Illinois Public Media News
160 acres of farm property for growing fruit in Southeast Urbana is being sold by the University of Illinois Foundation, the university's fundraising arm.
The successful bidder for the Pomology Farm, or Pell Farm, is not being disclosed, but the property was listed for sale at $3.2 million. U of I Foundation spokesman Don Kojich says it still had debt on the site adjacent to Meadowbrook Park , that was in excess of $7 million in Fiscal 2009. "The pomology operation had moved from the university so the foundation didn't need the land anymore,' says Kojich. "We're looking to find a way to relieve ourselves of the debt of the property and prepared it for sale."
Kojich says he expects the Foundation to close on the sale within the next couple of months. In 2006, the U of I and its Foundation conducted a land swap, giving up the Pell Farm in exchange for tracts of land used for the South Farms, as well as property near Willard Airport.
The Illinois Department of Insurance is the only agency that stands in front of the merger of Carle Foundation Hospital and Cale Clinic Association.
The deal would have the not-for-profit Carle Foundation purchase the for-profit clinic for $250 million. The clinic's Health Alliance Medical Plans would be the only business to remain for-profit.
Yesterday without opposition, the state Health Facilities and Services Review Board approved a certificate of need clearing the way for the purchase. Carle says the merger will make the organization a stronger health care provider and give the clinic's doctors a stable place of employment. Federal regulators have not raised any questions about the deal - if the state insurance department approves, Carle says the merger could be completed in April.
The U-S Commerce Department has awarded $22.5 million for Champaign-Urbana's Big Broadband project. Now, the Champaign and Urbana city councils and the university of Illinois have 30 days to decide if they'll commit matching funds to the project --- a combined total of $1.3 million.
Champaign City Councilman Will Kyles says he's looking forward to a March 16 council meeting with the consultant the two cities hired to review the Big Broadband proposal. Kyles says he wants to ask Doug Dawson about his concerns with the long-term financial viability of the Big Broadband plan.
"I think it's more the sustainability piece that we're concerned about, as in his report he's projected that we would eventually start losing money. And he also talked about how technology is always changing. So I'd definitely want to talk to him," said Kyles
The federal stimulus money announced Tuesday would fund two major components of the Big Broadband project --- the installation of underground fiber-optic rings making up the backbone of service, and fiber-to-the-home installation of the service in areas considered underserved by broadband providers.
Two other components did not win federal funding. They're both aimed at expanding computer access for underserved populations. Big Broadband proponent Mike Smeltzer says efforts are already underway to re-enter those components in the 2nd round of federal funding.
It may be a long, difficult path to recovery for the Illinois economy according to one indicator.
Each month the University of Illinois Flash Index measures tax revenue to give a snapshot of the state's economic performance. Author Fred Giertz says in February the index inched up to 91.5 after two months at 91.2. The reading is well below the dividing line between growth and contraction, and it's been there for the last year and a half.
Giertz says corporate tax receipts in Illinois are showing signs that the recession is breaking, but that hasn't started translating into more employment.
"The stock market has gone up a lot in the last year because of expectations, and businesses are actually starting to do better," Giertz said. "But the problem is that they're not doing as much hiring now because more efficient during the downturn and they don't need as many people to produce the goods (and services) as they did in the past."
Giertz says many observers predict a very slow decline in unemployment rates over the next year, even as the economy improves.
The Prairie Meadows subdivision in Savoy is among the areas that could be annexed into the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District later this year.
Managing Director Bill Volk says the CU-MTD Board has directed his staff to prepare annexation and legal notices for five areas. Public hearings will be held before the board takes a vote on annexation.
Prairie Meadows is the first major residential area of Savoy to be considered for CU-MTD annexation since the village and the transit district signed an agreement two years ago. Volk says that agreement protects some parts of Savoy from MTD annexation --- but not new residential areas.
"There are sections in Savoy that we cannot annex for 23 years, but other areas of Savoy, as they become annexable we are allowed per the agreement to annex that territory," Volk said.
The Stone Creek subdivision in southeast Urbana is also on the CU-MTD annexation list. Non-residential areas up for annexation include the Clearview commercial development site in northwest Champaign, some industrial tracts near the Apollo Industrial Park in north Champaign, and Willard Airport.
Volk says the CU-MTD Board will not vote on annexing the territories until after the next fiscal year begins July 1. If annexation is approved, property owners would not pay taxes to the MTD until the summer of 2012.
After mold and ventilation problems delayed the completion of the new Champaign County nursing home, the county board went after the nursing home's builders to collect damages. Now the last of those efforts is completed.
Arbitrators have ruled that Otto Baum Company, one of the prime contractors on the project, must pay Champaign County $405,000 for problems caused by mold found on wood during nursing home construction. After outstanding bills owed to Otto Baum are paid, the county will be ahead by nearly $150,000. Rantoul Township Republican Stan James serves on the county board's facilities committee. He says the settlement of the mold issue frees the county board up to focus on other concerns.
"That's one less thing on our plate, and now we can move on. We've got bigger budget issues to tackle and a host of issues due the economy that we need to be focusing on," James said.
While Champaign County is receiving some money in the binding decision, the arbitrators say the county also shares in the responsibility. The arbitrators' report say that the county, Otto Baum Company and construction manager PKD all should have known that unvented heaters were not adequate to keep mold away from wood used in nursing home construction.
Damages from Otto Baum, plus previous awards from other firms involved in nursing home construction are providing Champaign County with about $1.3 million in payments to help make up for extra costs and delays in nursing home construction. Facilities Committee Chairman Steve Beckett estimates that the payments fall $300,000 to $500,000 short of the county's expenses.
A section of Bunge North America's massive downtown Danville facility will close in two months.
About 100 employees will face layoffs when the plant's soybean processing operation comes to an end. Bunge spokeswoman Deb Seidell says the Danville site doesn't have the soy-oil refining facility that newer plants have.
"When you crush the soybeans and you get the protein meal and you get the oil, generally that oil needs to be further processed before it can go into the food stream," Seidell said. "From Danville it has to be trucked or sent by rail somewhere else to be refined because there's not a refinery attached to Danville."
But Seidell says there are no plans to build that refinery because the capacity for processing soybeans is outstripping demand. She says management and staff employees will receive outplacement assistance and severance while Bunge will negotiate with unions over the impact on other employees.
Bunge plans to keep its soy and corn elevators and dry corn mill open - they employ about 185 workers.
Groups representing Illinois hospitals and doctors are disappointed by an Illinois Supreme Court ruling involving caps on some medical malpractice lawsuit awards, but trial lawyers are hailing the decision.
A divided court ruled Thursday that limiting non-economic damages in malpractice cases violates the principle of separation of powers in the state's Constitution. The court says limits the Legislature adopted in 2005 would infringe on the judicial branch's power. In a partial dissent, Justice Lloyd Karmeier says it's the court that is violating separation of powers by second-guessing the Legislature's attempts to reduce health care costs.
Illinois State Medical Society President James Milam says he fears doctors in high-risk specialties will leave the state if their medical liability insurance rates go up as a result of the ruling.
Maryjane Wurth is president of the Illinois Hospital Association. She says the court's decision highlights the need for President Barack Obama and Congress to embrace meaningful medical liability reform as part of health care legislation.
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association President Peter Flowers applauds the decision and says it's time to focus on meaningful insurance reform.
Two area Toyota dealerships expect to start lining up service calls to repair recalled models by the start of next week.
Jim Turner is the President of O'Brien Auto Park in Urbana. He says parts should be delivered in the next couple of days, and technicians are currently being trained on how to repair gas pedals that could stick on rare occasions.
Repairs are expected to take half an hour, but with thousands of customers to serve, Turner says handling all its recalled vehicles could take a few weeks:
"We don't have a lot of details about how many parts we can get all at once," Turner said. "There's a few open-ended questions about exactly how many parts we can get. So this will probably take a month at least to get everybody taken care of."
Meanwhile, the service manager of Toyota of Danville says they're holding off on making appointments, but they're making sure the parts for the eight recalled models are in place first. Kyle Vogel says he expects their technicians will handle about 500 repairs.
Vogel says he also wants to stress that this recall applied only to certain models, and that Japanese-made and some US-manufactured Camry models weren't impacted. But he says any Toyota driver is welcome to bring their car by for peace of mind's sake.
Both Toyota dealers plan on extending their service hours to handle the recall repairs.
The Urbana City Council approved a ten-thousand-dollar option last (Monday) night to buy the Goodyear Tire Center property on Vine Street downtown. Buying the property would be another step toward the city's acquisition of the entire block for future redevelopment.
The 200 block of South Vine Street lies just north of the Urbana City Building --- the city already owns a parking lot on the block. And Mayor Laurel Prussing says the owners of the Goodyear property approached the city about a possible sale. The mayor says the city's long-term goal is to buy the entire block, and then find a developer for it. Prussing hopes for a mixed-used building on the site, with space for both commercial and residential tenants.
"We should just think about something that's a really green development", says Prussing, "and that fits in with our overall city plan. I think we have to think about what would be the idea height of this project, if we're talking about infill."
But development won't happen right away. The Goodyear Tire Center's lease runs until 2013. And some of the residential properties on the block are also occupied by tenants. Prussing says the city has contracts to eventually buy those properties as well --- but she says she doesn't want to displace any current tenants. The mayor says the city will first do its due diligence on the Goodyear property, including an environmental audit, before the Goodyear purchase is finalized.
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