Illinois Public Media News
One of those responsible for changing the marquee on Champaign's Virginia Theatre says it needs to be recognized as more than a place for showing movies. Champaign Park District Board member Barbara Kuhl favors replacing the sign to make the theatre look more like a vaudeville house, as it appeared in 1921. Board members voted 3-2 for replacing the marquee that's been there since the 40's. Kuhl also says the current one needed replacing anyway. "The current marquee will be taken down and destroyed. It cannot be refurbished," said Kuhl. "So the question was not 'will there be a new marquee?'... it was just 'what was the shape of the new marquee going to be."
Those favoring the change say a new sign would show off more of the upper-level façade and original architecture. Urban planner Alice Novak says there's no doubt the Virginia is a beautiful building, but argues the park district is changing the most defining feature. Kuhl says the public opposition to changing the sign was blown out of proportion. But Novak says there was an obvious public sentiment for retaining the marquee, and the park district board chose to ignore it. "So I think that's very disappointing," said Novak. "And I don't know what the long-lasting implications of that kind of bad policy will be."
Novak sits on Illinois' Historic Sites Advisory Council, which reviews nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. Park District Board members contend the new marquee won't change that eligibility. But Novak says once the old one comes down - she'll submit photos of the Virginia to the rest of her group to consider a change. Champaign Park District Board President Jane Solon says she initially would have preferred the Virginia's next marquee be a combination of refurbishing the existing one, with features from the original sign's 1921 design. But she says public opposition convinced her that the best marquee was the one currently in place. "You can't marry two periods together and create a new that's not the best thing to do," says Solon. "So from a historical perspective and from what citizens had said they preferred, I then became in favor of keeping the triangle marquee."
Both board members say they hope the marquee change will be done when other renovations to the theater are completed. The Virginia closes next week for upgrades to its entrances and lobby, and re-opens in November. A million dollar bequest from the estate of Michael Carragher is funding that work, while ticket sales and other private donations are paying for the new marquee.
Prosecutors say they'll ask that the wife of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich leave the courtroom at her husband's corruption trial when testimony about her comes up.
The often stone-faced Patti Blagojevich has sat in the courtroom since the trial began. She's arrived each day with her husband, often holding hands as they enter the Chicago courthouse.
But according to procedures established earlier, she's supposed to leave when certain testimony arises.
She's in the courtroom Thursday as the former governor's first chief of staff, Alonzo Monk, testifies for a second day.
Judge James Zagel says he'll rule on whether she'll have to step outside right before the testimony that involves her. A defense attorney for Blagojevich has said she'll testify in the trial.
The federal stimulus program was lucrative for the University of Illinois, but less so for government agencies in Champaign County.
A report from the county regional planning commission says more than $162 million in stimulus funding rolled into the county in 2009. But nearly $96 million of that was for the U of I, mainly for research projects according to commission planner Susan Chavarria. $16 million of the total was for infrastructure projects, mostly road construction and improvements.
Chavarria says it's hard to compare whether Champaign County got more or less than other areas of the state or nation. "Smaller communities and smaller counties, they usually don't have the resources to go through the application processes or to take the time to look for the funding sources," Chavarria said. "So in terms of our ability to do that, I think that we have perhaps received more than some of the other downstate counties. For the $546 million that we asked for, our expectations were we'll take what we can get, so I think we've received a fair amount of funding here."
Chavarria says even the U of I assistance indirectly benefits the community in the jobs it ensures for researchers and students. She says stimulus assistance to the county also came in the form of government contracts and business loans.
One Champaign city council member says she's hoping city staff will take some time to clarify a measure that seeks to speed up enforcement of standards for vacant buildings.
The plan is to remedy problems with empty commercial and residential properties without having to go through a drawn-out court process. Council member Marci Dodds says she backs the plan overall, but says the language lacked clarity as to how property owners get back into compliance after getting their building back up to standards. The city council and public discussed the measure for more than three hours in Tuesday night's study session. Dodds says neighborhood service staff should have written the ordinance to say buildings should meet fire safety codes, and not all property codes. "Do you have to bring your plumbing up to current code in a vacant building? Well, no you don't," said Dodds. "But you have to make sure that holes are patched in the wall, the roof's not going to fall in on firemen if they go in, people aren't going to fall through the floor, that kind of thing. Those are two very different standards. And I think that standard needs to be clear. I also think it needed to be clear what triggered going into a building."
Tom Bruno agrees there's a problem with irresponsible property owners and vacant structures, saying there may need to be more details in the proposal. But he says the neighborhood services department needs to be allowed to do its job. "We have inspectors in the field who are trained and comfortable and qualified at exercising some judgment," said Bruno. "And that a lot of the detailed minutia that people are seeking in this ordinance I don't necessarily needs to be there as long as our enforcement people are well-intentioned, well-trained, and well-able to exercise some discretion."
Property maintenance inspector Michael Lambert says the key is finding what triggers use of the ordinance. He says his staff will try to clarify some of its language, and have it back before the council soon.
Governor Pat Quinn's signature extends the power to borrow money to Illinois' community colleges.
Earlier this week legislation that the governor signed gave the same ability to state universities - nearly all public higher education institutions are awaiting backlogged payments from the state, and many of those schools say the delays have prompted them to cut budgets and scrape to make payroll.
In signing the borrowing authority bill in Danville Wednesday, Governor Quinn said the two-year schools now have another tool to work through the state's budget crisis. Republican Representative Bill Black admits that the new borrowing power is only a Band-Aid.
"I know some of you in the media looked at the three bills and said 'this doesn't solve all the problems' -- no it doesn't, and I don't think the governor will give any the indication that it does," Black said. "But they're all small steps that we can take, and when the state gets back on its feet - and it will -- I think the bills he's signing today will help."
Two other bills the Governor signed Wednesday allow more frequent state payments to community colleges and let the state Community College Board limit some travel reimbursements. Colleges would still have to get the approval of their trustees to issue more bonds.
The judge in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has seated a jury.
Judge James B. Zagel named 18 jurors -- a panel of 12 and six alternates. The judge postponed an immediate decision on a request by Blagojevich's attorneys to dismiss fraud and racketeering charges against him. The former governor has pleaded not guilty to profiting from his power by trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Opening statements are now expected to begin.
The ex-governor appeared upbeat earlier as he made his way through the courthouse security and addressed reporters in the lobby.
Interest in the trial was high. The main courtroom in downtown Chicago and another overflow courtroom with audio feeds from the trial were filled to capacity.
An ordinance banning outdoor storage of indoor furniture was approved by the Urbana City Council's Committee of the Whole.
The ordinance follows a recent Urbana house fire that left 25 year old Ashley Ames severely burned. The fire started on a front porch couch. Fire Chief Michael Dilley says the ordinance is geared to limit overstuffed furniture such as couches, chairs and mattresses because its a large ignition source.
Dilley says outdoor furniture fires are not an isolated incident in Urbana in past years, and the regulation is not a restriction of one's freedom of choosing a lifestyle.
"We regulate lifestyle every day," Dilley said. "We have codes and ordinances that help people be safe, and this is just another one that over a period of years we've found that it's a problem. We don't just go out and pull something out of thin air. When we start having issues when people die, then we look at them."
Aldermen Dennis Roberts was the only vote in dissent. Roberts says people used to say quote "your home is your castle."
"It's possible, yes, that a fire could start on a porch because of a couch," Roberts told the council. "But does that mean no one should ever have a couch on the porch? I don't think so. I think we have to use common sense, and I think it's a shame that we're trying tro regulate people's styles of living outdoors."
The Urbana City Council will vote on the Ordinance next Monday.
In addition, Mayor Laurel Prussing says that June 8th 2010 has been proclaimed Al Johnston Day in Urbana. The veteran Urbana Police Officer recently retired.
Gov. Pat Quinn has declared four Illinois counties disaster areas after tornadoes tore through parts of the state.
Quinn on Monday declared LaSalle, Livingston, Peoria and Putnam counties disaster areas. Quinn said during a visit to Dwight in Livingston County the declaration would help ensure the flow of state assistance to areas hit by tornadoes. The governor says he expects communities like Dwight and Streator to get federal help as well.
"We want to give everything we can from the state, but under these circumstances there are moneys available from the federal government for disaster assistants." said Quinn. "And I think very shortly we'll be filing for that." The National Weather Service says at least 15 tornadoes touched down across central and northern portions of the state Saturday night. The strongest was a tornado with 140 mph winds that touched down near Dwight before tearing through the town about 60 miles northeast of Bloomington. 14 people were hurt in the town, including one with serious injuries, and about 50 suffered minor injuries in nearby Streator. Dozens were injured and a number of homes and businesses were damaged.
Officials investigating an outbreak of salmonella illness linked with Subway restaurants now report 48 cases in 18 Illinois counties, including Champaign, Macon, and Coles Counties. The Illinois Department of Public Health says everyone who got sick is recovering. Seventeen people were hospitalized. The department urges people who got sick after eating at Subway restaurants on or after May 10 to contact their health care provider or local health department. Last week, officials said illness had struck 34 people and involved restaurants in 14 counties.
Local officials in Livingston County say they expect to request both state and federal disaster assistance after tornadoes there destroyed dozens of homes and injured more than 60 people this weekend.
The twisters that hit the towns of Dwight and Streator Saturday night are among seven being assessed by the National Weather Service. Dwight Village Administrator Kevin McNamara says one of the 14 was seriously injured, and all injuries occurred in a mobile home park, where more than 30 homes were destroyed. He says at least 50 other homes outside the park received moderate to serious damage, and Dwight High School lost part of its roof. For the area impacted, McNamara says a curfew that started Sunday morning remains in effect through 10 this morning. "Com Ed is still doing assessments, checking for power lines," said McNamara. "Nicor is checking for gas leaks. You know, when it's dark and there are no street lights, we just don't want anybody to be injured." More than 800 were still without power in Dwight late Sunday. Governor Pat Quinn is expected to assess the damage there Monday afternoon.
In Streator, Mayor Jim Lansford says about 50 people were treated at area hospitals for minor injuries. He says about 30 homes had major damage, and about 18-hundred residents were without power late yesterday. A perimeter around the area hit hardest in Streator was blocked off as Com Ed was assessing its safety. "The main thing is that nobody lost their life," said Lansford. "And it's unfortunate.. the property damage and some other injuries, but nobody did lose their life. And the support from all the agencies as well as the community itself has been outstanding."
The National Weather Service says storms also damaged or destroyed homes and buildings in LaSalle County (which includes part of Streator), as well as Kankakee, Peoria and Putnam counties. Meteorologist Gino Izzi says most of the tornadoes were EF2's, but there were a couple of EF3's, with wind speeds of around 140 miles an hour. He says the pattern of storms is similar to what the area experienced two years ago today, when a 'super cell' of storms stretching from Livingston County to Chicago's south suburbs produced five or more tornadoes.
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