It’s official, the Amateur Trapshooting Association has initiated a process that would take The Grand American, the largest trapshooting event in the world, away from Sparta’s World Shooting and Recreational complex – at least for 2016.
The Grand American brings thousands of shooters from around the world to Sparta. The ATA said the event pumps $10-$12 million into the local economy each year.
With the State of Illinois still enduring a budget impasse, Gov. Bruce Rauner ordered the WSRC closed earlier this month. The open-ended nature of the closure puts the ATA in a bind, the organization has to prepare for next year’s Grand.
The State of Illinois and ATA signed a contract several years ago tying the Grand American to the Sparta complex through 2026. Given the logistics of planning for such a large event, the ATA is being forced to see a different venue for next year.
“It’s not something we want to do, we’d rather stay here,” said Lynn Gipson, executive director of the Sparta-based ATA. I’ve offered to the state to go open the place up a couple times. I offered for the ATA to manage that for the state. We’d give them all the money. They said they couldn’t do that.
“If you tell us it’s open in July and August. We’re good to go. They’re not going to do that either.”
Rep. Jerry Costello of Belleville said the overall economic impact the WSRC has on Southern Illinois is estimated at $24 million.
"To put that in context, the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, the annual economic impact is $24 million as well. That's with the Rams playing there, the boat show, all the conventions and basketball games. The shooting complex has almost the exact annual impact."
The ATA took the first step toward legally breaking the contract with the state, issuing a letter asking the state to guarantee the facility would be open next July and August. The state has 60 days to respond.
If the state cannot make that guarantee by Dec. 15, the ATA will actively begin shopping the event. The World Shooting and Recreational Complex is operated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
“The IDNR understands that the ATA must begin the process,” said Chris Young, an IDNR spokesperson. “It is the IDNR’s hope that the closure of the WSRC is temporary and as soon as a budget agreement is reached, the complex will be able to resume hosting shooting events.”
The situation is unsettling to more than the ATA and trapshooters.
“I am of the opinion this can be worked out by that time,” said State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld. “I think the (IDNR) director is 100 percent behind the facility. I think the ATA wants to stay. We want it to stay. That gives me hope this can happen.
“I went to Springfield to speak to the governor personally to let him know this is something we can’t afford to lose. The problem is, if you lose this, you may not get it back.”
"The biggest thing right ow is to make sure the ATA stays in Sparta and the World Shooting and Recreational Complex," Costello said. "This means we are going to have to come to some resolution by Dec. 15. What could be involved in this is just the governor assuring the ATA the facility will be open a minimum of July and August next year."
Gipson said there are many issues involved, including securing sponsors for next year’s event. He also noted that vendors’ leases also expire this year, further complicating the situation.
“We’re not trying to be provocative,” he said. “We’re not trying to ruffle anybody’s feathers, but we have to know by the middle of December if you are going to fish or cut bait. If we had that … there are a lot of people in the area that are trying to make business decisions for next year.
“If we move the Grand, we won’t have as many events. The whole picture is going to change. We have to have our ducks in a row. We’re not the State of Illinois, we have to plan ahead.”
Gipson said there are venues in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Arizona that would be able to host a scaled down Grand American.
Luechtefeld said his goal is not only to keep the Grand American in Sparta, but to put a plan in place that will better utilize the facility.
“We want someone running the place that understands what shooting people want, what makes them happy and how to promote the place,” he said. “One thing we have to keep in mind, the ATA won’t be left out in the cold. There are people that would love to have them. There are people waiting in line. They want a piece of the action. There are a number of places that will recruit them.”
As for the ATA, Gipson drove to Springfield to make his case. He didn’t get the answer he needed.
“They pretty much said, ‘Hey we feel your pain, but we have to have a budget,’” he said.