Illinois Public Media News
Champaign's Virginia Theatre is nearing the end of renovations to its lobby and exterior, and will open again to audiences.
However, the nearly 90-year-old facility will be closing again in the next couple of years for handicapped accessible seating, plaster work inside the theater, and electric work. The $500,000 grant was part of the Illinois Jobs Now capital program.
Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said an exact closure date will be within two years of when the grant is initiated. So it could be as soon as next summer, but she said the key is to avoid conflicting with Roger Ebert's Annual Film Festival in April. The work is expected to take at least six months.
The Park District got half of what it requested for the state grant, so Auteberry said the ADA compliance and other work will have to be pared down.
"So we're going to take a look at what we submitted, which initially included replacement of the current seating and replacement of all the plaster work inside the entire house," Auteberry said. "But it also included some acoustical infrastucture improvements upgrades, and electrical and lighting work on stage."
The next performance this year is the annual Chorale concert on New Year's Eve. Auteberry says the public will notice changes right away, including new carpeting, exterior and interior doors, and plaster work.
The Park District staff is also working with a sign company to take down the old theater marquee, and design for the new one to be put up in the next few weeks. The current work on the Virginia was paid for with a bequest from the estate of the late Michael Carragher, and other private funds.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign Park District)
A central Illinois cheese-maker is voluntarily recalling some of its cheese products, because they may contain antibiotics.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says the products from Ropp Jersey Cheese in Normal were not properly tested, and could pose a danger for people who are allergic to antibiotics. But so far, Public Health officials say they haven't received any reports of adverse reactions.
The recall involves Ropp Jersey cheese products with various sell-by dates ranging from April through September of 2011:
* 4/17/11 through 4/19/11
* 6/8/11 through 6/11/11
* 6/17/11 through 6/27/11
* 7/4/11 through 7/10/11
* 7/16/11 through 7/28/11
* 8/4/11 through 8/7/11
* 8/14/11 through 8/28/11
* 9/5/11 through 9/10/11
The cheese products were sold at stores and wineries throughout in Illinois, including Schnucks and Friar Tucks. Public Health officials say the products can be returned to the place of purchase for replacement.
Archer Daniels Midland's plan to buy a downtown building is one in a series of moves to spur economic growth in the area, according to a Decatur city official.
The agricultural processor has entered into an agreement with Reynolds Development to purchase the building adjacent to ADM's Global Technology Center on North Water Street. Moving 350 employees there from other parts of the city will boost the company's downtown workforce to about 700 people, about 17-percent of ADM's local workforce. The company will decide which employees move to the Reynolds building by the end of the year.
Decatur Assistant City Manager Billy Tyus said ADM's agreement is moving forward as soon as possible, and helping to complete a longtime vision.
"These are folks who will shop in downtown stores, who will eat in downtown restaurants, and will hopefully visit downtown entertainment venues," Tyus said. "We think it's just one more step in our producing a downtown that will be a 24-hour living environment, which is what we've been working towards for some time now."
The new ADM facility will still house a Regions Bank branch currently in the building. Meanwhile, Reynolds Development is planning another downtown development for luring in restaurants, office, and retail development. That facility will also house an insurance company that Reynolds operates. To add to the development, the city of Decatur has been negotiating with the state to take over jurisdiction of US Route 51, and move it out of the downtown area. Tyus said that will allow for the re-routing of truck traffic.
On Thursday night, Decatur's city council will be asked to approve an agreement with ADM to allow downtown additional parking for employees that will be moving into that area.
Customers in two of the three zip codes covered by the Champaign Post Office may not notice when their service switches to a different postal station this weekend.
On Saturday, delivery to the 61821 zip code serving the west side of Champaign will move from the main station on Mattis Avenue to the Neil Street station downtown. Delivery of mail to the 61622 zip code in the rural outskirts of Champaign will change from the Neil Street station to Mattis Avenue.
Jason Stalter of the Champaign Post Office said the only difference postal customers should see is when they have to go to a post office about their mail.
The Neil Street post office will continue to handle mail to the 61820 zip code --- Champaign's busiest. Post Office box service and the Campustown postal station will not be affected by the switch.
The city of Decatur will lose about 80 jobs at one of its biggest employers, but a city official said it is better than losing the entire facility.
Reports of Tate and Lyle looking for a new headquarters site near Chicago stirred worries that the firm with deep roots in Decatur was going to relocate its U.S. headquarters, but on Tuesday the British-based food ingredients processor announced plans to build a "Commercial and Food Innovation Center" in Hoffman Estates. The new operation will house the majority of research and development now being done in Decatur. About 160 positions will be based in the new Center, but the firm said only about 80 will be relocated from Decatur.
"We're excited about this investment that we're making, and it's really helping to transform the company into the world leading specialty food and ingredients business," said company spokesman Chris Olsen.
The company, which makes products such as high fructose corn syrup, will keep its American headquarters and leadership team in place - and for that, Decatur city manager Ryan McCrady credited the persuasive powers of area leaders.
"At the end of the day we don't exactly know why they make their decisions," McCrady said. "Obviously Decatur is a much lower-cost alternative as far as operating when you compare it to Chicago. Low water and sewer rates and our inexpensive housing for their employees we feel are all a factor."
Tate and Lyle will get a $15 million package of incentives from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for the new Chicago-area facility, but McCrady said the state has to walk a fine line between helping one location and helping the entire state retain jobs.
With about 500 jobs remaining in Decatur, Olson said the company will continue to be a significant part of the community.
A Champaign manufacturer of semiconductors for solar energy has received a more than $2 million grant.
Federal stimulus money will boost production capacity at EpiWorks, and cut down its fossil fuel consumption. The funds will also let the facility add about 30 jobs. Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Warren Ribley was at the plant Tuesday to announce the $2.5 million Green Business Development Grant. Ribley said manufacturing through green energy has been a priority for some time. He said more than $6 million set aside for East Central Illinois is primarily aimed at renewable sources, and developing companies that support them.
"We have to have a broad energy portfolio that depends on wind, solar, clean coal technology, and energy efficiency," said Ribley. "All of those things combined help reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum."
Joining Ribley Tuesday were a number of area city and school officials who have received stimulus funds to help their facilities become more energy efficient. Recipients include the cities of Tuscola and Arcola - each for building wind turbines. The Prairieview-Ogden school district is also installing a wind turbine, and Champaign's Bottenfield, Westview, and Robeson Elementary schools are getting new boilers and ventilators. Four of the grants are more than $400,000. The Arcola grant was just over $60-thousand.
During Ribley's visit to Champaign Tuesday, he also said the former Meadowbrook Farms site in Rantoul could one day soon resemble its old self. Earlier this week, Trim-Rite announced it was leasing and reopening the 2,000 acre site that closed earlier this year, and hiring 100 people when it starts operations next spring. Ribley said the newness of Trim-Rite's facilities, its size, and the state of the industry should mean more jobs soon after its spring 2011 opening.
"We are seeing a lot of interest in the food processing area, particularly in animal processing," he said. "That tells us that demand is growing, not only domestically, but internationally. So we think it's just the beginning. Illinois is a terrific workforce, it's a terrific location to move its product anywhere in the world."
Ribley added that several companies looked at the former Meadowbrook site before Trim-Rite committed to it. The company's president pledges the facility will use state-of-the-art equipment and be "the most modern hog processing facility'' in the country.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
A new operator is now formally in place for a pork processing plant that shut its doors more than a year ago.
Trim Rite Food Corporation is based in the Chicago suburbs -- produces hams, pork loins and other cuts for stores and restaurants. It's agreed to lease, retool and reopen the former Meadowbrook Farms plant west of Rantoul for 5.6 million dollars.
The state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity says Trim Rite plans to hire about 100 people for the plant later this fall -- the state agency has chipped in $767,000 in tax credits based on job creation and training.
Meadowbrook Farms was a farmer-owned cooperative that ran into financial difficulty soon after it opened the pork processing plant in 2004.
Federal officials have taken one more step toward making the re-worked FutureGen clean-coal project a reality.
The Department of Energy signed an agreement with Ameren Energy Resources to start design work to retrofit a power plant near Meredosia. Under FutureGen 2.0, carbon dioxide produced from that plant would be piped to a site where it would be stored underground. Mattoon bowed out of the project this summer, leaving the site of that storage facility in question.
Also in question is how much the project could cost Ameren and its customers. Utility spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said Ameren will have to ask state lawmakers for some sort of cost-recovery plan. Gallagher said it was too early to elaborate, saying, "We do have a lot of analysis, review, cost estimates, analyzing commercial viability before we go forward."
Gallagher said the first two phases of the project will have to be completed before any construction work begins and an exact dollar estimate would be in place.
On Tuesday the Energy Department formally committed $1 billion to FutureGen.
The Mayor of Decatur said he has received his share of questions from residents about bringing FutureGen's carbon emissions storage facility to the city.
Mike McElroy said once the Department of Energy canceled the original plan for a power plant in Mattoon and that city rejected the revamped plan, he placed a call to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin's office expressing interest in the so-called clean coal project.
McElroy said he expects to receive more details soon about FutureGen 2.0. He said any answers not given by the energy department could be provided by one of the city's major employers - noting Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is developing a carbon capture facility.
"Once the Department of Energy sends its stuff, we can give them the answers," said McElroy. "I feel very secure of the fact that we can call out to ADM and talk to the people that are running that.and they will give us the answers that we're looking for."
McElroy says he does not know where the FutureGen facility could be located in his city.
Meanwhile, a small southeastern Illinois community that was in the running for the original FutureGen power plant is doing what it can to recruit the carbon dioxide storage facility. Marshall Mayor Ken Smith said he has let his interests about the project known with Senator Durbin's office and the Department of Energy.
Marshall housed the chemical plant, Velsicol, for more than 40 years in a 400 acre site, and Smith said the city has the deep wells that would accommodate the carbon emissions site the DOE now wants to build as part of FutureGen 2.0. If Marshall can lure in FutureGen's storage facility, Smith said the facilities could stimulate more jobs in the community.
"It might also spark some interest of a power plant here in the future if they know they can already sequester here," said Smith. "The property owner that has this land also owns about 8,000 acres in Clark County, and he's also in the power plant business, he owns Indeck Energy. So he's very receptive to it being here if it works out."
Marshall is also the county seat in Clark County, where Smith noted the unemployment rate exceeds 12-percent. He says the DOE should be sending his community a packet on facility requirements soon. One of about 25 cities is looking to store carbon dioxide emissions after being piped from a retrofitted power plant in the Western Illinois city of Meredosia.
Companies that have worked with the U.S. Department of Energy in its bid to build an experimental coal power plant and store its carbon dioxide have decided to stick with the project, but the consortium said that a series of terms and conditions will have to be met this fall.
The Alliance wants to build and operate a pipeline that would be part of recent Energy Department changes, and they want to run the site where carbon dioxide would be stored underground. Alliance Board Chairman Steve Winberg said in a press release that the group is pleased that the federal government and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) have been able to preserve the $1 billion in funding for advancing clean coal technologies and associated jobs.
"We look forward to working with them and our new partners in making FutureGen 2.0 a success," said Winberg. The original FutureGen was to include a power plant near Mattoon, but the Department of Energy replaced the idea with plans for a new plant there for storing emissions. The new so-called clean coal project will now involve a retrofitted power plant in Western Illinois. Mattoon withdrew from the project after the change.
Meanwhile, the economic official who led Mattoon's effort to lure and develop the original FutureGen project calls the Alliance a group of great partners with high integrity. Coles Together President Angela Griffin says she wishes the companies all the best as they plan FutureGen 2.0. She says the Alliance is investing in the project for the right reasons - bringing a billion-dollar project to Illinois. But Griffin says it's unclear what exactly the Department of Energy will be seeking in a new community to house a carbon storage facility. She cites a press release put out by the DOE last week for interested communities.
"There were no site parameters or project parameters that the communities could then look at that would then say whether or not they were eligible," said Griffin. "Now, largely in that press release it talked about 10 square miles of subsurface, and I think 100 miles from the Meredosia plant. But other than that, I don't know that communites have received any direction about what they need to have in terms of site features in order to apply."
Griffin says she spoke with the mayor of Marshall, who expressed interest in luring the new FutureGen facility. And she says the mayor of Taylorville had also shown interest. But Griffin says she hasn't endorsed any community to host the new carbon storage facility. Griffin says her group may cross paths again with the FutureGen Alliance, as economic officials in Mattoon pursue development of technologies at the city's site that address greenhouse gas emissions. And Alliance Chairman Steve Winberg says the site in Mattoon is 'excellent' for future commercial development.
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