Illinois Public Media News
The historic Virginia Theatre in Champaign will be open for public tours, Saturday, April 13, from 1 until 5 pm. It’s the first chance many people will have to see the theater's interior since third phase of an expensive renovation project began.
Last December, the Champaign County Housing Authority announced their plan to build a new public housing project on a vacant lot near Turnberry Ridge. The lot was one of the few in the city approved for multifamily housing, being zoned for over 200 people. On Tuesday, local residents were given a chance to weigh in on the project at a council study session, and they were less than enthusiastic.
Motorists depending on Race Street for travel between downtown Urbana and University Avenue are asked to use Broadway instead, while a bridge over the Boneyard Creek is replaced, as part of Urbana's Boneyard Improvements Project.
Motorists who use Race Street as a convenient route to and from downtown Urbana from the north will have to use an alternative route. Work is scheduled to begin Monday, March 11th, on the replacement of the Race Street Bridge over Boneyard Creek.
As she seeks a third term, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing touts her efforts to boost economic development. But opponent and political newcomer Les Stratton criticizes Prussing's plans as a misuse of taxpayer dollars.
Urbana's City Council gets its first chance Monday night to hear about a proposed six-story mixed use development designed to be a 'stimulus' for downtown.
Champaign architect Gary Olsen said his Metro Centre on South Vine Street would use a retro style of development, and compliment buildings like the Champaign County Courthouse. The development would include condominiums, commercial retail, restaurants, as well as parking space. A second building to its east would consist of townhouses.
Olsen said he is open to ideas for businesses the public wants to see in Urbana.
"We're encouraging anyone in the Champaign County area who has a wonderful boutique they love in Chicago, or a sports place that they have found in Indianapolis they would like to replicate here," he said. "We're not just looking for restaurants, we're looking for a lot of commercial retail use of the first-floor level."
Olsen responded to a request for proposal from the city, after it purchased property on the square block across from the federal courthouse downtown. Urbana holds a lease on the Goodyear Tire shop on South Vine, and will negotiate to relocate that business.
There is no action expected at Monday's initial presentation, but Olsen hopes construction can completed by 2014, which would coincide with Lincoln Square Village's 50th anniversary.
The Urbana City Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at the city building.
It's been more than two years since Illinois American Water last filed for a rate hike. Now, the company is asking state regulators for a big enough increase to generate an additional $38 million statewide.
Getting approval for a rate increase is a slow process, and Illinois American's Chris Bacon says it may be 11 months before the Illinois Commerce Commission rules on their request. Bacon says about 70% of the money they're seeking would pay for new infrastructure.
In Illinois American's Champaign District, Bacon says their latest major project not covered by the current rate structure was an upgrade to their Mattis Avenue water treatment center in Champaign.
"The U-S EPA had made some recommendations in regards to our treatment center", says Bacon. "We always had high quality water, and maintained EPA standards with our water. But they did have some suggestions for our treatment plant, to make some upgrades. And we've complied with that."
But Bacon says the larger part of the money sought for the Champaign District would pay for replacing aging water mains.
"There are a couple of areas in Pesotum (along) Oak Street and then also on Coler Street (in Urbana) that we were looking to do some basic main replacement", says Bacon. "What those projects do is help improve customer service, reliability and fire flows for our existing customers in those areas."
In the Pontiac District, Illinois American says the requested increase would pay for new fire hydrants, valves and meters, as well as new water main. A project at the water treatment plant located along the Vermilion River includes additional flood protection.
In the Champaign District, Illinois American's requested rate increase would come out to about $7.21 for the average residential customer --- that same customer in the Pontiac District would pay $7.06 a month more. Rate hikes would differ in other service areas around the state --- and the ICC might decide to approve an increase lower than what Illinois American Water has filed for.
Belleville-based Illinois American Water is a subsidiary of American Water, based in Vorhees, N.J.
By a 4-to-3 vote, the Urbana School Board decided Tuesday night to cut off negotiations with U.S. Cellular on a 150-foot cell phone tower that would have gone up next to Urbana Middle School.
School board President John Dimit had said he was concerned about aesthetics, but also felt much of the opposition to the plan was the result of misinformation he was receiving on the topic.
"For instance, some of the e-mails talked about razor wire on top of the fence, around the base of the tower" he said. "Well, nobody has talked about razor wire. As a matter of fact, the folks at U.S. Cellular first talked about putting a fence around the base of the tower that matched the fence that other e-mails have been praising us for that go around the athletic field."
Dimit supported the estimated $1 million in revenue the tower would bring over 25 years.
Champaign County board member Ralph Langenheim told the school board there could be an ethical dilemma if the District 116 rents out public property to a private company. Historic preservationist Brian Adams said he's concerned what a tower would do the neighborhood's historical character, including the Lincoln the Lawyer statue, Carle Park, and Urbana High School.
"That whole area just has a very unique character," he said. "My neighborhood consists of old houses. I live about a half mile away from this neighborhood. And unfortunately, we've lost a lot of integrity in our historic neighborhood. And I would hate to see something like that happen to this neighborhood."
School board member Peggy Patten said the tower would "certainly" be an aesthetic blight, with its height and 8-foot wide base. While it's uncommon for cell towers to fall, Patten said Urbana city planners have been told it happens on rare occasions.
Debate over the proposed tower lasted about eight months.
There is a bit less blight in some north Champaign neighborhoods as the results of a federally-funded program.
On Friday, Champaign city officials took people on a tour of three houses that were either built or rehabbed under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Sheila Dodd of Champaign's Neighborhood Services Department said the city had won $1.9 million in federal stimulus money to do the work.
"It allows us to buy vacant, abandoned, blighted or foreclosed properties, and then with that we fix them up or demolish them," Dodd said. "Our reuse of the projects can be rental, homeowner rehab, those type of things."
Dodd said the Neighborhood Stabilization Program has not solved the entire problem of blight -- but it's made a difference in the Douglass Park area, where there's already been a lot of new construction.
"There's going to be six new homes built in a two block area over in that neighborhood, so it's just going to further our neighborhood wellness goals over there," she said. "It also helped with some homes that were in really poor shape - we were able to demolish them and we'll rebuild with new construction, which helps the properties around them maintain their value or even increase in value."
Habitat for Humanity is using some of the lots to build houses for low-income home buyers. Other properties will be offered by the Center for Women in Transition to clients escaping abusive households and needing rental housing.
The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District gives passengers about 10 million rides each year. But as Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess reports, for Champaign County's rural residents, getting where they need to go isn't as easy as walking to the nearest bus stop.
(Photo by Dan Petrella)
The cities of Danville and Decatur have more money to hunt down properties that may have hazardous chemicals sitting underneath them. The land may have once held gas stations, dry cleaners or manufacturers.
Danville will use a $400,000 federal grant announced Monday to investigate past records and eventually test a few of the sites that may pose the most problems to health or redevelopment. Decatur has received an identical grant.
Danville planning and zoning manager Chris Milliken says there may be as many as 300 properties that have some sort of underground contamination. So, he says the city will have to decide which so-called brownfields receive tests. "That includes sites around Danville High School and some other prominent locations," Milliken said. "The main factor engaging the importance of sites we want to pursue is going to be visibility, and then also the potential for redevelopment -- for instance, sites that are along North Vermilion or other developable corridors already."
Milliken expects it will take about a year to identify new sites and conduct testing on about 20 to 40 of them. Danville officials can use those test results to plan cleanups when money becomes available -- those cleanups could range from removing buildings to removing the soil underneath.
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