Illinois Public Media News
Faced with opposition to its plans to take down the neon marquee at the Virginia Theatre, the Champaign Park Board has decided the issue needs more study.
The V-shaped neon marquee has announced shows at the Virginia for 60 years or more. But Champaign park officials say restoration plans have always called for installing a less flashy marquee resembling what was on the Virginia when it opened in 1921. Susanne Skaggs, speaking during the public comment portion of Wednesday night's Champaign Park Board meeting, says the neon marquee distracts from the Virginia's Italian Renaissance façade.
"The marquee, as far as I'm concerned, is nothing but signage" says Skaggs. "And signage, certainly, can be easily changed."
But eight other people told park commissioners the neon marquee is an important part of the Virginia's history. Adam Smith is vice-chairman of the Champaign Historic Preservation Commission, which has formally requested that the neon marquee be preserved. Smith says the marquee has become a local landmark in itself.
"If the neon is lit, you know something is happening that night", says Smith, "you pull over on Park Street, you park and you find out what it is."
Champaign Park Commissioners voted Wednesday night to delay a decision on the Virginia marquee until they can get more information --- including how much it would cost to restore the current neon marquee, which is badly run down.
But the Park Board did approve nearly $600,000 in restoration work to be done this summer on the Virginia lobby, funded by private donations. Park Commissioners hope to do work on the marquee at the same time.
A planner in Champaign County says response to the 2010 census is slightly better than at this point during the last census two years ago.
But Andrew Levy says census workers will still have to go door-to-door to find and count the 30 percent of people in the county who won't have turned in their forms by the end of this week. Levy says enumerators are already at work in some parts of the county that are usually tougher to count.
"They're focusing in rural areas and they have been out there for quite awhile," Levy said. "In Champaign-Urbana, census workers are concentrated around the U of I campus to make sure that they count the students before they leave for the summer. But they'll be all over Champaign-Urbana in the next few weeks."
Levy says if an enumerator comes to your door, they'll only ask the 10 short questions found on the census form - there's no long census form this year. Census workers are also required to show official identification and will not ask for anyone's social security or credit card number.
The head of the city of Champaign's Neighborhood Services department says a familiar face to neighborhood groups in the city will be missed.
Mable Thomas has been the neighborhood coordinator since the city formed its neighborhood services program in 1992. Thomas died early Tuesday morning in St. Louis after an illness of several months.
Kevin Jackson says Thomas was the main liaison between Champaign's many neighborhood groups and city government, and she was the right person for the job.
"She not only had to have the ability to remain calm and posed in potentially volatile situations, but dealing with a variety of stakeholder interests she had to be a strong-willed person and a very objective person to make sure that the right thing happened," Jackson said.
Champaign mayor Jerry Schweighart says Thomas's loss is a loss to city government and the community. Thomas created a small grant program for neighborhood projects and oversaw Champaign's role in the anti-crime program known as National Night Out.
The debate over the Olympian Drive extension will continue at an Urbana City Council committee-of-the-whole meeting in three weeks. Council members have put off a decision on a state-funded design engineering study for the road. It would be just the latest phase in a long-standing project that Mayor Laurel Prussing says would bring economic development --- and jobs --- to the north edge of the city. But opponents like Bill and Virginia Ziegler (left) and Leslie Cooperbrand (right) argue it would do more harm than good. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports on the Olympian Drive debate.
As unemployment climbs and economic hard times worsen for many in Champaign County, area churches are finding it difficult to keep up with the need. Shelley Smithson reports as part of a joint project confronting poverty in the area.
Removing one-way signs from a residential street doesn't usually attract a lot of attention - but the city of Champaign is calling a traffic-pattern change this afternoon a big step forward for one neighborhood.
12 years ago neighbors asked the city to convert portions of four streets in the Bristol Place neighborhood into one-way street. The thinking was that the inconvenience would discourage crime on those streets.
Eugene Barnes of the community group Metanoia Centers has watched crime slowly decline in that area since then. But he gives the traffic pattern only a small share of the credit.
"We had drug dealing and prostitution. And it takes a different shape over a period of time -- you learn to adapt to new situations," Barnes said. "So along with urban planning, you've got to look at the human factor (and) what else is going to be involved with that. Just one-way streets alone are not that great a deterrent."
Still, Barnes says neighbors today asked for the resumption of two way traffic on the streets - he says the neighborhood has improved since 1998, but he says neighbors and police will have to keep up their surveillance.
Some University of Illinois students are taking their demand for two administrators' resignations to another level.
Members of Students for Chief Illiniwek found email exchanges that they claim show administrators conspiring to stop a student-sponsored Chief performance at the Assembly Hall last fall. Members of the Urbana campus' student senate are looking over a resolution calling for an investigation of Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renee Romano's involvement. And now the leader of a new group opposing Romano, Jerry Vachaparambil, says they may try to recruit help from state lawmakers.
"Because this is a public institution, they can admonish administrators for not acting in the best interest of the taxpayers or the students," Vachaparambil said.
Romano says the email exchanges were not meant to stifle students' right to free speech and assembly. She says they were a conversation between officials struggling with the on-campus performance in light of the U of I's decision to retire the Chief three years ago.
"Administrators often talk back and forth about, well, if we do this what's going to mean and how does that all work," Romano said. "But ultimately, they were able to have their event."
The Student Senate may vote next week on the resolution, which also targets Romano's associate vice chancellor Anna Gonzalez.
A national ranking of counties based on the health of their residents puts Vermilion County near the bottom in Illinois.
Champaign County ranked 31st, Vermilion 96th in the survey put out by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The authors wanted to put public health in a new light to motivate people to discuss those issues in their communities.
Champaign Urbana Public Health Department administrator Julie Pryde thinks the study will do that, though counties already have a regular four-year process to assess health issues and act on them.
"In Illinois we do something called the I-Plan, which is a local assessment of need, and we're getting ready to do that again," Pryde said. "So I think (the report is) very timely and it will be more data and more information that will help stimulate discussion when we get in these groups."
The study used factors ranging from access to medical care and healthy food to smoking and obesity rates. Vermilion County health administrator Steve Laker says some of his county's low rankings are in areas that use patient interviews rather than raw numbers.
"Self-assessment, self-reported data is always a little suspect," Laker said. "But what they're saying here is true. If they're using the same data everywhere and it's just as suspect everywhere, then it may be relative."
Laker says Vermilion County's blue-collar history has a lot to do with its low public-health ranking. He says community stakeholders are already meeting this afternoon (Wed) to talk about the survey.
Bicyclists in Champaign will get their own lanes on two major north-south arteries if city council members approve.
The city is proposing adding a bike-only lane to State and Randolph streets, from their north ends at Bradley Avenue south to Hessel Boulevard. City planners are holding an open house Monday afternoon at the Champaign Public Library to discuss the plan for the two one-way streets.
Planner Mishauno Woggon is aware of the grumbling that came from some motorists after one of the first high-profile bike lanes was developed along Urbana's Philo Road commercial area. She says the new lane configuration restricted vehicle traffic through what planners call a "road diet."
"With the State and Randolph project there is no lane reduction so there is no road diet as part of this project," Woggon said. "So for drivers they're really not going to notice a difference in terms lof less lanes to drive in or congestion or things like that."
Woggon says in some narrower parts of State and Randolph streets, the bike lanes will be marked as so-called "sharrows," meaning bike and vehicle traffic will share them. The open house at the Champaign Library runs from 4:30 to 6:30.
Health care reform has been a dominant issue when candidates for Illinois' US Senate race talk about the country's older Americans... but it's not the only issue. Seniors voting next week in the primary (including Rantoul's Cheryl Melchi, left) are not only questioning the future of issues like Medicare and Social Security but their candidates' ability to address them. AM 580's Jeff Bossert surveyed some East Central Illinois residents for their thoughts.
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