Champaign Council Pursues Developer’s $95 Million Proposal
Champaign city council members have unanimously asked staff to further pursue a developer’s $95-million downtown proposal, starting with the sale of a city parking lot. That lot at Washington and Walnut Streets, and north of Main - would be the central location for a high-rise of apartments, hotel rooms, conference space, and retail, as well as a 600-space parking garage.
The plan comes from Hans Grotelueschen, who developed the nearby Hyatt Place Hotel that opened in 2014. Council member Tom Bruno says this kind of plan is usually unheard of in a city the size of Champaign, and developers should be praised for taking the financial risk.
"The fact that we're entertaining this proposal tonight is a credit to longtime city manager Steve Carter, longtime (and current) Planning Director Bruce Knight, and many people who have sat (in the council chambers) over the last 30 years," he said. “Little did we think in 2012 that we would be entertaining yet another high-rise hotel proposal. And it’s because of the environment we have created.”
The plan saw unanimous support, but council members Will Kyles and Clarissa Fourman cited the need for more affordable downtown housing to attract a more diverse population.
Planning and Development Director Knight admits this is not the project for that, but believes it would generate others.
“It can’t be just people that can afford an expensive condo, or high end apartment – there’s got to be a place for everybody," he said. "So one of the things that we see as a real opportunity is again, to use this project as an engine, to create opportunities for those other folks."
The council Tuesday also gave preliminary approval to two such projects that could generate that kind of growth, Tax Increment Financing Districts on the Fringe areas of downtown, and for the Bristol Park Area.
The proposal may also include moving the Orpheum Children’s Museum from its current space to behind the News-Gazette building, and refurbishing the current museum for meeting space. All talks are preliminary, but Grotelueschen has a goal in mind.
“If I’m a part of it, we will preserve the Orpheum structure, build a brand new children’s museum, and split those components," he said. "So I would recommend to say, here’s a great museum, here’s a great restored event space," he said.
Grotelueschen says it’s too early for him to give a timetable for his proposal, one that council member Marci Dodds called ‘visionary.’ The council could take final action by the spring of 2016.