Developer interested in downtown parking lot

Developer interested in downtown parking lot

CHAMPAIGN – A Madison, Wis., company is interested in building a tax-credit apartment building downtown that would combine living space for artists and entrepreneurs with accompanying work studios.

Gorman & Co. has indicated interest in building on the north half of city parking Lot C, near the intersection of North Walnut and Washington streets. The city parking lot is located north of The News-Gazette building.

Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight confirmed that the city has been in talks with the company and is excited about the potential project. But he also said the city will go through a competitive "request for qualifications" process to see if any other developers are interested.

The request could go out within a month, Knight said.

"We would do an RFQ seeking development of artist-oriented live-work space," he said. "If we open up Lot C (for development), it will be a competitive process."

Gorman & Co. has developed similar artist loft buildings in Milwaukee and Racine, Wis.

"We went up to Racine and Milwaukee last summer and visited a number of these projects," Knight said. "They're very impressive, the creative energy they create. We've been talking about the downtown being a center for the arts and artists, and this would be very consistent with that."

To get tax credits, Gorman & Co. would have to submit an application to the Illinois Housing Development Authority and be selected through a competitive process. The next application deadline is in April and, after that, December. Under such a scenario, Gorman would sell the tax credits to corporations, which would then supply the company with cash for the development. The corporations would use the tax credits to lower their income tax bill.

Tom Capp, chief operating officer for Gorman & Co., said the company has "a good, strong interest in downtown Champaign."

Capp, a University of Illinois alumnus, said that interest was piqued when he came to Champaign for the first time in many years last April to speak at a planning conference and was "amazed" at the downtown's transformation.

He said his company, which has offices in both Madison and Milwaukee, has done about 30 "urban revitalization developments" geared toward artists and the so-called "creative class." The projects are "mixed income," with some units renting for $700 to $800 and others offering higher, market-rate rents.

"Our developments will often have income ranges from $20,000 to well into six figures," Capp said. "Most of the development we do is urban infill, downtown revitalization. Some is historic preservation, and some of it is new construction/mixed use."

Gorman & Co. is doing a marketing study right now and has not yet decided exactly how many apartment/work space units it would have, Capp said. But he said, typically, the company builds 60 to 85 units.

"Champaign, the way it's developed, I think it's broadened itself to be much more than a college town," Capp said. "We're targeting people who want to live in a downtown area. They're members of a creative class who want to be part of the interesting and vital scene downtown."

Knight said he expects the building would have commercial space on the first floor where residents could sell their art, possibly along with other small businesses.

If the north half of Lot C is developed, the city would lose about 100 parking spaces. Knight said the city would have to find alternative parking for residents and tenants of the One Main building.

The News-Gazette also has a right of first refusal to develop the entire parking Lot C and a waiver of that right would have to be worked out, Knight said.

John Foreman, publisher of The News-Gazette, said the newspaper is prepared to negotiate with the city.

"We'll be glad to try and work with the city for what's in the best interests of the downtown," Foreman said.

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