Illinois Public Media News
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)
The head of Illinois' economic development agency is defending the state's role in a plan that will mean a loss of jobs for central Illinois.
Warren Ribley, the director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said it was clear food processor Tate and Lyle was going to move jobs from Decatur. Ribley said the only question was whether or not the firm would relocate in Illinois or another state.
"After hearing all that we rolled up our sleeves and did what we could to make sure jobs stayed in Illinois," Ribley said. "As a result we were able to mitigate the loss of jobs out of Decatur."
Tate and Lyle, a food processor, with its U.S. operations based in Decatur will locate 160 jobs in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates. Illinois gave a mix of tax breaks and job training grants to keep the company in the state.
Ribley said it is common for large companies to want a presence near a major metropolitan area.
"Especially when you're looking at these large global international companies," he said. "Their board takes a different view and they look at different considerations. They don't have the same hometown connection."
Tate and Lyle has been in Decatur for more than 20 years after it purchased the A.E. Staley operation. Staley's ties to Decatur go back more than a century. Founder Augustus Staley started a football team in Decatur that later became the Chicago Bears.
It was announced this week that a Decatur food processing firm is moving some of its jobs out of Decatur.
During a debate at Millikin University Wednesday night, Illinois House candidates Democrat Bob Flider and his challenger Republican Adam Brown sparred over the severity of the decision.
Tate and Lyle reported this week that a new commercial and food innovation center will be established in Hoffman Estates, bringing 160 jobs to that area.
A spokesman says 80 Decatur employees will be offered the opportunity to move. Brown slammed the move considering Decatur has among the state's highest unemployment rates.
"It's truly unreal and well beyond me that the state of Illinois is subsidizing a $15 million dollar project not to bring a company to Illinois but to move it somewhere else in Illinois at the expense of downstate voters," Brown said.
Flider said he met with representatives of the company and says other options were to move the jobs out-of-state to Nashville or Indianapolis.
"I think it's shameful to politicize community leaders working to keep jobs and a company in Illinois," Flider said. "I think it shows the immaturity of Adam Brown."
The state parties have been dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the heated campaign for the 101st House District Race.
For politicians in a supposedly "blue" state, quite a few Illinois Democrats are looking vulnerable right now. Republicans could pick up a number of statewide offices, and also a few congressional ones. In fact, as Illinois Public Radio's Sam Hudzik reports, some Illinois voters will play a large role in deciding which party controls the U.S. House and the coveted speaker's gavel.
(Photo of Congressman Bill Foster (D-14) by Sam Hudzik/IPR)
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.
The city of Decatur will lose about 80 jobs at one of its biggest employers, but a city official said it is better than losing the entire facility.
Reports of Tate and Lyle looking for a new headquarters site near Chicago stirred worries that the firm with deep roots in Decatur was going to relocate its U.S. headquarters, but on Tuesday the British-based food ingredients processor announced plans to build a "Commercial and Food Innovation Center" in Hoffman Estates. The new operation will house the majority of research and development now being done in Decatur. About 160 positions will be based in the new Center, but the firm said only about 80 will be relocated from Decatur.
"We're excited about this investment that we're making, and it's really helping to transform the company into the world leading specialty food and ingredients business," said company spokesman Chris Olsen.
The company, which makes products such as high fructose corn syrup, will keep its American headquarters and leadership team in place - and for that, Decatur city manager Ryan McCrady credited the persuasive powers of area leaders.
"At the end of the day we don't exactly know why they make their decisions," McCrady said. "Obviously Decatur is a much lower-cost alternative as far as operating when you compare it to Chicago. Low water and sewer rates and our inexpensive housing for their employees we feel are all a factor."
Tate and Lyle will get a $15 million package of incentives from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for the new Chicago-area facility, but McCrady said the state has to walk a fine line between helping one location and helping the entire state retain jobs.
With about 500 jobs remaining in Decatur, Olson said the company will continue to be a significant part of the community.
The Danville City Council plans to vote on a proposal Tuesday night to raise the salaries of the city's mayor and treasurer.
The council's public works committee last week shot down a measure to boost the mayor's salary from $73,000 to $77,000 and the treasurer's salary from $43,500 to $48,000. These pay increase would be coupled with wage freezes over a four year period. Instead, the committee voted to support a four-year wage freeze with no pay hike. The measure is now headed to the full council.
According to Illinois law, the salaries of elected officials must be set before an election takes place. Alderman Rickie Williams Jr., Ward 1, is running for mayor. He said pay raises to the city's top administrators cannot be justified as the city deals with crippling budget problems and double-digit unemployment.
"If we were to authorize these salary increases, it makes it difficult for us to then go and tell workers that they won't receive salary increases if we provide them to the administration," Williams said.
Alderman William Gilbert, Ward 7, said he understands why members of the council would be apprehensive about giving more money to city officials given the current economic situation, but Gilbert said he would support one.
"I think there's areas in our budget that still need to be trimmed," Gilbert said. "A $4,000 increase over the matter of four years, I don't really see that as breaking our budget."
Gilbert said the city should align itself in a position where it can attract qualified leaders by offering competitive salaries.
The city council will also consider paying alderman based on the number of council meetings they attend, rather than a flat monthly $225 stipend.
Champaign department heads are developing a contingency plan, in case $2-million in cuts are needed.
Those reductions are in addition to the $9-million in reductions the city has already made the last few years. Several pages of suggested cuts will be discussed late next month by the city council. Assistant City Manager Dorothy David said cuts could include customer service jobs in the city building and police department's front desk, and reduced service hours in public works. She said it is getting to the point where snow removal could be impacted, and the city may need to make adjustments in routes and how quickly snow is removed. David said Champaign's resources to run city government are at 2006 levels.
"Even though we are seeing very slow revenue growth, our revenues are not growing as fast as our costs," said David. "When your costs grow faster than the amount of money that you're bringing in, you have to make adjustments. So the economy has really impacted us in that way."
David said if the state takes further action to reduce revenues that it shares with the city, like income tax, that would mean additional cuts. The city council will discuss these proposals in a study session November 23rd, and could develop a plan to implement them in January.
Whoever wins the election for Illinois governor will face a budget deficit hovering somewhere around $13 billion. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn supports an income tax hike that would reduce the deficit - but not eliminate it. Republican state Senator Bill Brady says he would start by cutting all areas of the budget by 10-percent or more. There are more ideas out there - from the three other candidates for governor. Illinois Public Radio's Sam Hudzik takes a look at their plans for the budget.
(Photo courtesy of Daniel Schwen)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Interim Chancellor Robert Easter recently returned from a week-long trip to India. Easter met with university, business, and government officials to discuss research partnerships in areas ranging from agriculture, to information technologies, to climate change. He also talked about the prospects of opening a campus in India, and opportunities for graduate education.
There are about 400 undergraduate and more than 460 graduate students from India currently studying at the U of I. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers spoke to Easter about the relationship developing between India and the University of Illinois.
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