Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign City Council will discuss a proposal at its Tuesday, July 27th Study Session, to work with a private non-profit group promoting local public sculpture. In doing so, the city may change the policy for public art that it set in 2003.
That policy created the city's Community Arts Group, a mayor-appointed panel that has standing by to consider proposals for sculpture on public land. However, very few applications have come in. Now, the city wants to work directly with the recently formed Public Art League, a private group that's raising money to lease eight pieces of sculpture this summer that would be located at downtown public sites for two year periods.
The Public Art League issued a call to artists earlier this year, and from 42 entries, it's chosen eight sculptures plans to bring to downtown Champaign this year. The group has raised funds from private donors to lease the sculptures from the artists for a two-year period. League Treasurer Eric Robeson says the sculptures will be initially displayed during Champaign's Downtown Festival of the Arts next month. He says they then hope to install the sculptures at various public spaces in and around the downtown area.
Robeson says the goal is to bring art to streets where people regularly walk, drive and work.
"You can interact with them", Robeson says of sculpture located on public sites near city streets. "You just kind of happen upon it as you walk by. Or it becomes part of the backdrop of your day, as you go by these sculptures on a regular basic. It just amplifies more and more that way. And the people that we've brought this up to, most people that we've talked to, just kind of love the idea."
City Economic Development Manager Teri Legner says under their proposal to work with the Public Art League, the Champaign Community Arts Group would disband, leaving decisions and finances about public art acquisitions to the new non-profit group.
"What we're proposing now is something that's more proactive", says Legner, "in working with a third party to basically provide for the art, and then the city just facilitating its siting, basically its location on public property."
The Public Art League's goal is to bring new sculptures to public sites in Champaign every year. But Board president Brian Knox says their longterm goal is to find local buyers for the artwork. "And once somebody likes the sculpture and wants to purchase it", says Knox, "they can move it to their facility or their business, or anyplace in town to be part of the public consciousness."
While the Public Art League could take the place of the Champaign Community Arts Group, the two bodies already have a common link. League Treasurer Eric Robeson is the son of Community Arts Group member Phyllis Robeson.
The city of Urbana has been trying to make the area friendlier to bicyclists, and tomorrow an organization will give some recognition to that effort.
For the first time, Urbana will be listed as a Bicycle-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. It's also a first for any downstate Illinois community.
Jennifer Selby is a civil engineer for the city. She's overseeing Urbana's pro-bicycle effort, which involves what she calls the "5 E's" -- engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation.
"Engineering means bike lanes, bike paths and those types of things," said Selby. "Education is the types of education programs you have, for adults and for kids -- campaign programs, videos, any kind of printed materials. Encouragement means programs such as Bike to Work Day, which we held the first one in May of this year."
The city also stepped up enforcement of bicycle safety issues - both for riders and motorists - and having a long-range plan for further improvements. Selby says more bike routes and year-round efforts to encourage bike use could raise the level of the bicycle-friendly community recognition from bronze to silver.
The League of American Bicyclists formally announces the title at a Saturday morning event at Urbana's Market at the Square.
A referendum on township property taxes in Champaign will go on the ballot this fall --- nine months later than intended.
The Champaign City Council voted Tuesday night to place the advisory referendum on the November ballot. It asks Champaign voters if they want to increase their township property tax to provide more General Assistance for the poor.
Voters at last year's annual town meeting approved the referendum for placement on this year's primary ballot, but it was omitted by mistake.
City of Champaign Township Supervisor Pam Borowski was running for the office she now holds when the referendum was proposed. Borowski said the law requires that the measure get on the ballot this November, even though she said hopes it fails. "There's not a need for additional tax revenues at this point in time, and until there is, I'm going to keep saying that we don't need more new property taxes," she said.
The imitative would raise the township tax rate to match General Assistance funding levels in Urbana and other comparable cities. Champaign voters approved a similar advisory referendum in 2008, but rejected a binding referendum for a township tax hike later that same year.
A surprise windfall from the United Way of Champaign County won't keep the local Boy Scouts organization from ending the fiscal year in the red.
The executive of the Prairielands Council says they've raised about $170,000, but its 2010 goal was $225,000. Tim Manard says donations from families involved in Scouting are especially worrisome.
"We ask our families to be part of that campaign since they're getting the direct benefit of scouting," Manard said. "And we saw that they're having to make some tough choices at home, and that's having an impact on what we're able to do."
This week the United Way announced a surplus in its own fundraising campaign. Manard says that will mean an extra five thousand dollar donation to the Boy Scouts to fund more scholarships for Scouts wanting to attend summer camp. He says even with staff and program cuts over the past two years, the organization has made summer camp a priority for its 5,000 Scouts in 9 Illinois and Indiana counties.
A center that helps immigrants and refugees in Champaign County is facing funding shortfalls and may be forced to close. Shelley Smithson's report is part of the "CU Citizen Access" project.
One Champaign city council member says she's hoping city staff will take some time to clarify a measure that seeks to speed up enforcement of standards for vacant buildings.
The plan is to remedy problems with empty commercial and residential properties without having to go through a drawn-out court process. Council member Marci Dodds says she backs the plan overall, but says the language lacked clarity as to how property owners get back into compliance after getting their building back up to standards. The city council and public discussed the measure for more than three hours in Tuesday night's study session. Dodds says neighborhood service staff should have written the ordinance to say buildings should meet fire safety codes, and not all property codes. "Do you have to bring your plumbing up to current code in a vacant building? Well, no you don't," said Dodds. "But you have to make sure that holes are patched in the wall, the roof's not going to fall in on firemen if they go in, people aren't going to fall through the floor, that kind of thing. Those are two very different standards. And I think that standard needs to be clear. I also think it needed to be clear what triggered going into a building."
Tom Bruno agrees there's a problem with irresponsible property owners and vacant structures, saying there may need to be more details in the proposal. But he says the neighborhood services department needs to be allowed to do its job. "We have inspectors in the field who are trained and comfortable and qualified at exercising some judgment," said Bruno. "And that a lot of the detailed minutia that people are seeking in this ordinance I don't necessarily needs to be there as long as our enforcement people are well-intentioned, well-trained, and well-able to exercise some discretion."
Property maintenance inspector Michael Lambert says the key is finding what triggers use of the ordinance. He says his staff will try to clarify some of its language, and have it back before the council soon.
The renovation of an old warehouse on Champaign's north end will mean the end of a mural celebrating local African-American history.
The Champaign City Council approved a special use permit Tuesday night that will allow Sullivan Plumbing to convert and expand a one-story warehouse at 5th and Park into a two-story building with both office and apartment space.
But the conversion will cover up the African-American history mural painted on the building's north wall in 1978. Dave Monk was among those involved in the mural project, which he says helped bring white and black together.
"It has connotations of not only local interest, but a demonstration at the national level of how we could interact on the fringe of black-white communities", Monk told council members.
Monk said a way might be found to preserve the mural, if Champaign council members would delay their vote. But the council approved the special use permit unanimously.
Councilman Tom Bruno noted that the mural's creator, Angela Rivers, had told the News-Gazette that it would be too expensive to restore the badly faded work.
"It would be nice if this mural could be preserved", said Bruno. "But it would be even nicer if this building could improve that neighborhood. And perhaps we can't have both."
However, other council members said they hoped the mural would be well-documented for history's sake.
The Illinois Liquor Control Commission admits some changes need to be made in laws concerning happy hour promotions at bars. The Commission dismissed some of those violations at its first-ever meeting in Urbana Tuesday. Most of the tickets were issued during the weekend of March 5th, when many University of Illinois students and guests celebrate 'Unofficial' St. Patrick's Day. Acting Commission Chairman Stephen Schnorf says it was never the panel's intention to punish a bar for misinterpreting the law.
"If we saw things that we thought were encouraging binge drinking or encouraging underage consumption, we wouldn't be very patient with that," said Schnorf. "In these cases, it looked like there were some legitimate misunderstandings, and so we want a little more clarity before we start doing rigorous enforcement in some of these areas of the happy hour law," The violations at Campustown bars like Kam's and Legends were related to concerns that they were offering discounts on refills, or that patrons gave off the impression that they were allowed to engage in binge drinking by purchasing two drinks at once.
Kam's owner Eric Meyer says happy hour laws have created confusion not only around campus area bars, but across the state. He says it's common knowledge that sports venues enable someone to purchase two drinks at once. "I think that's been a standard practice at most of our sporting venues." said Meyer. "We've been able to go up and grab two drinks everywhere we go. That's kind of common knowledge and this is probably an area that has not been enforced. I understand the agent's concern to enforce this during a weekend of great concern and potential binge drinking. I don't think that was the intention here of any of the individuals involved."
Most underage drinking violations handled by the state in Tuesday's 2-hour hearing concerned grocery and convenience stores in Champaign, Urbana, and Danville. Schnorf says the Liquor Control Commission's decision to hold hearings away from Springfield and Chicago was to accommodate bar owners and the attorneys representing them, letting them cut down on travel time.
Signs will soon go up along streets leading into Urbana that tell people their bicycles are welcome.
The purple signs recognize Urbana's new designation as a bike-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists.
Public Works Director Bill Grey says the signs send an important message.
"It does send a message that this is a town that is accommodating bicycling as a mode of transportation", says Grey. And we're implementing the facilities to do so, and the education and enforcement that go along with that. And encouragement of people to want to get out of their cars , or seek this as a viable mode of transportation."
City councilman and avid cyclist Charlie Smyth says the designation is important for Urbana because of the estimated 8 percent of city residents who use bikes to get to work. Smyth says that's according to the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission. And he says it's important for the city to upgrade its designation from bronze to silver-level. Smyth says that will require more and better bicycle education programs in Urbana --- and better connections between bike paths.
Champaign has not been named a Bicycle Friendly Community --- but the League of American Bicyclists did name Champaign city government a Bicycle Friendly Business.
Longtime Champaign neighborhood services employee Mable Thomas, who passed away last month, will likely receive a street named in her honor.
With unanimous preliminary approval from the Champaign City Council, University Avenue from Elm Street to State Street would be designated as Mable Thomas Street. It was chosen because it borders West Side Park, where Thomas was known for organizing the local National Night Out against Crime.
City Councilman Tom Bruno enthusiastically supports this gesture to honor Thomas, based on what he saw of her work in the Neighborhood Services Department. "She would be able to maintain a level of order and courtesy so that people's emotions could cool down a little and they could talk rationally about a grievance they had or a problem," Bruno said. "In that way, she was just really good at what she did. Her passing is a great loss for the city of Champaign."
Thomas' accomplishments included helping to expand the city's Neighborhood Watch Program and creating the Neighborhood Small Grant Program. She helped to organize hundreds of neighborhood groups and was active in many community organizations and activities, including CommUnity Matters and First Street Farmer's Market.
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