Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Reconstruction Plan in Place for Fire-Damaged Campustown Building

A building nearly destroyed by fire in Champaign's Campustown neighborhood could be operating again by early 2012.

The fire that began in the upstairs of the structure in the 600 block of East Green Street brought business to a halt at Mia Za's café, Zorba's restaurant, and Pitaya clothing on March 23rd.

But an architectural firm has filed a permit to rebuild, and work with the three owners going from the drawings of the shell of the outer building. Neil Strack with Architectural Expressions LLP said the initial plans are to place a new upstairs, roof, and front façade on the building. He expects it will be about 60 days before the building's occupants can do their work.

"How long does it take for their drawings to get ready, ordering materials, contracts, so on and so forth," said Strack. "That would be past that 60 days, so you're talking about another 3 or 4 months after that before you see your first tenants open back up again."

Strack said communication will be a big concern moving forward since the building has three different owners and four different tenants, which includes two upstairs apartments.

Champaign's Building Safety Supervisor, Gary Bowman, said the challenge now is restoring the roof and outer shell after reviewing drawings of the building's original 1920's design.

"It's always a bit more complicated when you're trying to go back and repair something that's damaged and somewhat of an existing structure as opposed to building brand new from ground level," Bowman said. "A lot of times it's actually faster to build brand new than it is to try to repair an existing structure and correct all the things that are necessary for that. That inevitably adds time to the project."

Strack said it will take some time to comply with current codes in the old structure. The demolition and removal of remaining debris has been completed.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

Categories: Business, Economics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Blagojevich Sentencing Still Not Scheduled

The corruption re-trial is over, and now former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich awaits his sentencing.

Blagojevich was found guilty Monday of 17 of the 20 counts charged against him. With all the counts added up, Blagojevich could face as much as 300 years in prison.

Attorney Joel Bertocchi is a former federal prosecutor. He said it is highly unlikely Blagojevich would face that severe of a sentence, but he said the fact that the ex-governor did not accept responsibility for the charges won't help either.

"Mr. Blagojevich, I think, may present an unusual case," Bertocchi said. "Not only did he go to trial, but he made an awful lot of public noise about not accepting responsibility for the charges that the government leveled against him."

Bertocchi said six to 11 years could be closer to what the judge may be considering. It is uncertain when Blagojevich will be sentenced.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Thyssen to Expand Danville Plant, Close Another

The automotive parts company Thyssen Krupp Presta Danville, LLC, has announced an expansion, creating up to 100 new jobs in central Illinois.

The company also said Wednesday it would close its cold forge facility in Danville and relocate it to Puebla, Mexico. Thyssen officials said the 40 workers at the plant would be offered positions at its Presta manufacturing facility in Danville.

The company said it will invest nearly $40 million to increase production capacity at the Presta facility. The money will be spent on new assembly lines and machinery to be installed by December 2012.

Thyssen officials say expansion is needed because of increasing customer orders. They are looking to hire line and machine operators, equipment technicians and production support workers.

Thyssen received state tax credits and grant money.

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150: Cost of Keeping Communities Clean

Champaign, Urbana and Danville handle about 6,000 nuisance property cases a year. While most property owners fix problems when they receive notification, those who don't cost the city-and taxpayers-thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," CU-CitizenAccess reporter Pam Dempsey looks at how cities in east central Illinois are working to keep blight out of neighborhoods.

(Photo by Pam Dempsey)

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Categories: Business, Community, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Gov. Quinn Says Lawmakers Should Send Him Gambling Bill

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)

Legislation to authorize five new casinos in the state is waiting for Gov. Pat Quinn's signature, but the governor cannot sign the measure just yet.

The bill seeks to add casinos in Danville, Chicago, Rockford, Lake County and southern Cook County. Quinn has criticized the plan, calling it "top heavy." Though, he has said he could envision a casino in Chicago if it is properly done.

To buy some more negotiating time, Senate President John Cullerton is using a parliamentary procedure to hold the bill. Gambling supporters hope adjustments can be made to the legislation so that Quinn will sign it in the fall.

"He's obviously expressed concerns publicly on some of the provisions in the bill," Cullerton said on Monday. "So we're taking the time to go over the bill with the governor to make sure if there's any changes that he wants, that he can make those through a trailer bill."

During a visit to Champaign Tuesday afternoon, Quinn said lawmakers should just send him the gambling measure.

"I have 60 days to review the bill," Quinn said. "In this case they're holding it. I don't know what that's all about. I find it kind of a maneuver. I don't think that's necessarily the best way to go, but they can do what they want to. We're still going to analyze the bill from top to bottom."

The measure also seeks to add slot machines at horse racing tracks, Chicago's airports and the state fairgrounds. Supporters of the legislation say increasing the state's gambling industry would bring in $1.6 billion dollars in upfront fees and $500 million dollars or more annually.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Remembering Organist Warren York

Remembering Organist Warren York

Warren York was a plumber by trade, but audiences in Champaign knew him as a self-taught musician. For nearly 20 years, York entertained audiences at the city's Virginia Theater. After restoring the Wurlitzer in the old vaudeville house, he played in between movies at Roger Ebert's annual film festival, and during other events.

In a 2006 interview with WILL, York talked about his efforts to care for the organ.

"In some instances, when you've got a pretty good sized organ, it may take a year or so to rebuild it," York said. "But this one (the Virginia's) we like to keep in their (audiences) ears a little bit."

Longtime Virginia theater manager Leonard Doyle says the man's talents never ceased to amaze him.

"The notes and everything were in his head," Doyle said. "He played with no music, and somebody would ask him to play a piece of some sort, and he knew it. But he was a tremendous organist, and Warren is going to be very much missed in the community."

A series of health problems forced York to quit playing the organ in 2009. He passed away Monday morning at the Illiana Health Care system in Danville. York was 73. Graveside services are Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Clements Cemetery in Urbana.

There's already an effort underway to honor Warren York, benefiting the ongoing restoration of the organ. Donations may be made to the Warren York restoration fund at the Champaign Park District.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 28, 2011

Blagojevich Likely to Lose State Pension

Convicted former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is likely to lose his $65,000 annual state pension.

Director of the General Assembly Retirement System Timothy Blair said according to state law, any elected official or public employee convicted of a felony committed on the job, is ineligible for retirement benefits.

"No other benefits would be payable," Blair said. "So that's happened several times, in most of the retirement systems. That would apply to people who are teachers, state employees, and of course members of the General Assembly Retirement System. And that's the provision that George Ryan was subject to."

Blair said employees like Ryan can get back contributions they made to their pensions. He said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office will be asked to make a recommendation on whether Blagojevich should lose his pension. Then the board will take a vote based on that opinion.

A spokeswoman for Madigan's office said the former governor must first be sentenced before the pension can be denied.

It is uncertain when he will be sentenced.

The 54-year-old Democrat could start collecting his state pension on his next birthday December tenth.

Blair said he hopes the pension board will have a ruling before that.

Blagojevich could get $15,000 a year in federal retirement for the years he served in Congress. He could start drawing his federal pension at age 62.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 28, 2011

Gov. Pat Quinn Signs Workers’ Compensation Reform

New regulations clamping down on workers' compensation abuses in Illinois have been signed into law.

The changes include a 30 percent reduction in medical payments. Other provisions include letting payments for carpal tunnel syndrome last only 28 1/2 weeks, instead of 40. New guidelines also will make it harder for intoxicated workers to win claims.

During a visit to Champaign Tuesday afternoon, Governor Pat Quinn praised the measure, saying the changes are reasonable.

"The reforms we enacted I think will help workers and maintain their right to get compensation for an injury and at the same time be fair to the employers, and not in any way take advantage of them," Quinn said.

But State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said the workers comp legislation does not go far enough. He said it could do a better job connecting injuries that happen as a result of a job, rather than at a job.

"With causation, it's like putting a band-aid because you're still going to have claims filed that probably shouldn't be filed and attributed to workers' comp," Cultra said.

The changes to workers' compensation are expected to cut between $500 million and $700 million from the $3 billion workers' compensation system.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 28, 2011

Attorney: Ex-Ill. Gov. With Wife Before She Died

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was with his ailing wife as she was taken off a respirator and died at a Kankakee hospital.

That's according to former Gov. Jim Thompson. He tells WBBM-TV that Ryan was released from his prison in Terre Haute, Ind., to visit his wife. Thompson says the couple spent her final hours together.

Lura Lynn Ryan died Monday evening. She'd been diagnosed with lung cancer and hospitalized for apparent complications from chemotherapy.

Thompson says Ryan had been secretly released on four occasions since January to be with his wife of 55-years.

Court records show Ryan's attorneys petitioned an appellate court Friday to allow Ryan to leave the prison and visit his wife, but the court denied the request. Thompson says the prison warden allowed the visits.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 28, 2011

Inside Rod Blagojevich Jury Deliberations

After delivering their sweeping conviction of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Monday, jurors took a few minutes to talk to reporters.

They convicted Blagojevich on 17 of the 20 corruption charges. It is a vastly different outcome than the one reached by the first Blagojevich jury, which convicted on one minor count and was deadlocked on everything else. This second jury hopes their overwhelmingly guilty verdict sends a message to Illinois politicians.

In high-profile federal cases, court administrators will sometimes make a courtroom available where jurors can talk to reporters if they so choose. There is only one television camera and one microphone for radio stations, an attempt to make the whole experience less intimidating.

In Blagojevich's first trial, none of the jurors talked at court, and as a result reporters started tracking them down at their homes that evening. In an apparent attempt to avoid a repeat, Judge James Zagel seems to have suggested it might not be a bad idea for jurors to get it over with. All of them made themselves available for a 21 minute Q and A, and the forewoman even started with a prepared statement.

"As a jury, we have felt privileged to be part of our federal judicial system," she said.

The jurors spent nine days deliberating, but the forewoman, a retired church musician and liturgist, said it is not because they were arguing. She said they carefully went through each of the 20 counts.

"Throughout the process we were very respectful of each other's views and opinions, and as a result we feel confident we have reached a fair and just verdict," she said.

The jury found Blagojevich guilty on 17 counts of trying to use his office to enrich himself, but they still kind of liked him. Juror 103 (the court hasn't released the jurors names yet, but they're expected to do so Tuesday morning) spent a week listening to Blagojevich testify. She sat in the jury box in the front row, closest to the witness stand. As Blagojevich walked up to the stand he would often mouth or whisper a hello, or a "how ya doin" to her. He also jokingly rolled his eyes at her when attorneys were taking too long dealing with issues at sidebar.

Juror 103 said that connection "Made it, I wouldn't say it made it a bit harder but because he was personable it made it hard to separate that from what we actually had to do as jurors, you know, we had to put aside the fact that whether we liked him or didn't like him and just go by the evidence that was presented to us."

Another juror echoed the sentiment that Blagojevich is more than just a caricature.

"We know he's human, he has a family, and it was very difficult," the juror said. "There were many times we would talk and say, or I would say, here's all the evidence, and I'd come in thinking okay, he's not guilty and then all of a sudden, gosh darn you Rod, you did it again, I mean he proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty, so it was very difficult. I mean we, I really tried to just try to find everything I could to make him not guilty but the proof was there."

But not everyone was smitten by the former governor. One juror said she felt he was manipulative and an alternate juror said she felt Blagojevich could remember everything for his lawyers but then seemed to forget everything when the prosecutors were asking the questions.

In the end, the jurors agreed that Blagojevich committed crimes and they said that was made clear from the governor's phone calls, which were secretly recorded by the FBI. Jurors said the easiest counts to convict on included the allegations that Blagojevich tried to cash in on the ability to appoint Barack Obama's successor in the U.S. Senate. And they didn't buy the defense claim that Blagojevich was just talking and throwing around ideas.

"He was being tried on attempting and not committing the crime and when you say you're going to float an idea as opposed to asking someone to do it, that's where and there was several times where he said you know, do it, push that, get this done," one juror said. "I think that's where you cross the line of just floating an idea and actually doing it."

After talking to reporters for 21 minutes, a court employee brought the questioning to an end, and the jurors made their way to the basement of the federal court building and got into a 15-passenger van that took them to various train stations. A half dozen got out near Union Station and they hugged on the sidewalk outside the idling van. Two of the women were actually alternate jurors who came downtown just to hear the verdict. They didn't participate in deliberations, something they're still stewing about.

"You know, after you've been sitting through that for several weeks, I mean I had four notebooks full of notes, I was ready to deliberate and I knew what I wanted to say in deliberations, so unfortunately we never got that chance," juror 190 said. "But I will say I don't think I would have done anything differently than what they chose."

The two parted ways outside an entrance to Union Station, giving each other yet another hug. They said they loved each other and promised to see each other again, but were both anxious to catch their trains. Juror 190 was also anxious to finally talk to her family about the forbidden topic that has consumed her life since she was picked for jury service two months ago.

(AP Photo/Antonio Perez, Pool)

 


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