News Local/State

Challenger Says FOIA Docs Support Urbana Hotel Charge

By Jim Meadows

Urbana Mayoral candidate Les Stratton says documents obtained through a Freedom Of Information Act Request support his charge that the city’s redevelopment agreement for a downtown hotel went ahead with inadequate planning and funding from the developer.

Stratton discussed the documents at a Wednesday news conference, where he was accompanied by former Urbana Mayor Todd Satterthwaite, who says he’s helping the former Urbana city employee with his campaign.

One of the documents released by Stratton is the February 2011 development plan from hotel developer Xiao Jin Yuan, which Stratton says is a “rambling narrative”, instead of a proper plan.

“The document submitted is not a development plan, a budget or a construction schedule”, said Stratton. “It is nothing more than a shopping list. There are no construction documents, no contractor estimates or bids, no general contractors identified, no solid information of any kind.”

The Urbana Landmark Hotel had a partial opening this past fall, after the Urbana City Council agreed to speed up the delivery of tax increment finance district money for the project. Stratton says if elected mayor, development projects would be better managed, partly through restoring the office of chief administrative officer.

Restoring the CAO position has been an important one for Stratton. He said the position operates in similar fashion to Champaign’s city manager, except that it answers to the mayor alone, instead of the city council.

“He would have more expertise in contracts”, Stratton said of the position. “He would be able to look at these contracts, and perhaps make them so that the city couldn’t lose.”

Mayor Laurel Prussing fired Urbana’s last CAO, Bruce Walden, in 2007. She now oversees city government with the help of a chief of staff, former newspaper reporter Mike Monson.

“I think Mike Monson has done an outstanding job”, said Prussing. “Urbana got the lowest rate on the electric aggregation. We got a little bit lower rate than Champaign. And we’re spending a lot less money on administration than we were before.”

And Prussing says the Urbana Landmark Hotel is off to a good start, despite only being partially open, and requiring earlier delivery of some of the city money allotted for building renovations. Prussing says such revisions are to be expected with development projects. And she says spending TIF money on hotel renovations is a wise investment at any rate, since the city council has determined that preserving the hotel is a long-term priority for downtown development.

Stratton faces Prussing in the February 21st Democratic mayoral primary in Urbana. The winner faces Republican mayor candidate Rex Bradfield in the April election.