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.
The state doesn't have a say as to whether the Champaign Park District replaces the marquee on the Virginia Theatre.
A spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency says things will stay that way, as long as no state or federal permits or funding is involved in any potential work. But the agency is still recommending to the Park District Board that the current marquee stay in place, rather than replace it with a replica of the original from 1921. The Virginia Theater is on the National Register of Historic Places, and its current sign was on the nomination form when it was listed. Historic Agency spokesman Dave Blanchette says the building itself is significant, with or without the sign.
"However, our removing a historic feature from the building such as the marquee would impact its historic integrity in our opinion," said Blanchette. "It probably would not jeopardize its National Register of Historic Places listing, but nontheless, it's a historic feature of the building which we think needs to retained." Blanchette says the 1940's marquee adds to the historic character of the building. Champaign's historic preservation commission is opposed to changing it to a replica of what it once looked like. The city's park district board expects to take up the issue again June 9th.
In the controversy over a new marquee sign for the Virginia Theater, the Champaign Park board has learned that there's little difference in cost between rebuilding the current neon marquee and constructing a replica of the original marquee from the 1920s.
In fact, a company specializing in theater marquees told the park district that rebuilding the yellow, neon, triangular and badly deteriorated Virginia marquee could cost 140 to 160 thousand dollars. Meanwhile, bids for building a replica of the original, white, rectangular marquee range from 158 to 270-thousand dollars.
Park District Marketing Director Laura Auteberry says that at their May meeting, park commissioners want to see more detailed, color renderings of the original marquee replica, so they can better compare it next month with the current marquee that has attracted some vocal defenders.
"Because a lot of the comments we've received from the community is they like the neon, they like the color, that that really stands out when people are going by", says Auteberry. "So we're going to provide that in the way of a rendering, so it gives people a better vision --- between the two --- of which would look better on the building."
At a study session Wednesday , four of the five park commissioners said they personally prefer the original marquee from the 20s, but don't want to go against popular opinion if it truly favors the current marquee. Work on the marquee would be part of the renovation of the Virginia Theater lobby, scheduled for June through November.
The bid has been awarded, and the long-awaited transformation of one of the University of Illinois' most-used buildings should be underway by the end of the month.
On Tuesday the state awarded the largest bid for the $66 million project to a Peoria contractor. That clears the way for work to begin on Lincoln Hall, which has been empty for more than a year because of deteriorating conditions.
Joe Vitosky is with the U of I's Office of Capital Programs and Real Estate Services. He says when Lincoln Hall is finished in the summer of 2012, it will be a completely upgraded facility.
"Classrooms on the first and second floors, with offices on the third and fourth floors," Vitosky said, listing the changes. "The closed backstage area of the theatre will be converted to a new classroom. We'll have office space on all four floors, we'll replace the floor, ceiling and wall finishes, abate asbestos materials, and we'll be purchasing movable equipment."
But Vitosky says the theater and lecture hall which hosted thousands of U of I students over its 100-year history will still be there.
The U of I unsuccessfully tried to get the classroom facility updated for more than a decade until state lawmakers funded it last year as part of a capital construction program. Vitosky says despite remaining questions over how the state will fund the capital bill, the money is in hand.
Spending cuts and a new working cash bond issue are the recommendation from the Champaign School District's finance director as a way to get the district through the new couple of years.
Gene Logas told school board members Monday night that he thinks the district should cut two million dollars from next year's budget, while issuing 2 million in working cash bonds. Another 2 million dollars would be cut from the budget the following year. Logas says the changes are needed to counter a decrease in state aid, a declining district fund balance and falling tax revenue due to tax caps and slow growth in the Consumer Price Index.
"I looked at the possibility of making no cuts at all", says Logas. "Making no cuts at all, though, sets us up with that five-million dollar deficit for next year, and puts us in a very precarious position. I just don't think we can do that."
Logas says even with a cut in spending, Unit four's fund balance will be lowered --- but will remain at an acceptable level.
But while the Unit Four school board considered possible budget cuts, it also considered new spending, thanks to the new school construction sales tax. Architects presented initial plans for the district's new magnet schools ---- a new Booker T. Washington school and an expanded Garden Hills school.
Preliminary designs for the new Booker T Washington School calls its classrooms "learning studios" with easy access to common areas, renamed "piazzas". Meanwhile, an expanded Garden Hills school building would include large spaces for art and music studies, and a stage that could be directed to both indoor and outdoor audiences.
School board members were impressed by the designs, although some wondered if all the ideas would be practical. Board member Susan Grey said that when they take a vote November 9th, board members will keep affordability in mind.
"The architects are going to throw all this cool stuff at us, and we're going to go, 'wow, that's great!' ", says Grey. "Then, when you actually start putting dollar figures to these things, there's things that may change along the way, because we have that stewardship, that responsibility, to our taxpayers, to use those dollars in the best possible way."
Champaign County's new school facility sales tax will pay for the new school buildings. A vote on the school designs is expected November 9th. Work on next year's budget will continue through the winter.
Urbana's economic development manager says two hotel operating groups are interested in the Historic Lincoln Hotel.
Tom Carrino didn't name the two companies during Monday night's Urbana City Council meeting. But he says both are interested in possibly bringing a major hotel brand to the facility --- while preserving the building's architectural integrity.
The Historic Lincoln was designed by local architect Joseph W. Royer. It opened in 1924 and closed last March --- about the same time it was acquired by Marine Bank of Springfield in a foreclosure. Its previous owners had struggled to compete with newer hotels located closer to interstate highways. Carrino says the Historic Lincoln's location in downtown Urbana may be a plus to the two hotel groups now considering the property.
"That means that it's relatively close to the University of Illinois", says Carrino. "It's close to some major employers in downtown Urbana. The fact that it was involved in a foreclosure, the bank is motivated to sell the property. That means that a good hotel group could get the property at a relatively reasonable price.
Carrino says he expects both companies will prepare competing offers to Marine Bank for the Historic Lincoln in the coming weeks. He says both companies have discussed possible tax incentives with city officials --- those incentives would be possible due to the hotel's location in a Tax Increment Finance District and a city Enterprise Zone.
The first part of what will become a solar house will be delivered to the University of Illinois' Urbana campus today.
Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Patrick Chapman says students have so far designed the 'shell' of the Gable Home. That was put together by a builder in Goodfield, and is now coming to campus for students in engineering and architecture to finish details like painting, cabinets, heating and air conditioning, as well as special equipment like the solar array. Chapman says the house was designed specifically for Central Illinois. "This particular house has what's called super insulated walls, very specially designed windows, and so forth," says Chapman. "So you get free heating in the winter and free cooling in the summer, in effect. And according to my calculations, it only would take $75 worth of electricity to heat and cool the house for the entire year."
The passive house was also designed with the region in mind - reclaiming wood from dilapidated barns. It will be moving again this fall. The students will be taking the Gable Home to the 2009 Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC in October. There, the house will be judged in 10 different areas of competition, including energy balance, comfort, lighting, and architecture. The U of I will be competing against 19 other schools. But the resting place for the Gable Home for the next few months will be south of the ACES library on South Goodwin Avenue in Urbana.
There are new signs that the University of Illinois' Lincoln Hall is going to get its long-awaited renovation soon.
Last fall the university decided to transfer all courses to other lecture halls. Now the process of moving offices out of the aging Lincoln Hall has begun, first with the political science department.
Matthew Tomaszewski is an assistant dean with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, whose offices are also being moved out. He says now is the best time to vacate Lincoln Hall in case Governor Pat Quinn signs the capital bill on his desk - the bill that includes the bulk of the 57 million dollar project.
"This is our opportunity to vacate the building, said Tomaszewski. "If we don't vacate now and the money comes through, we're stuck because we can't move in the fall -- the students are back on campus, visiting offices; the faculty are engaged."
Tomaszewski says even though the capital bill hasn't been signed yet, the U of I will start removing asbestos from Lincoln Hall over the summer - it had committed to do so before the three-year renovation begins.
An Urbana city official says the owner of the Historic Lincoln Hotel and the bank that foreclosed on the property are still in negotiations.
Economic Development Manager Tom Carrino says Marine Bank and Global Hotel Management are still talking, with hopes of transferring the bank's ownership back to the company.
Carrino says he spoke with both sides on Friday, a day after a company subsidiary that owned the hotel filed for Chapter Seven bankruptcy. The filing automatically canceled a sheriff's foreclosure sale that had been scheduled for Friday.
The Historic Lincoln Hotel closed last month, after Marine Bank foreclosed on the property. Despite that, Global Hotel Management announced plans to renovate the building and open it with a new operator next year. The hotel in downtown Urbana was designed by local architect Joseph Royer and first opened in the 1920s.
The Champaign City Council hopes to vote again next week on an agreement on what to do with Burnham 310 project. The high-rise and condo project is behind schedule, and council members are divided on whether to let other builders submit bids to complete it.
The Pickus Companies has missed construction deadlines and had trouble paying bills on the Burnham 310 building. Only 6 of its 18 floors are cleared for occupancy. And work hasn't even begun on condos and townhomes just west of the high-rise. Company principal Jeff Pickus says the upper floors will get a permit for occupancy this week, and other fixes are underway. But Councilman Tom Bruno says the city should open up the rest of the project to other bidders. "I don't think we have a valid agreement with Pickus, said Bruno. "I think they've breached the contract with the city".
But Mayor Jerry Schweighart says Pickus made a strong proposal for the Burnham site when other developers let the city down, and he wants to stand by them. "I think PIckus stuck with us," the mayor said. "That project, as far as I'm concerned, is going great on the 310. Give them a chance to show us what they can do on the rest of the project.
City council members deadlocked Tuesday night on proposals to amend the Burnham project schedule --- one with Pickus only , the other allowing bids from other builders. Councilwoman Gina Jackson was absent, so under council rules, the vote will be re-taken the next time the council meets with full attendance.
Meanwhile, council members endorsed letting Niemann Foods, owner of the County Market supermarket at the Burnham 310 site, buy the store property, as well as a lot across the street it uses for parking. The County Market will be allowed to expand its parking at the site --- crowding out a condominium that was part of the Burnham project. Those units could move to another site just west of the Burnham 310 building. But Jeff Pickus said he hoped the city would allow a revised project at the site with fewer units.
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