Illinois Public Media News
Champaign officials broke ground Wednesday on a new YMCA center in southwest Champaign.
Construction is set to begin on the $16-million facility in the next couple of weeks. The Y will include an eight lane pool, a child play center, and a gymnasium with an in-door track. Mark Johnson, a former University of Illinois wrestling coach who is now the Y's chief executive officer in Champaign County, said the center will be an excellent addition to the community.
"This is going to be a place that the rest of us can use on a daily basis," Johnson said. "We have problems with childhood obesity. We have problems with diabetics. We have problems with senior citizens. We have a problem with disabilities. This is going to be a welcoming place to everybody."
Talk about the project has been going on for about a decade, and up until a couple of years ago it never really took shape because of a lack of funding. However, that changed after Horizon Hobby Chairman Rick Stephens pledged $5 million to the $16-million project. Stephens said his contribution encouraged other people to step up and start donating.
"The reason we did this was for the community," Stephens said. "There was such a need for a new Y in this community. It's been a dream for a lot of people for a long time."
The project has raised about $12 million. Johnson said he is confident that it will be able to raise an additional $4 million by the time the project completed in early 2012. The new facility will replace the current McKinley Family Center and the Fitness & Family Center in Champaign.
The 75,000-square foot center will be located at 2501 Fields South Drive, which is just west of I-57. It will replace two current Champaign fitness center: McKinley Family Center at 500 W. Church St. and Fitness & Family Center at 707 N. Country Fair Drive.
(Design courtesy of the Champaign County YMCA)
Illinois has nine casinos, and another is being built.
If a plan percolating in the General Assembly has success, Illinois' total count would jump to fifteen. There would be a city-owned one in Chicago, and others in suburban Ford Heights, a town near Waukegan, in Rockford, and in east-central Illinois' Danville. Scott Eisenhauer, the mayor of Danville, said the new casino would create about a thousand new, permanent jobs in the area.
"The other thing that is does for a community like ours is it brings tourism dollars to the community," Eisenhauer said. "We have some, but limited tourism attraction opportunities today. This boat would bring additional tourism opportunities, convention opportunities to our community. That again increases the amount of revenue our community could receive."
The measure's sponsor, State Senator Terry Link (D-Waukegan), estimated that adding the new casinos would generate an extra billion dollars for the state's coffers.
Another change would let horse tracks have slot machines. Anti-gambling activists warn of the social dangers associated with the legislation. They say adding casinos in Illinois would cost the state, which will have to pay more to help gambling addicts. Meanwhile, current casino managers say the expansion will lead to over saturation, and may shut their operations down. Link said they are just fearful of competition.
"Go to Las Vegas," Link said. "They just built what two or three new huge endeavors out there, and I didn't see any of the old ones close down. I didn't see 'for sale" signs put up on it. Did they take a little bit of a hurt there, yeah. But like I said, they're still making profit."
Details are still being finalized, but Link said the main tenants of the gambling expansion plan are solid. He added that he expects to call the legislation up for a committee vote Wednesday. However, despite Link's hopes of advancing the measure, Governor Pat Quinn has signaled his opposition.
Following Verizon Wireless' announcement in October that it would refund customers $53 million in unnecessary charges, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) has come out with a report assessing Illinois' wireless industry.
The study found that cell phone users could save around $360 a year by identifying billing errors, cutting down on the number of available minutes, and not paying extra for cell phone insurance or roadside assistance.
Bryan McDaniel, a senior policy analyst with CUB, said high wireless rates are costing Champaign residents more than $13 million a year. Across the state he said it is much higher at just under a billion dollars. McDaniel said trimming cell phone bills could help the state's sluggish economy, as businesses struggle to stay afloat.
"If we didn't give that $13 million to the cell phone companies, and instead to local businesses and mom and pop shops, that'd be a good thing for our economy," McDaniel said. "Unfortunately every month, we're throwing away money to these cell phone companies when we don't need to be."
According to the report, the wireless industry should start providing more flexible plans, so that people are not deadlocked into paying extra for features that they do not want.
"Allow people to have 150 minute plans," McDaniel said. "I can't tell you the number of seniors I've talked to who just want a simple 100 minute plan that they can't get anymore."
McDaniel added that consumers also have a responsibility to trim their cell phone rates. He explained that they can visit Cellphone Saver, a free online service that allows users to upload an online copy of their wireless bills - AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular. Within a few seconds, the website spits out an analysis showing consumers how to cut their costs. The study used the web service to track data from August 2009 though July 2010.
(Photo courtesy of Major Clanger/flickr)
Nonprofit groups in Central Illinois can start applying for low-interest loans of up to $15,000.
The loans are being distributed by the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, which received a $100,000 grant from the Marajen Stevick Foundation to run the program.
Joan Dixon, executive director of the Community Foundation, said the state's economic woes have had a ripple effect on many businesses, resulting in staff cuts and program reductions. Dixon said after reviewing more than 120 nonprofit groups, she found that the most pressing concern among struggling organizations was the state's five to six billion dollar backlog of unpaid bills. She said the loan is not meant to be a temporary solution.
"This would be a way - we hope - for a not-for-profit to bridge the gap between their situations right now, and when they get their state promised checks," she said. "If the situation is very dire, and $15,000 is just going to buy you another month, that might not be the right approach to take, but we would help them try to figure those kinds of things out."
Groups that apply for the loan would be charged a $25 dollar registration fee and required to show detailed financial records. The loans, which would carry a one to two percent interest rate, would have to be repaid within 12 months.
Dixon said she hopes the program can continue revolving in this way, so that many nonprofit groups can benefit from the loan.
Officials from Dynergy Inc. have raised concerns about the Vermilion Power Station's long-term stability.
The Houston-based company owns four power plants in Illinois, in addition to the Vermilion plant located near Oakwood. Dynergy spokesman David Byford said because of challenging market conditions coupled with the cost of transporting coal that is trucked to the plant, his company is looking at 'options' for the 54-year-old power station.
"For the short term, it's business as usual for the plant," Byford said.
Byford would not go into detail about what options the company's pursuing.
Dynegy may soon merge with the Blackstone Group for about $4.7 billion, which would include the assumption of Dynegy's debt. Dynegy Shareholders are scheduled to vote on the merger next week in Houston.
The land that was to be the site of a futuristic clean-coal burning power plant has been returned to the community of Mattoon.
The area that was to have hosted FutureGen was given back Thursday by the FutureGen Alliance. Mattoon dropped out of plans for FutureGen once they were reconfigured by the Department of Energy. This announcement allows the community to market the 440 acres to other businesses.
Coles Together President Angela Griffin said four companies that are not being disclosed have already toured the land. She said the goal is lure something similar to FutureGen. It is estimated that tens of millions of dollars was spent to survey, engineer, and analyze the area.
Griffin said that money will not be recouped, but is not a total loss.
"The work that was done is still valid and good," Griffin said. "And so we're able to use that - the completed surveys and the completed engineering. And that all has value. I don't think anybody will be able to recover costs for dollars that were spent to characterize the site in any way."
Griffin also said putting a dollar figure on the amount spent would be difficult, since so many entities paid for the work, including the state, city, the FutureGen Alliance, and the Southern Illinois University Clean Coal Review Board. She said this news should provide some relief for Mattoon residents, and remind them they will be kept apprised of any plans for the land.
"I think (Thursdays) news is going to put a lot of relief in the hearts of people who gave one way or another to the FutureGen effort," Griffin said. "The site did return to the community. We do control it now, and we'll able to determine what goes in there, and the community doesn't have to worry that something will happen there that they're opposed to."
An informational meeting regarding the future of the site is planned for Monday morning at 9 at Pagliacci's Restaurant in Mattoon. Meanwhile, the FutureGen Alliance reported that nine communities met Wednesday's deadline to be part of what's called FutureGen 2.0. The host city to be selected early next year will store carbon emissions, working with a power plant in the western Illinois community of Meredosia.
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.
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