. She said they didn’t want to miss the boat on the development by acting slowly.

“We better get on this if this is happening,” Tracy said of the sentiment of the zoning board. She said Perry County borrowed and modified the Kankakee ordinance.

One of the primary concerns, Tracy said, was decommissioning of the property at the end of the project.

“I guess one of the biggest concerns from our standpoint is if it’s stopped or there is not operation anymore we want it to be restored and the land (returned) to its original use,” Gary Reidelberger, chair of the zoning committee, said. He said they also had to take into account the adjacent landowners.

As for how the project will be taxed, that’s still up in the air.

“I believe our legislature is working on that taxing information right now,” Tracy said.

Even with that uncertainty, county board chair Jim Epplin said the development is a positive for Perry County.

“Anytime you can bring any tax base into the county it’s a good thing,” he said.

A permanent outdoor music venue in Carbondale? City wants input on possible Washington Street stage

CARBONDALE — The city of Carbondale is interested in ideas that residents have to offer about the future of a permanent stage venue on Washington Street.

The city, Carbondale Main Street and Southern Illinois University Carbondale School of Architecture will host a design charrette from 2 to 6 p.m., on Tuesday at the Downtown Design Center, 121 S. Illinois Ave.

Topics for discussion include uses for the space, designs for a permanent stage and what benefits it might bring to the community. Carbondale Public Relations Officer Amy Fox said there have been discussions between Carbondale Main Street and the city about what to do with the space, including the idea of a permanent stage.

“It is a nice piece of open space,” Fox said. “We have done some improvements to make it more user-friendly.”

Any changes made to the space would most likely be a collaboration between the city, Main Street and possibly SIU, Fox said, but it is too early in the discussion to determine who would take the lead.

Carbondale Main Street Executive Director Meghan Cole said her organization is excited to be involved in the process to find a use for the space.

“The city of Carbondale has demonstrated a readiness to invest in this downtown event venue, and we are happy to help get community support and impact the development of this venue,” Cole said in a news release.

As part of the event, representatives from SIU Carbondale School of Architecture will be on hand Tuesday to provide insight about what could functionally work in the space. Craig Anz, associate professor of Architectural Studies at SIU Carbondale, said the department is more than happy to lend a helping hand.

“The School of Architecture, its faculty and students look forward to engaging community members in this participatory community event for the betterment of our city,” he said in a news release. “This is a great opportunity to embrace what our creative design community can accomplish together.”

Tuesday’s charrette will be a wide-open format with several people whom residents may ask questions or share their ideas about the space. Fox said there will be city staff around taking notes based on residents' feedback.

“It will be causal and pretty informal,” she said.

The space at Washington Street has been used several times for entertainment, including during the total eclipse in August for Shadow Fest and for the Carbondale Music Coalition’s Carbondale Rocks Revival. Fox said the city is working to bring more events to the space, with one possibility being the CarbondALE Brew Fest.

For more information, contact Carbondale Main Street at 618-529-8040.