Rowing event gets $5,000 from Farmer City

FARMER CITY — The city council voted to contribute funds to build a permanent rowing course on Clinton Lake at the Parnell access point. 

Councilwoman Jessica DeMarse was the sole dissenting vote to the measure which awarded $5,000 to the Illinois Rowing Association to complete the course.

The money will come from the city’s hotel/motel tax. The balance of that fund, which Jenkins put at $30,000, was questioned by DeMarse.

Jenkins didn’t try to defend the balance. 

“Those numbers didn’t come from me,” he said, adding they were from bookkeeper Ruth Harmison.  

It was also pointed out that a contribution to Heritage days was reduced from $10,000 to $7,000 last year because City Manager Larry Woliung said the fund did not have enough in it to cover the request and others. 

At the council’s January 23 meeting, Woliung said the rowing association requested $15,000, which the council was considering paying over a period of three years. 

“We don’t have $15,000 in hotel/motel right now,” Woliung said on Jan. 23.

On Tuesday, Woliung said he gets his numbers from Harmison, but clarified on Wednesday that the language used on Jan. 23 was “not correct.”

“I should have stated that 15 would not allow for future requests,” he said, adding that is why he suggested $5,000 each year for three years. 

As the measure came to vote Monday, the requested amount was decreased to $5,000 paid only once. 

Jenkins did say the fund is dwindling. The fund brings in about $12,000 a year —$1,000 each month, Jenkins said — but the council allocates much of it currently. And the mayor added it is going out quicker than it is coming in.  

“I would love to do this,” DeMarse said. “It’s a great thing—long term.” She said she would support such a grant next year when the fund may grow, alluding to possible development of land near the I-74 interchange that has been discussed at previous meetings.

The course, built by sinking a steel grid to the bottom of the lake attached to buoys, has been approved by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and officials at the Clinton power plant, said DeWitt County Development Council Vice President Curt Homann. 

He said the University of Illinois rowing club hosts one multi-team invitation tournament each year, plus a handful of smaller matches. He said the tournaments draw people to Farmer City who spend money on hotels, gas, and food. 

“This is a good community partner,” he said.

The Annual Illinois Collegiate Rowing Invitational, scheduled for April 22 this year, draws more than a dozen universities and several hundred athletes. This is the fifth year for the Invitational. 

The permanent course will allow the association to hold more events. 

Bill Grier, the University of Illinois rowing program coordinator, said he is working to launch a high school invitational tournament April 23 which will draw teams from Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis. 

Grier said rowing is a growing sport among women, and more and more scholarships are available, even to novice rowers. 

“This course can help build the sport in the Midwest,” he said.

The Clinton Lake course is one of few in the Midwest. Its protected location, at the east end of the lake off Liberty Road at the Parnell ramp, makes it one of the best for hundreds of miles.

Grier said that with the course, more and more events will be held in the area, including masters’ level races. He said the U.S. Junior Canoe and Kayak Association may use the course for their national selection camp this year or next year.

U of I Coach Cameron Carter said the team uses the facility nearly every day during the season, and hopes to build a permanent boat house facility there. 

“We hosted 3,000 to 5,000 people at this site last year,” he said. “The more events we have, they will generate revenue for the area.”

Councilman Scott Kelley said the long term effects of helping to fund the permanent course will be positive for Farmer City. “This brings people to this town. This is not a one-time deal.”

The $5,000 sponsorship means the trophy presented to the women’s championship will be named the Farmer City Trophy. The town will be featured in all advertising for the invitational, including T-shirts and the program. 

“It’s not the worst money we’ve spent,” Testory said.

Woliung said the council will be asked for another $5,000 grant at its next meeting, but did not elaborate.

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