One of the owners of the land where the Metropolitan Building once stood on the southwest corner of Church and Neil streets said his group could be ready to move forward with a marketing plan for the site in about a month or so.
I spoke with Bob Ballsrud this morning, one of three co-owners, and he said the new sidewalks across the street at M2 will make it easier to show the site.
Before anything can happen with the property — now an empty hole in the ground scattered with some debris left behind from the Metropolitan Building that burned down in 2008 — Ballsrud said “an appropriate developer would have to come forth.”
Some kind of mixed-use (for example, retail on the first floor and apartments or condominiums upstairs) would probably make the most sense for the site, Ballsrud said, but “right now it’s a blank canvass.” There are not any development plans in place that enumerate any specific design details.
Ballsrud said his group had been working with the owners of the adjacent property to determine whether the two sites could be marketed together.
Though it’s less expensive to build now than it was two or three years ago — the costs of construction materials are down — developers are more risk-averse in the current economy, Ballsrud said. Still, he does not anticipate that it would be outrageously difficult to find a developer for “the most prominent corner” of the downtown area.
“We feel a little responsibility in making sure it gets done the right way,” Ballsrud said.
Investigators never did determine how the Metro Building burned down, he said. Bricks were sent to labs for chemical analysis and X-rays, and about 40 investigators were involved.
“They couldn’t find anything,” he said.
Ballsrud and the two other owners were rehabbing the 130-year-old building just before it burned down. They were adding residences with 25-foot-high ceilings on the upper floor.
Below are photos of the site before, during and after the 2008 fire. @palmerlaw has also shared with us his Picasa album of more fire photos shot by him, Champaign City Council member Tom Bruno (@TomBruno) and The News-Gazette's John Dixon.