Illinois Public Media News
Turnout ranges from very light to steady in the Champaign-Urbana area.
Spirited races are bringing more voters out than a typical consolidated election in some precincts, including at least one in Urbana. At city hall, Sylvia Hallowell says her staff has kept slightly busier than first expected. "We always bring something to do, like a book to read, but we haven't had too much time to do that" Hallowell said.
But in Champaign, the polling place at the McKinley Foundation on the U of I campus has been nearly empty - by 11 a-m, only three voters had come in. However, election worker Chris Wright expects a few more students and neighbors to get to the polls later in the day, as is typical for a campus precinct.
"We were talking earlier about how we experienced probably the highest demand in the last election, and now we're experiencing a fairly low turnout so far this morning," Wright said. "But we're on campus, so we're expecting to have more people as the day evolves."
Another poll worker in Urbana agrees that last fall's historic presidential election has translated into more people taking their voting responsibility seriously - she also says the economy may be getting more voters interested.
Polls are open until 7:00 - AM 580 will have election results during the evening.
People in Champaign-Urbana get their chance over the next week to offer opinions about downtown Champaign's cultural offerings and how they can improve.
The cultural group known as 40 North 88 West is wants to form a cultural arts district. Its director of operations, Steven Bentz, says downtown Champaign already has lots of cultural offerings - the goal is to make downtown a destination for families, day or night. He says the public has a big say in how that arts district would look.
"Is it arts facilities? Is it more classes? Is it happenings on the street? Are people wanting to see a greater involvement from multiple groups from around Champaign County -- educational groups, cultural groups, churches? What kinds of buy-in would people like to see happen through a cultural arts district in downtown Champaign?" asked Bentz. "We're encouraging people to really dream big."
After the public comment sessions, 40 North would hire a consultant to help come up with a definitive plan for an arts district.
The public sessions began Thursday night -- others will be held next Wednesday night at at 7:00 at City Hall and Thursday at noon at the Springer Cultural Center.
The operator of Boardman's Art Theatre in Champaign is apparently looking to relocate as the building's owner looks for either a new tenant, or to sell the facility for another use.
Owner David Kraft says the rent of 4 dollars a square foot he's charging isn't near the market rate... and he can't afford to charge that little when factoring in expenses like real estate tax, water, trash, and sewer rates. Kraft says he's made operator Greg Boardman an offer of just under 9-dollars a square foot.
"If he won't pay that and no one will pay that, then I think everybody needs to look and determine if there's demand for this, if there's sufficient interest," Kraft said. "If no one is willing to pay near market rent, then maybe we do have to look at different ideas."
Kraft suggests there may not be room for a movie theater anymore when considering what other downtown businesses are paying for first floor retail space. He's looking to sell the Church Street building for just over $1 million.
Kraft says he's drawn interest for other theater operators, but nothing concrete.
Boardman's lease on the Church Street location expires in December. He couldn't be reached for comment, but the co-owner of a building across the street... Bill Capel... confirms Boardman toured his facility last month. That building houses the old Rialto Theater. Capel says any talk of moving Boardman's there would include extensive talk about renovations.
The Illinois House and Senate have approved bills raising the speed limit for trucks on rural interstate highways to 65 miles per hour.
Neither bill affects the speed limit for trucks in Cook County. The House version also exempts the five counties that surround Chicago. Once the two chambers apporve identical bills, the measure will be sent to Gov. Pat Quinn for his signature.
The speed limit for cars on interstate highways is 65, but for semis the speed limit is 55. Traffic safety experts believe having two different limits increases the chances of accidents on the roads.
However, Democratic Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park isn't convinced. When Missouri went to a uniform speed, Harmon said, fatalities jumped by more than 70.
The co-founder of the Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum in Arcola says it was a sad decision but a necessary one - the museum will close this summer and most exhibits moved to a museum in New York.
Joni Gruelle Wannamaker is the granddaughter of Johnny Gruelle, who was raised in Arcola and created the scruffy red-haired dolls in 1915. Wannamaker says she and her husband Tom left their jobs in Atlanta ten years ago to build the museum, but she says advancing age, declining attendance - and a drop in overall tourism in the Douglas County area -- forced the decision to close.
"We have done a lot of advertising over the years, advertising for Arcola and the surrounding area," Wannamaker said. "But perhaps there was a change at the Chamber of Commerce...I just don't know."
Wannamaker says she and Tom were impressed with the museum where the Raggedy Ann and Andy exhibits will be headed, the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester New York - the dolls are already in that museum's National Toy Hall of Fame. But Wannamaker says she and her husband are staying in Arcola.
It didn't take long for organizers of the first-ever Illinois Marathon to find the volunteers they needed.
The marathon will be held on the streets of Champaign, Urbana and the U of I campus on the day before Easter. But local police said organizers needed to show by April 1st that they had 350 volunteers ready to help with traffic control, if they wanted to keep their special-events permits.
Marathon volunteer coordinator Mary Anderson says they issued the call for help on Monday, and by Tuesday night, they had enough volunteers signed up to ensure the race will take place. She says they're grateful for the response, but they could still use even more volunteers. Anderson says nearly 8-thousand runners have signed up for the Illinois Marathon and its related races --- and they'll need a total of 2-thousand volunteers. Volunteers will help staff the marathon and related events on Friday and Saturday, April 10th and 11th.
To volunteer to help on the Illinois Marathon, go to their website, www.illinoismarathon.com, and click on the volunteer link.
Illinois has recently seen a surge of wine production. But is it on par with legendary wine regions elsewhere? AM 580 intern Whitney Wyckoff traveled to Vermilion County, where a part of the prairie has become a vineyard.
Many people in the Champaign-Urbana area had a soft spot for Pages for All Ages, a bookstore that welcomed local readers for more than 20 years to its single store, first in Champaign, then in Savoy. Pages abruptly closed its doors for good this week, citing the economy. It's not been an easy go for independent book retailers over the last few years, especially as Amazon and other Internet outlets joined Borders and Barnes and Noble as major competitors. The director of the American Booksellers Association, Avin Mark Donmitz, says Pages fell by the wayside as the group's other members are preparing for a difficult immediate future. He spoke to AM 580's Tom Rogers.
Most polling places in Champaign County already had voters lined up at 6 am, eager to be among the first voters in what would become a watershed election. That zeal continued through the day, and when all the votes were counted, the county and region posted near record turnout. AM 580's Tom Rogers recaps a hectic day that ended in history being made.
Rural America has seen an exodus of residents and businesses for decades. But now it's evolving into a garden spot for entrepreneurs. Many don't have much of a choice - jobs in large companies or farms are drying up, and self-employment helps pay the bills. Still others (like Becky and Freddy Smith, left) get into business for love of their communities - they're helping small-town storefronts spring back to life. What can government do to help them out? AM 580's Tom Rogers reports on the challenges these rural entrepreneurs face, and what the presidential candidates want to do about it.
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