Illinois Public Media News
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.
Members of state preservation group are trying to save ten of what they say are the most endangered places in Illinois. Most of the structures on the list are threatened with demolition as development projects expand. Some are falling into disrepair due to a lack of funds or mismanagement.
President of Landmarks Illinois Jim Peters says in the case of some structures, community meetings are being held to decide the building's fate.
"That's kind of an imminent threat, that doesn't mean it'll be demolished tomorrow, but there's a decision that could impact it's future," Peters said at a Wednesday news conference. "I think that's the case with all of these; there's some kind of threat."
The vacant Sheriff's Residence and Jail in Ford County made the list of endangered buildings. County officials purchased the building a few years ago and may be planning a demolition.
Susan Satterlee of the Ford County Preservation Coalition says the building's more than 100 year history deserves protection.
"Up until 1992 it was used as a functional jail and our county sheriff actually lived there," Satterlee said. "At one point, the spouse of the sheriff was responsible for feeding all the inmates."
Satterlee says the combined use of the building in Paxton makes it one of the oldest of its kind in the state. It sits next to the Ford County courthouse. If demolished, the space it is on would likely be used for a new county building.
Also on the list is the Will Rogers Theatre in downtown Charleston, an Art Deco building from 1938. It was still showing movies until last year, when it was closed and sold. Tom Vance does historic preservation consulting, and recently helped with a petition drive to get the theater named to that list. He says the facility could ideally become an entertainment venue for different acts, much like the Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign.
"There may be somebody out there who has the investment capital to come in, buy it, and restore it," said Vance. "There are TIF (Tax Increment Finance) funds available to help with the exterior restoration of it, and put in a venue of performing arts and movies. That would be the ideal thing."
The current owners, American Multi-Cinema, is also looking to sell the theater and adjoining commercial block. Vance says if a buyer doesn't come forward, the other option is for a local non-profit group to form and re-open the theater. But he estimates the restoration would cost three quarters of a million dollars. The Charleston City Council has yet to decide whether to recommend the Will Rogers Theater for local landmark status, protecting it from further demolition.
University of Illinois Trustees could postpone their decision next week on constructing a wind turbine on the Urbana campus.
Audit and Budget Committee chair Ed McMillan said it is likely the U of I will seek another extension of the grant covering $2-million of the project. Trustees will meet March 23 on the Springfield campus. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing addressed the committee Monday, citing citizen concerns about noise pollution and shadows. She said the U of I has failed to address those areas, and meet with the public.
"The city does support alternative energy, but these things have to be very carefully placed," Prussing said. "And this is in violation right now of the Urbana wind turbine ordinance, and we'd like to see it corrected so it would be in a good place. And we're also concerned about the total cost."
Cost for the turbine project exceed $5-million. The head of a University of Illinois Student group pushing for turbine construction says delaying the project by a few more months, after two prior extensions, won't be a large setback. Student Sustainability Committee Chair Suhail Barot predicts the turbine will remain at its current site, by the U of I's South Farms.
"I think the university's position is correct in terms of its zoning," he said. "And it terms of the overall concerns, I think issues outstanding will be resolved."
Barot said students have more doubled their financial commitment to the project through sustainability fees, and not completing the turbine soon jeopardizes losing the grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. He said the U of I should feel 'morally responsible' for putting up the turbine.
Prussing said the university has also failed to consider wear and tear to township roads from the project, and suggests the U of I consider investing in an existing wind farm.
Champaign city leaders may have taken the wraps off a new public recreation space southeast of downtown, but it is still covered in a thick layer of snow.
Beneath the snow is a new detention basin, the latest phase of the Boneyard Creek flood control project that's been decades in the making. However, city councilman Michael LaDue says the 11-million dollar Second Street Reach project is much more than just a place to hold excess water.
"On the ground it looks better than it looked on paper, and every effort was made by highly trained professionals to make it look as good on paper as possible," LaDue said during Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremony. "This beats the schematics. This is spectacular."
The pond is surrounded by walking paths, water features and a small amphitheater. Work also surrounded a stone-arch bridge in a corner of the park, one of the original bridges over Boneyard Creek from the mid 19th-century. City planner T. J. Blakeman said some additional work still needs to be done on the site - much of it to be done in the spring. But he said the walking paths are now open to the public.
(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)
The Urbana City Council is ready to approve historic landmark status for the old Urbana-Lincoln hotel.
Council members had held off on the vote for six months, for fear of scaring away developers for the downtown hotel, which has been closed for more than a year. But now, the Lincoln has a new owner and developer in Xiao Jin Yuan, who supports the landmark designation, according to City Planning Director Robert Myers. Myers said Yuan has already "plunged" into renovations for the 86-year-old hotel, from work on pipes wiring and other utility-related items to renovations to the building itself.
"He's (Yuan) lining up contractors for a new roof," Myers said. "He has plans to install a new porte-cochère at the entryway, and also new front doors."
The Urbana City Council endorsed local historic landmark status for the Urbana-Lincoln during a Committee-of-the-Whole meeting Monday night, with a final vote to come later. Myers said Yuan has already appeared before the Urbana Historic Preservation Commission, which must sign off on any major exterior changes to buildings with landmark status. Myers said the Lincoln is expected to be open again to receive guests sometime in 2011.
The Urbana-Lincoln Hotel was designed by local architect Joseph Royer, whose other buildings include the Champaign County Courthouse, the Urbana Free Library and Urbana High School. It is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the adjacent Lincoln Square Mall. The hotel was operated most recently as the Historic Lincoln Hotel until closing last year.
State grants are going to several projects in eastern Illinois that will make the way clearer for bicyclists and pedestrians. They range from nearly $626,000 to add bike lanes and walkway improvements to Urbana's Main Street to more than $1.24 million for a new bike path through Danville's Lincoln Park Historic District.
Another project getting funding is a proposed bike trail on a former railroad bed between Urbana and Kickapoo State Park near Danville. Steve Rugg heads the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation, which is working with the Champaign County Forest Preserve District on the so-called Kickapoo Trail. Rugg said the nearly $900,000 grant would help pay for land acquisition, but he said talks with the current owner of the rail bed have been deadlocked.
"We continue to work with CSX," said Rugg. "To this point we have not reached agreement, and it remains to be seen whether we'll actually get the acquisition completed."
The Illinois State Department of Transportation is giving out more than $6 million for the trails to help promote alternatives to driving. The village of Mahomet is also getting $1.18 million to help develop a pathway along Lake of the Woods Road, and the village of Rantoul will get to work on a bike path with a $782,000 grant.
Another series of roundtable discussions on a proposed extension of Olympian Drive in Champaign County spent a lot of time on the design phase.
Engineers in Wednesday's public hearing in Urbana briefly ran through cost options of what's been identified as the first two phases through prior roundtables. Those are extending Olympian at Apollo Drive to Lincoln Avenue, and extending North Lincoln at Saline Court to Olympian. The full project calls for extending Olympian to US 45. The 60 people attending Wednesday night split up into roundtables on items like bike paths, wide medians, and installing roundabouts. But at least one elected official contends engineers have bigger issues to contend with first.
Champaign County Board Democrat Brendan McGinty calls the meeting a good effort, but says this issue is much more complicated. "There are going to be sticky issues regarding the sweeping 'S' up to connect Lincoln to Olympian," said McGinty. "Focusing on that to get the public behind that and the landowners behind that I think would be important. But, you know these are issues that would need to be addressed at some point. It feels like this is step 52 that we are taking now when we really need to be addressing step 1, 2, and 3."
McGinty says last night's forum also should have included talk on property acquisition, since it's been discussed among Urbana city leaders. County Board Republican Alan Nudo says he was impressed with the list of cost options, but says engineers need to do a feasibility study on the traffic in that area before deciding on a two or four lane road. Urbana City Council member Brandon Bowersox says he's glad stakeholders got to have a say. "There were no easy clear-cut answers, there were really a split of feelings, but at least it was good for me to see that everyone had a chance to come weigh in on that," said Bowersox. "That information will all be public, and all be available to people as we go ahead."
A longtime supporter of roundabouts, Urbana Mayor Prussing says she was happy to see support for traffic calming devices that cut down on accidents and save the cost installing traffic signals. Engineer Matt Heyen says Illinois' Department of Transportation has confirmed that part of $5-million in Illinois 'Jobs Now' funds can be used to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue. The next public meeting on the project is expected this fall.
As the organizers of Champaign-Urbana's Big Broadband project prepare for the start next year of construction of the high-speed fiber-optic network ... they're asking local institutions to be early participants.
The Urbana Champaign Big Broadband Consortium, or UC2B, has sent out applications to some 300 hospitals, public safety agencies, schools, social service institutions and others, asking them to become "anchor institutions" in the new broadband network.
UC2B Project Manager John Kersh says getting local institutions on board with the new network will enrich the service for residential and other customers who join them later --- because all would be receiving the same high-speed service.
"One primary example would be increased accessibility between medical facilities or rescue and fire, and residents", says Kersh. "And there could be some things that could be done with the technology and accessibility between those two entities."
Kersh says the cost of connecting to the new fiber-optic network would be free for the anchor institutions --- paid for by the federal grant UC2B was awarded earlier this year. The anchors would only pay the monthly service charge, which Kersh says will be lower than what the typical private Internet provider charges.
Potential anchor institutions have until September 1st to submit their applications.
Kersh says if UC2B keeps to its construction schedule, some of the anchor institutions could be using the new high-speed network some time next year.
UC2B is a joint project of the cities of Champaign and Urbana and the University of Illinois. A federal grant is funding construction of UC2B's core network, and hookups to underserved neighborhoods and the anchor institutions. The network will also be available to other Internet service providers.
The last in a series of roundtable discussions on an extension of Olympian Drive looked at design options for one day linking the road with US 45 north of Urbana.
But last night's discussion among elected officials from Champaign County, Urbana, and Champaign also produced frustration with the way the forum was conducted, and the lack of cost estimates. The final roundtable discussion held by consultants was described as a private meeting with a public audience. Democratic County Board member Barb Wysocki says she's frustrated that very differing opinions on what should occur with the extension are being 'squashed.' And Wysocki said last night she was disappointed the consultants hadn't read the visioning document for Champaign County called Big-Small-All, a process she helped create. "Those who stuck with the process gave very good input," said Wysocki. "And they were thoughtul, they weighed matters, they were very careful about how they come up with goals and objectives. And for them to admit that they (consultants with Vector Communications) hadn't read it or even heard of it until this (Thursday) afternoon, to me it's unthinkable."
Champaign city council member Deb Frank Feinen, a Republican, agrees the public are being left out of this process, and wants citizens to weigh in on some of the design options. "There may be pieces of this that could qualify for special funding," said Feinen. "I mean, maybe the biker pedestrian or wetlands would qualify for funding we haven't even begun to think about yet. But we have to know that we want that included in the plan in order to go seek that funding."
The $27-point-5 million extension of Olympian Drive could be done in phases, starting with a stretch from Apollo Drive to Lincoln Avenue. But Democratic Champaign County board member Alan Kurtz contends funding for the full extension would run around $35-million. He says the county has better uses for its motor fuel tax money, including road and bridge repairs. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says the Olympian Drive project was always meant to be done in phases. "We have enough funding to do this project if you look at it as taking place over time," said Prussing. "We have money coming in every year to the county, they get $3 million in motor fuel tax funds, and can allocate about a third of that to fringe roads, which this would qualify for. And I think we should be asking our Congressman for federal money for Lincoln Avenue."
Prussing says the logical way of doing this project would be to extend Apollo Drive in Champaign to Lincoln Avenue in Urbana, extend Lincoln out to 45, then finish up the west end of the project, extending to I-57. The extension would also rely on Illinois Capital bill funds, and request from the upcoming federal transportation bill. Consultants expect to hold another meeting on August 25th to begin forming a consensus.
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