Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 18, 2011

Borders Seeks Approval to Liquidate

There will be no storybook ending for Borders. The 40-year old book seller could start liquidating its 399 remaining stores as early as Friday.

The chain, which helped pioneer the big-box bookseller concept, is seeking court approval to liquidate its stores after it failed to receive any bids that would keep it in business. The move adds Borders to the list of retailers that failed to adapt to changing consumers' shopping habits and survive the recession, including Circuit City Stores Inc., Mervyn's and Linens `N Things.

Borders is expected to ask a judge to approve a sale to liquidators led by Hilco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers Group. Liquidation sales could start as soon as Friday if the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York approves the move at a scheduled hearing on Thursday. The company is expected to go out of business by the end of September.

Borders attempt to stay in business unraveled quickly last week, after a $215 million "white knight'' bid by private-equity firm Najafi Cos. dissolved under objections from creditors and lenders. They argued the chain, which has 399 stores and 10,700 employees, would be worth more if it liquidated immediately.

"We were all working hard towards a different outcome, but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, eReader revolution, and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now,'' said Borders Group President Mike Edwards in a statement.

Simba Information senior trade analyst Michael Norris said a Borders liquidation could have far-reaching effects, putting thousands of people out of work at a time of high unemployment, even possibly cause sales of electronic books to fall.

"Bookstore employees don't just sell books, they sell the activity of reading, and this decision throws thousands of them out of work,'' said Simba Information senior trade analyst Michael Norris. "This industry is going to slowly figure out that a lot of e-book readers still use bookstores all the time to discover what's new before heading home to buy it for their e-reading device.''

Borders entered the electronic book market with Canada's Kobo Inc. last year. Owners of the Kobo e-reader will still be able use Kobo software to buy and read books. A Borders spokesperson declined to comment about what would happened to e-books bought from Borders.com

It has been a long fall for Borders since Tom and Louis Borders opened their first store in 1971, selling used books in Ann Arbor. At the time, the brothers were mostly interested in offering other bookstores a system they developed for managing inventory.

But in 1973, the store moved to a larger location and shifted its focus to selling new books and expanding, helping pioneer the big-box bookstore concept along with Barnes & Noble Inc. At the time, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton mall chains, with small stores and 20,000 to 50,000 titles, were growing rapidly. The new superstores, by contrast, offered between 100,000 and 200,000 titles, as well as enticements to linger like comfortable chairs and attractive lighting.

Kmart Corp. saw the potential and acquired Borders in 1992, forming a book unit with Waldenbooks. It then spun the bookstores off as a separate company in 1995, the same year Amazon started selling books online.

Borders was slow to adapt to the changing industry and lost book, music and video sales to the Internet and other competition. Sales sales began to fall, leading to a revolving door of CEOs. By the time Borders' current CEO, financier Bennett LeBow, came aboard in May 2010 after investing $25 million in the company, bankruptcy was already looking like a strong possibility.

Borders filed for bankruptcy protection in February after being hurt by tough competition from online booksellers and discounters. It hoped to successfully emerge from bankruptcy protection by the fall as a smaller and more profitable company, but pressure from creditors and lenders eventually led the chain to put itself up for sale and finally, seek approval to liquidate.

At its peak, in 2003, Borders operated 1,249 Borders and Waldenbooks, but by the time it filed for bankruptcy protection in February that had fallen to 642 stores and 19,500 employees. Since then, Borders has shuttered more stores and laid off thousands.

Borders says it expects to be able to pay vendors for all expenses incurred during the bankruptcy cases.

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, file)

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 18, 2011

Summer School at UI Focuses on Carbon Capture and Storage

More than 50 graduate students and young scientists from all over the world are at the University of Illinois this week to study efforts in cutting down on greenhouse gases.

They are taking part in a summer school program put on by the IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme, a group created under an Implementing Agreement with the International Energy Agency.

Robert Finley, the director of the Advanced Energy Technology Initiative with the U of I's Prairie Research Institute, said Illinois is home to significant research in carbon sequestration. He said part of the summer program involves visits to Decatur's Archer Daniels Midland Company, where a project is underway to store about a million metric tons of carbon dioxide created by ADM's ethanol production.

"It is really gratifying to see the level of interest and help these students gain understanding that they might potentially utilize in their career as we try to address climate change issues," Finley said.

By the end of the week, Finley said the students will share presentations on topics ranging from the best approaches to capturing carbon dioxide to the cost of storing it. He said he is hopeful the students will advance this technology.

"It's an important technology to perfect because there are a lot of questions about it," Finley said. "People ask is it safe? Is it affective? What is it going to do to the cost of electricity? So, all those questions need to be answered to make sure we have this available as one of the portfolio of options."

The summer school's presence at the U of I marks the first time in its five year history that it has been held in the United States.

Categories: Education, Energy, Science

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 18, 2011

Twenty-One Illinoisans on Obama ‘Bundler’ List

About twenty Illinois residents have made the list of big campaign fundraisers for President Obama's re-election effort.

The Obama campaign late last week released a list of about 250 people they're calling "volunteer fundraisers." The more common name for these big ticket supporters, though, is "bundlers." They each raised more than $50,000 for the campaign by getting their friends to give, too.

The list includes the chairman and CEO of ComEd, Frank Clark, and a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, Laura Ricketts. Also highlighted: Penny Pritzker, who led Mr. Obama's 2008 fundraising committee, and Michael Sacks, an investment banker who last week was appointed to help lead a business commission by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel, a recent White House chief of staff, didn't himself donate to his old boss, or make the list of big bundlers. But his brother, Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel, did.

All told, the president raised some $86 million since beginning his fundraising drive in April. That is when he visited Chicago for an evening of back-to-back-to-back events.

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 16, 2011

Former Illini and NBA Star Williams Signs with Turkish Team

New Jersey Nets point guard and former Fighting Illini standout Deron Williams says on Twitter that he has officially signed with Turkey's Besiktas.

The All-Star guard has posted a picture of Friday's agreement with Besiktas bearing his signature on his Twitter account. Williams says on Twitter: "just made it official, headed to Turkey...signed with Besiktas.''

Williams averaged 20.1 points and 10.3 assists for the Nets and the Utah Jazz last season.

Categories: Education, Sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 15, 2011

Tenants Still Living at Cherry Orchard, Restraining Order Extended

(Reported by Pam Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)

People are still living at the Cherry Orchard Village apartments, located just north of Thomasboro.

Champaign County Judge John Kennedy extended a temporary restraining order Friday that gives public health officials the power to keep one building on the property closed. He first issued the order last week after several witnesses testified that people were still living in one of the buildings on the property.

Bernard and Eduardo Ramos, managers of the complex, were ordered in April to vacate all of the building on the property after they were found guilty of failing to legally connect and repair sewage systems for six of the eight buildings on the property. In addition, they were fined more than $54,000 following the conclusion of a civil case filed by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

During several inspections, county health department officials have found raw sewage on top of the ground and discovered sewage flowing into a neighboring farmer's tile. The case was opened in 2007 and filed in court in 2010 after the Ramoses failed to remedy the problems.

The raw sewage poses serious health risks for both the tenants at Cherry Orchard and people they come in contact with - such as Hepatitis A, E. Coli and Salmonella , health officials said.

The temporary restraining order allowed officials to board up one building on the property - known as the "Jones Building"- post signs warning people to keep out and secure lids on open septic tanks.

Public health officials also spent last weekend evicting about 60 people from the Jones Building. Those tenants moved to Danville, said Julie Pryde, administrator for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

Yet people continue to live in another building on the complex - a two-unit apartment building on the west side of the property, she said.

"I have no idea who is living up there," Pryde said after Friday's hearing. "We have seen at least four people, we've also seen four vehicles and a dog so it's anybody guess how many people are actually occupying the buildings over there."

The judge granted an extension of the restraining order until the next hearing on the case, which is to take place by September.

Bernard and Eduardo Ramos did not come to Friday's hearing or have representation. They have repeatedly declined to comment to the media and have yet to be arrested on two outstanding warrants. Kennedy amended the arrest warrant last week and required that the two be jailed until the Cherry Orchard property is empty or the sewage system is repaired.

(Photo courtesy of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 15, 2011

Blagojevich Returns to Court to Hear Bond Details

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich told a federal judge Friday that he understands he could lose his home if he violates the conditions of his bond.

Lawyers for Blagojevich say the former governor and his wife are trying to sell their home on Chicago's North Side. News of the home sale came during the hearing where Judge James Zagel increased Blagojevich's bond to $450,000.

The former governor is considered a greater flight risk now that he is facing substantial prison time.

The Blagojevich's are using their home and a condo to secure the bond, but Blagojevich's attorneys hoped to exclude the house to make it easier to sell. Judge Zagel said both properties have to be put up.

"Patti and I were here to comply as we always try to do, with all the different rules and we signed all the necessary papers to comply with the bond requirements," Blagojevich said after the hearing.

The Blagojevich's say between their home and condo, they have about $600,000 in equity.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 15, 2011

Champaign Unveils Transformed Houses

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 15, 2011

Chicago Mayor Laying Off Up to 625 Workers

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Friday he is laying off up to 625 city workers, after labor leaders blew a Friday deadline to come up with a list of cost-saving measures in order to avoid pink slips.

"I took the steps because I cannot wish away this budget shortfall," Emanuel said.

The layoffs will hit the city's water department call center, city custodians, and the office that manages health benefits for city workers. His plan will also lead to a 75 percent force reduction of the seasonal workforce at the Department of Transportation, which would mean fewer street and sidewalk improvements this year.

Layoff notices will begin going out next week, said a mayoral spokeswoman.

The mayor also used his remarks to slam union leaders for not agreeing to a menu of of compensation and work rule changes he said would have precluded pink slips. His proposal, outlined to the public in its entirety for the first time Friday, would eliminate sick pay for city trade workers, lengthen the work week, and reduce pay for overtime, among other changes.

The mayor said his administration would meet with labor leaders on Monday, but he would not say whether he would cancel the layoffs if union workers agree to the work rule changes he had pushed.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez responded to the mayor's decision on Friday afternoon. Ramirez said he was unaware of the deadline and that he and other leaders would continue to work on their own cost-saving plan. He said the CFL has hired an outside consultant to help come up with a proposal.

Ramirez said the unions were left in the dark about Emanuel's proposed work rule changes.

"They have never been formerly presented with anything, they haven't been asked to sit down in a formal way, and this is something shouldn't have caught the city by surprise," Ramirez said. "We told them there was a process from the very first meeting that we had. We suggested to them that they engage it if they intend to do anything like that, and they just chose not to."

Emanuel's administration inherited the labor dispute from former Mayor Richard Daley. The Daley administration balanced its 2011 budget, in part, by squeezing concessions and furlough days from unions. But that labor agreement expired last month, leaving the Emanuel administration to come up with about $31 million in savings to close out the budget year.

Emanuel has said he is against imposing more furlough days on city workers and he previously ordered a partial hiring freeze. He also said seven city-run health clinics will turn over primary care services to federally funded clinics. Emanuel said the measures would save $20 million.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 14, 2011

Rare Flower Expected to Bloom at UI

It is just a matter of time before a rare tropical plant housed at University of Illinois' Plant Biology Building starts to bloom.

The plant is a titan arum, but it is commonly known as a "corpse flower" because of its pungent odor. Greenhouse Manager Debbie Black said the scent, which smells like raw meat, will travel once the plant blooms, so that it can attract beetles, flesh flies, and other pollinators.

"They have to move out to bring that pollinator in because you're not going to find a field of titan arum's anywhere," Black said. "They're not real prevalent, and so this odor really has to move quite a long distance."

To improve its chances of pollination, the corpse flower heats up to near human body temperature by burning stored carbohydrates. Black said the flower will only be open for two days, and it well then go dormant for up to six months.

The plant was grown from a seed given to the U of I by a botanist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who cultivated "Big Bucky," the first titan arum to bloom in Wisconsin. After that plant flowered in 2001 in Wisconsin, the seed was harvested and shared with Illinois and several other institutions.

Less than 100 plants of its kind have bloomed in cultivation in the U.S. since the first titan arum unfurled at the New York Botanical Gardens in 1937.

The greenhouses and plant collections at 1201 S. Dorner Drive, Urbana are open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The hours may be extended and may include 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, depending on when the flower blooms.

Categories: Education, Environment

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 14, 2011

Indiana Ends Budget Year with $1.2B Surplus

Indiana closed its budget books Thursday with $1.2 billion in extra cash, built on a series of deep cuts to education and healthcare services and improved tax collections.

State Auditor Tim Berry called the state workers who bore most of those budget cuts via greater workloads, "heroes."

"The surplus was built on the backs of state employees," said Berry, after he thanked them for tightening their belts.

Gov. Mitch Daniels has already said he plans to keep that money in savings rather than restore cuts made in recent years.

The Daniels administration set a target of cutting $597 million from the budget last July, just before state tax collections improved. Although tax collections improved dramatically over the last year, the administration cut deeper as the year went on, ultimately cutting roughly $460 million more than what they planned for last July.

"More money in Hoosiers' incomes and a terrific job of cost control by state employees working together combined to produce an even stronger result than we expected at budget time," Daniels said in a statement Thursday. He planned a Friday morning press conference to discuss the budget.

But talk of the massive state surplus glossed over how the administration achieved it, largely through cuts to education and children's healthcare, House Minority Leader Pat Bauer said Thursday.

"This is a gimmicky report; which has not been unusual for this administration," said Bauer, D-South Bend.

The state school system bore much of the brunt over the last year, returning $325 million from the $6.9 billion that it was allotted in the previous budget. The cuts were more pronounced for state agencies with smaller budgets such as the Department of Child Services, which had its budget slashed by $104 million.

The other half of the state's budget equation, tax collections, improved significantly over the last year, and the state collected $204 million more than it had projected. Most of that money, $195 million, came from income taxes.

The budget surplus should help the state replenish its emergency spending fund, the Rainy Day Fund, which is monitored closely by bond-rating agencies as they set interest rates for the state on its outstanding debt.

The $1.2 billion also fell just short of the amount needed to trigger automatic tax refunds for Hoosiers. The automatic tax refunds kick in when the state has a surplus equal to 10 percent or more of general spending. The $1.2 billion figure amounted to 9.1 percent of spending.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

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