CHAMPAIGN – A downtown landmark building has been sold, and one of the new owners said an extensive renovation is in the works.
A partnership made up of Jeffrey Mellander, George Grubb and Bob Ballsrud closed on purchasing the building at 219-223 N. Neil St. – at the southwest corner of Neil and Church streets – a few weeks ago, purchasing it from the Fu family.
Sol Tec Inc. and Nic's Basket Case are on the building's first floor. They are expected to remain.
Mellander – the president and owner of Precision Graphics who owns several downtown buildings – said the three-story brick Italianate style building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. The building has been called variously the Bailey-Rugg building and the Metropolitan Building.
"We're really excited about it," Mellander said. "It's a beautiful building and has really remained underutilized, except for the first floor, for so many years."
"It's going to be a challenging project, but it should be fun and bring a new dimension to downtown," said Ballsrud, who is vice president of Main Street Bank and Trust.
The second floor of the building, which has 12-foot ceilings, and the third floor, with 18-foot ceilings, have been vacant for many years, he said. The building has 19,000 square feet of space in all.
Though final plans have yet to be completed, Mellander said he expects the third floor will be made into seven loft apartments. The second floor could be either office space or apartments, he said, with the first floor remaining commercial.
The building will be extensively renovated over the next two years, he said.
"It will be a sensitively done renovation and we'll certainly bring it up to its best possible use," Mellander said.
He said the second floor is more likely to be used for office space, as such a use would fit well with the existing floor plan. But that's not completely decided, he said.
Mellander said his partners own the Grubb building at 114-116 N. Walnut St., which is being renovated and will have four second-floor apartments. That downtown project should be completed in about a month.
"This is the first partnership I've had," Mellander said. "I don't think I would have ventured into this on my own. It will take a substantial financial commitment." He declined to disclose the sale price.
Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight said that Mellander, Grubb and Ballsrud all have "a track record of not doing anything halfway."
"It's at a key location, it's an historic building in downtown Champaign," he said. "Having it improved with uses on the upper floors will really finish off that key intersection, with new or renovated buildings at all four corners."
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart said having local investors with a proven track record purchase the building is a good sign.
"I think it's good news," he said. "They should have the wherewithal to do it. That's the one corner that needs to be cleaned up."