- Associated Press - Thursday, August 6, 2015

SPARTA, Ill. (AP) - The state of Illinois plans at the end of this month to close a money-losing shooting complex that regularly draws thousands each summer for a pair of national competitions.

The World Shooting and Recreation Complex in southern Illinois will close soon after the Grand American World Trapshooting Championship, which began Wednesday and continues through next week. Whether that closing is temporary or permanent hinges on a state budget impasse that shows few signs of being resolved any time soon.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources says it costs $3 million each year to operate the site 50 miles southeast of St. Louis, including $400,000 in debt service.

The 10-year-old complex - built to house the national tournament that now may have to relocate - only brings in $1.1 million in annual revenue. A round of 171 state employee layoffs announced Wednesday includes nine workers at the shooting site.

Rauner said in June that the complex will “suspend operations” amid the ongoing budget crisis, suggesting that the closing could be rescinded. On Thursday, a Rauner spokeswoman acknowledged that the shutdown could be temporary if a budget deal is struck - while also placing blame for the budget crisis squarely on House Speaker Mike Madigan and his fellow Democrats.

“Illinois is in a fiscal crisis because Speaker Madigan and the legislators he controls recklessly overspent for years, which created a $4 billion deficit,” spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said. “The administration is taking a series of steps to responsibly manage the state’s finances until structural reforms and a balanced budget are passed.”

State Rep. Jerry Costello II, a Smithton Democrat whose district includes the shooting complex, said he invited Rauner to attend Monday’s opening ceremony for an event that organizers liken to the Super Bowl of trap shooting, with 4,000 participants from across the country as well as Brazil, Canada, England and New Zealand, plus their families.

“I think we’re making headway with the administration,” he said. “It’s very encouraging.”

Costello and other facility supporters argue that the shooting complex’s economic impact far outweighs its state subsidy, generating sorely needed tourism spending and sales tax revenue in a part of Illinois with few attractions for visitors.

They tout the untapped potential of a 1,600-acre location on a reclaimed strip mine as a rural getaway with a 1,000-site RV campground, nearly 150 shooting fields, two man-made fishing lakes and an event center that hosts weddings and conferences.

Kim Taylor of Monroe, Michigan, said she spent $2,500 to bring her two sons and several friends to Sparta for a youth championship event earlier this week, a trip the family has made for the past six years.

“We’ve never gone anywhere else,” she said. “And we spend lots of money.”

The trapshooting association is under contract with the state to hold its championship in Sparta through 2026. Signs throughout the complex’s event center reminded participants to “mark their calendars” for the 2016 event - a strong indication that organizers expect the complex to remain open, or at least not stay closed for good.

“We’re optimistic-no, we’re sure we’ll be here next year,” said Lynn Gipson, the trapshooting group’s executive director.


Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at https://twitter.com/azagier

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