BOURBONNAIS -- Gov. George H. Ryan today welcomed the Chicago Bears to their first day of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. The Bears moved to Olivet Nazarene after spending the past 18 years training for the season in Platteville, Wisconsin.
"Today we begin a new era for the Bears," Governor Ryan said. "The Monsters of the Midway become the Monsters of Bourbonnais. By being here, the Bears summer camp is close to tens of thousands of their longtime fans. More importantly, the Bears are no longer training in Packer country!"
The training camp move coincides with the Bears regular season games moving to a temporary home at the University of Illinois in Champaign while the new Soldier Field is constructed.
The Bears summer training camp will provide an economic development and tourism boost to Bourbonnais and the entire Kankakee County area. Almost immediately, there will be a $2 million annual economic benefit for the surrounding community, with an estimated 5,000 people expected to visit training camp every day.
To assist the community in providing road access for the anticipated tourists and local residents, Governor Ryan today announced $2.7 million in Illinois FIRST funds for improvements to Armour Road, the main thoroughfare leading into Olivet Nazarene and the Bears' training camp.
"Because of the economic development potential, the Bourbonnais Bears Training Camp is providing the community with an opportunity to further local economic development and rebuild its infrastructure with Illinois FIRST," Governor Ryan said. "We are taking on some needed road projects in the area. When completed Armour Road will better serve the tourists coming here, not to mention the players, coaches and local residents."
The funds will be used to widen and resurface Armour Road from US 45/52 to IL 50. The project will result in a 5-lane road with a bi-directional turn lane, new curb and gutter work, storm sewer and modern traffic signals. Phase I Engineering will begin in FY2003 and is anticipated to take 18 months. With $728,017 in Illinois FIRST funds, bridge improvements and resurfacing of Armour Road over the ICG Railroad near Mooney Drive has already been completed.
A $1 million Illinois FIRST grant assisted Olivet Nazarene in funding the upgrades necessary to provide a NFL-caliber facility. The funds were used to re-grade and re-sod four practice fields with underground sprinkling; add new NFL goal posts and a new lockerroom; make bleacher improvements for the Ward Field stadium; provide new equipment for the athletic training rooms, and refurbish the swimming pool.
The improvements help area youth. Local high schools that use the University facilities for various sports tournaments as well as sports camps held by the University throughout the year will benefit from the improved facilities.
"This is a major opportunity for Olivet Nazarene University," Governor Ryan said. "It has been one of the best kept secrets in higher education. We have always been very proud of the tradition of excellence of this university and of the very accomplished student body.
"We are delighted that the road to the Super Bowl starts with this training camp at Olivet Nazarene."