Retail recommended for Curtis interchange in Champaign

Retail recommended for Curtis interchange in Champaign

CHAMPAIGN – The 640 acres of farmland surrounding the Interstate 57-Curtis Road interchange now under construction represents "a rare economic development opportunity for the city of Champaign," according to a draft market assessment prepared by a city consultant.

The consultant, Business Districts Inc. of Evanston, is recommending that much of the property should be developed as a major retail area, with significant planning and oversight by the city to make sure the new southwestern gateway to the city is done tastefully. The interchange is scheduled to open in January.

The report also states that, because of population growth and local spending power, national retailers may be prepared to consider Champaign a "two-store" city, meaning retailers might be willing to have stores both in the North Prospect and Curtis Road areas.

"It's a rare opportunity, because communities don't usually get new interchanges," said Terry Jenkins, managing director with Business Districts, which began working on the market assessment in December. "Retailers and other businesses like to be near interchanges because it's convenient for customers and obvious for customers."

City Planning Director Bruce Knight said a major retail area near the Curtis Road interchange would benefit the growing southwest Champaign residential area, allowing residents to shop closer to home.

"I've heard complaints from people that they have to go up to North Prospect to get commercial service," Knight said. "We have an opportunity to provide some significant commercial opportunities closer to where people live."

The consultant's report says that developing the area near the Curtis Road interchange "would most probably not dilute the retail clusters in other areas of Champaign."

The Curtis Road area would likely become a regional marketplace serving a range of customers, from those who live nearby to those who drive an hour or more.

The property near the four quadrants of the interchange represents about 1 million square feet. That's about half the size of the North Prospect retail area.

The city would ensure that adequate buffering or less intense land uses would be put in place in areas where development property abuts nearby subdivisions, which include Cherry Hills and Rolling Meadows, Knight said.

The city hired Business Districts and another Evanston firm, Teska Associates, last December for $65,000 to prepare a master plan for the Curtis Road area. That report is expected to be completed by July, and the city won't consider development proposals until the plan is completed.

The master plan will include the market analysis, recommendations about land use and zoning and design guidelines.

The guidelines would set city standards for the size, placement and character of buildings.

Possibilities for future retail development include:

– A "lifestyle center" similar to the Shoppes at Grand Prairie in Peoria, an open air center that mixes large and small national chain stores in a highly landscaped format.

– A cluster of specialty stores similar to developments on North Prospect Avenue.

Besides retail, the Curtis Road area might be able to support a large office development, or a light manufacturer or distribution center, the draft report states.

"There are employers looking to relocate large office and light manufacturing into communities like Champaign, which has a lot of advantages because it's a college town with good infrastructure, good government and is relatively low cost compared to suburban Chicago," Jenkins said. "These uses bring good jobs, so we ought to make sure we think about that as a potential land use."

Though the property should be reserved primarily for retail, "some supportive residential" development for employees also might be appropriate, the report states.

Knight said the city will need to control the pace of development. That can be done, he said, by "how quickly we provide zoning approval for development."

"If we rush it, we lose the chance to get a first-class development for this area," he said. "There is a need for patience to get the best development."

Report meeting

An open house will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday at the First Christian Church, at Curtis and Staley roads, to present the draft report by Business Designs Inc. of Evanston recommending that the Interstate 57-Curtis Road interchange area become a major retail center.

The open house also will explain where the city is in the master planning process for the I-57-Curtis Road interchange area. It will include a "visual survey," showing images of retail development in other cities that could be used as a model for the Curtis Road area.

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