'Gateway into downtown': 520 Neil construction progressing

'Gateway into downtown': 520 Neil construction progressing

CHAMPAIGN — The five-story building going up just north of downtown Champaign is on schedule to open next June, its developer said.

Across the street from the post office — at 520 N. Neil St. — it will be the new home for local venture-capital firm Serra Ventures and a "third-wave" coffee shop to be named later.

"We're still in talks. We do have a preliminary agreement with a tenant for the retail space on the main level," said Steve Lehman, president of Element Building, the Morton-based construction company behind the building. It will be an "upscale coffee shop experience."

Once completed, the building should help expand downtown north a block, in line with the city's Neil Street Corridor improvement plan, said Bruce Knight, the city's planning and development director.

"Part of the Neil Street Corridor plan suggests trying to establish the feel of entering downtown at Neil and Columbia rather than Neil and Washington," Knight said. "This building starts to define that gateway into downtown and is very consistent with that Neil Street Corridor study."

Prior to the 520 Neil project, part of the site was a long-vacant lot with an ATM, and the other part was a dry cleaners that had closed in the 1990s, Knight said.

"It's been vacant for a long time, well over 20 years," he said.

The first floor of the building will also have a fitness area, the second through fourth floors will be 35 luxury apartments, and the fifth floor will be the home for Serra Ventures, which is currently at the University of Illinois Research Park.

"The entire project is huge for downtown Champaign," Lehman said.

"This new location will quite literally enable a new level of effectiveness and service to our portfolio companies and investors," said Tim Hoerr, CEO of Serra Ventures, when the project was announced.

It will include a coworking incubator space for the companies Serra partners with, and there will also be a rooftop patio.

After the project's start in April, the frame is nearly complete, and construction crews are hoping to seal it off before winter hits.

"We're expecting to have it weather-tight in the next month," Lehman said. "That way we can continue working on the inside through the winter."

Element was started four years ago and has done some student housing apartments in town, Lehman said.

"We're very excited about being in the heart of Champaign," he said. "This feels like a capstone project and shows some of our capabilities and commitment to the Champaign area. Hopefully it's just the first of many similar projects we embark on."

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