Sunday, December 23, 2007

McHenry County Convention and Events Center

The idea of a convention and events center for McHenry County has been raised. While I first had misgivings about the plan, on reflection I find it has merit. However, the proposal currently being pursued is not workable. An ecologically sensitive watershed is not the place to put a convention center, or a ball park.

McHenry County College’s mission is to provide higher level education to the McHenry County area. It is funded by property taxes for that express purpose. MCC should not shift its focus from this to commercial activities of a minor league ball park. MCC should stick to its original mission and consider expansion in that arena.

There is, however, a venue that is perfectly suited to support a convention center and hotel - one that has already been prepared for commercial use, with water, sewer, electric and telephone services already in place. I refer to the former Motorola building in Harvard.

The vacant Motorola building is perfectly suitable for reuse as a hotel and convention center. It is an open design with a large factory space that could easily be adapted to the new use. The site also has ample, well lit parking lots. Even if additional structure had to be built, it would still be better than destroying the Crystal Lake watershed.

Another advantage to the Harvard site is its proximity to the Metra commuter rail. The Metra rail not only carries passengers from downtown Chicago, but is also used for freight traffic. The addition of a freight yard in Harvard would allow for delivery of containers to and from the convention center.

The addition of east and west exit and entrance ramps on I-90 at Route 23 combined with improvements to Routes 23 and 14 would make the site competitive with the Stevens Center in Rosemont, the Allstate Arena, McCormick Place, and the new Sears Center. Harvard has easy access to O’Hare field via the Metra train service. It is also within easy reach of the Rockford and Milwaukee Airports. And it is within close proximity of Wisconsin’s tourist attractions.

Building a convention center in the Motorola site would provide much needed relief to the Harvard community, which was hard hit by the departure of Motorola. It would provide much needed long term employment to residents of Harvard and the surrounding communities. And it would stimulate the development of ancillary businesses to support and complement the convention center.

I cannot support the destruction of the Crystal Lake watershed. However, I can support the adaptive reuse of the Motorola site in Harvard.