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Manteno Golf Club has permanently closed, up for sale

MANTENO — Former Save Our Golf Course board president Annette LaMore is hopeful the Manteno Golf Club can be rescued once again. The golf course permanently closed on Oct. 29, and it will be soon put up for sale.

“I’m heartbroken that it has closed, but I’m hoping someone will buy it and reopen it,” LaMore said when reached by phone Wednesday.

The Manteno Village Board unanimously voted on Monday to put the Manteno Golf Club up for sale.

The Manteno Golf Club, which also includes a restaurant/banquet facility, has been operated by the nonprofit group Save Our Golf Course for the past 14 years. Its lease had run out, and the group decided to discontinue operating the facility.

“It’s a tough business even in good times,” said Manteno Mayor Tim Nugent, who added the village doesn’t have the expertise to continue to operate the course and restaurant.

“It’s a tough road, and [Save Our Golf Course] finally got to the point where they didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, and they just shut it down,” village administrator Chris LaRocque said.

LaMore was part of a group of well-known Manteno residents who came to the course’s rescue in 2006. Formed mostly of volunteers, the Save Our Golf Course group took over running the facility from the village.

“We are so proud of keeping it going,” LaMore said.

The group consisted of LaMore and husband Rondy, Richard and Wauneta Balgeman, Irish and Pat O’Reilly, Dick and Karen Kozuch, and Bill and Gussie Mansfield.

“Most of those involved had been voted citizens of the year,” LaMore said. “We saw the golf course as such an asset. I don’t think there’s another town in the county that has their own golf course.”

LaMore and her husband left the board two years ago at the end of the golf season.

“We wanted to retire,” she said. “We are both in our 70s. I had been volunteering all that time.”

Marc Denault then become board president of Save Our Golf Course in January 2020 and was president until the end.

“We had to dissolve the board in order for the municipality to sell it,” Denault said.

Jay Grimes, of Bourbonnais, was a board member until resigning in June.

“I’m disappointed,” he said. “The decision was made by one person to change course to put more money into the restaurant. They wanted it to where it would be open year-round.”

Grimes, who was board treasurer, secured a BIG (Business Interruption Grant) grant from the state for $35,000 in January to help pare down some of the board’s bills, but he later learned the money went into the restaurant.

“If we would’ve just paid off the bills, we would’ve been square,” Grimes said. “We always struggled. ... It’s hard to make it as a golf course. We often struggled, but we got by.”

Grimes said he’s also disappointed for the regular golfers in Manteno.

“Some golfers were out there every day,” he said. “You feel sorry for those guys. They relied on the golf course.”

Grimes also golfed at the course often and managed one of weekly leagues.

“It’s a shame,” he said. “It was such an asset. “We didn’t have enough money to run it like a country club, but it was a nice course to play.”

LaMore said the course had seven weekly leagues when she left in 2019, and all those were running until the end of this season.

“Manteno has two jewels — the golf club and the Manteno Sportsmen’s Club,” she said. “They provide so many activities, fun and entertainment. Where are you going to get that? A lot of people are attracted to Manteno because of the golf club.”

LaRocque said the village attorney is working on the paperwork for putting the course up for sale.

“It will be a bid process, and any interested parties can bid on it,” he said. “We’ll set up times for potential buyers to tour the facility and course.”

LaRocque expects the request for bids to go out next week, and the village will likely keep it open for 30 to 45 days.

“I don’t know the exact time until I hear back from the attorney,” he said.

Both Nugent and LaRocque are hopeful potential buyers will continue to operate it as a golf club.

“We won’t put any restraints on [the bids] if they want it for some other purpose,” LaRocque said.

LaMore is also hopeful.

“We’re all hoping that someone will buy it, and we’re golfing in the spring,” she said.

CVB back on its feet with full staff, office space

KANKAKEE — The mission statement for the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau is based on the premise of making the county a better place to live, work and visit.

After some 18 to 20 months of not being able to fully engage in that mission, the countywide agency is back on its feet, but its address has changed. And, in the spring of 2022, the address will change once again.

At Wednesday’s Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce’s Business Before Hours program, CVB Executive Director Staci Wilken noted when the COVID-19-induced pandemic hit the region the agency was first forced to close its Manteno office and then eventually leave it in September 2020.

Forced to cut all staff and work out of her Manteno home, Wilken said Wednesday the agency is back to full staff. The team of five — including Wilken — moved into the second-floor office of 143 N. Schuyler Ave. in downtown Kankakee in July.

While the CVB staff unpacked the boxes in its new space, they likely put the boxes in storage as North Schuyler Avenue will not be their address for long.

With April 2022 as its target, the agency will be relocating three blocks south and moving into the Project Catalyst property — the former Midland States Bank building, 319 S. Schuyler Ave. — where it will find its hopefully long-term home on the building’s first floor.

“This is our temporary office to get us back into the community, rather than my house,” Wilken said. “The Project Catalyst space is going to be a great fit.”

Once spring arrives, Wilken and her team hope to get the office unpacked and put back together in time for what is hoped to be an active summer travel season.

The region can only hope the summer of 2022 returns our world into something resembling normalcy.

Normalcy for the visitors bureau means revenue for the region.

In 2019, a time when most people had never heard of COVID-19, the CVB was helping make tourism benefit Kankakee County, Wilken said. In that year, county travel expenditures were calculated by the state to be $156.8 million. That total accounted for $4.2 million in local tax revenues.

“There is so much to be done, but we are up to the task,” she said.

Downey takes aim at problems with criminal justice system

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey took to social media Wednesday to express his concerns with the state’s criminal justice system.

To make his case for what he says are systemwide problems that need to be addressed, Downey used the arrests this week of two men with whom local law enforcement have had frequent contact.

His plea — which came via YouTube in a video titled “Sheriff Downey Addresses Criminal Justice System’s Revolving Door Theory” — came the same day that his office posts its weekly Warrant Wednesday on Facebook. It’s a tool the sheriff’s department created to increase public awareness of defendants who have skipped court dates for felony cases.

In his video, Downey took two Kankakee County residents to task, using them as examples of what’s wrong with the current criminal justice system and opining of how impending reform will worsen the problem.

First up was Josh R. Morales, 28, Bourbonnais, who was apprehended Monday by Manteno police on four arrest warrants for missing court dates.

Since 2010, Downey said in the video, Morales has been booked into the Jerome Combs Detention Center 19 times. He continued, saying Morales’ name has been mentioned in 64 different criminal reports from 10 police agencies in Kankakee County. He also said that Morales has “his fair share” of issues in Iroquois County as well.

Downey went on to say there have 24 incidents recorded where Morales has “misbehaved or caused some sort of issue in jail.”

Up next was Michael J. Piccini, 36, Kankakee, who was arrested Monday by Kankakee police who said he attempted to steal items from the Walgreens on North Kennedy Drive. In the video, Downey said Piccini’s Monday arrest wasn’t “his first rodeo.”

Piccini has been booked into the county jail 36 times since 2002 and his name appears in 86 criminal case reports, Downey said. He has 26 incidents and rule violations in jail, Downey said, adding that Piccini is “banned from nearly every retail establishment in Kankakee County.”

This “revolving door,” as Downey calls it, is left open by recent legislation.

“Due to recent legislation in the State of Illinois, things have become that much more difficult, not only in the apprehension and arrest of these individuals, but more importantly, through the prosecution and, ultimately, limited length of incarceration before they’re reintroduced into our neighborhoods to continue their criminal trends,” Downey said in a prepared statement.

He said they wished the criminal justice system worked at rehabilitating such individuals.

“We honestly feel terrible for so many families that have been negatively impacted by drug addictions and wish there were more resources available to turn to,” Downey said. “However, my job as your county sheriff is to enforce the law and to hold those accountable when they make a personal decision to break it, whether it be to support their drug habit or not.”

And, Downey argued, the continual re-arresting of individuals is expensive for taxpayers. Case in point, he said, Morales barricaded himself in a home in Oak Creek Estates Mobile Home Park in Bourbonnais Township in June as police from several agencies were attempting to serve a search warrant.

The eight-hour standoff ended when officers used a military vehicle to knock down a wall of the home and took Morales into custody without incident, Downey said.

Downey went on to explain why Morales was not kept incarcerated on the charges in that incident.

“So many people comment on our social media that we should have ‘kept him the first few times we had him,’ for instance,” Downey said. “Well, I think it’s important to realize that we have very little to do with what transpires post-arrest.

“We don’t determine his charges, although we recommend them. We don’t set his bond amount. We don’t determine his ultimate sentence. While we’re certainly not here to transition the blame from us to the courts, we think it’s important to highlight the fact that it’s simply not working. Morales is a perfect example of a revolving door.”

Downey came to his final point: The system isn’t working and plans in place to fix it are not the answer.

Those plans include the Safe-T Act that was passed in January during the lame-duck session of the 101st General Assembly.

A major criminal justice reform backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, portions of the bill go into effect on July 1 while others will be phased in through 2025.

Downey has been a vocal critic of the law.

“Passing laws that give criminals increased ability to not face consequences for their illegal acts is not solving problems but adding more victims and caseloads to our overburdened court systems,” Downey said.

Less people to drive over Thanksgiving

Most people will spend Thanksgiving at home rather than driving to see family, according to a recent survey by GasBuddy.

A fuel savings online platform, GasBuddy surveyed 1,471 responses from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1 and found that 51 percent fewer people will travel this Thanksgiving compared to the pre-COVID numbers of 2019. Only 32 percent of Americans plan to drive for Thanksgiving this year, a decline from 35 percent from last year.

The national average price of gasoline is projected to dip to $3.35 per gallon on Thanksgiving Day, according to GasBuddy, but that price is still among the highest price in more than seven years. There remains a remote chance that should oil suddenly surge, gas prices could quickly follow and potentially beat 2012’s record for most expensive national average price of $3.44 per gallon.

“Similarly to last year, motorists are contending with a rise in COVID cases ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday when many drive to celebrate with friends and family,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, in a news release. “Only this year, we’re also just cents away from the highest Thanksgiving gas prices ever recorded.

“With global oil demand surging this year as the pandemic has eased, we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory — some of the highest Thanksgiving gas prices on record. Americans are responding to the prices by slamming the car door shut and staying off the road.”

The survey also found that 75 percent of respondents said that the COVID-19 pandemic had no impact on their Thanksgiving driving plans, which is up from 45 percent last year. The average national price of a gallon of gas in 2020 was $2.11 per gallon, and in 2019 it was $2.60 per gallon.

In addition, 50 percent of Americans said they are driving less overall this year in their responses. When asked what it would take for them to drive more, an overwhelming 78 percent said it would be lower gas prices, according to the news release.