It's Your Business: New event venue nearly ready

For the past year, Jeff Grant and Perry Davidson have been renovating the former Hundman Lumber facility in Champaign for a new events center.

They hope to begin hosting events at the new Fluid Events Center by the beginning of September, Grant said.

Grant envisions the center, at 601 N. Country Fair Drive, C, as a site for not only wedding receptions, banquets and parties, but also concerts, expos, meetings and car and boat shows.

The 65,000-square-foot space has been divided into three main sections, including:

— A banquet room that's expected to seat about 400.

— A theater space for concerts, performances and meetings.

— A concourse with concession stands and rest rooms.

Each of the areas has a massive bar. The center also has four meeting rooms and several dressing rooms.

Grant said he believes it will be one of the largest event spaces in the area, behind State Farm Center.

"It will give us more options to bring in events," he said.

Grant said the Fluid Events Center could even host outdoor events, such as a farmers' market.

Fluid Events Production Co. has been hosting events at 88 Broadway in Urbana's Lincoln Square Village for the past three or four years.

Grant said Fluid Events will continue to use that space for smaller parties, but eventually the 88 Broadway space is expected to be turned into "a more family-style pizzeria."

Fluid Events, which offers full-service event planning and staging, has worked on the Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival in downtown Champaign since 2008.

The business recently relocated its office from downtown Champaign to the Country Fair Drive location. The phone number remains 359-6960.

Grant said he expects the new events center to employ about 30 people full time and a part-time staff of about 100.

Savoring Savoy

Hope you're hungry if you're headed to Savoy.

— Smoky's House BBQ, which opened July 20 in the former Bangkok Thai space at Savoy Plaza, plans a grand opening Tuesday.

— Emma's Eatery expects to open just north of the Dollar Tree store in Savoy Plaza once equipment arrives.

— Work on a new McDonald's restaurant is expected to get underway in mid-August.

Joe Evans, who operates Smoky's House BBQ with his wife, Chao Yang, said their restaurant will serve pulled-pork sandwiches for $2 all day Tuesday as part of the grand opening.

Hours for Smoky's House — located just south of the Friar Tuck Beverage store — are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays during the summer.

Savoy Village Administrator Dick Helton said Emma's Eatery is "ready to go" once it gets the equipment it needs. The restaurant will be operated by Blackhawk Restaurant Group.

Attempts to reach Blackhawk principal Mike Thiessen for comment were unsuccessful.

But the group, which operates Elmer's Restaurants and Taprock Northwest Grills — states on its website that it's introducing "a new bistro concept — a casual upscale eatery which will also include state-approved video gaming terminals."

It was noted at a Savoy Village Board meeting earlier this year that Emma's is expected to have five video gaming machines.

Blackhawk said its bistros will feature craft beers and wine, as well as coffee, tea and espresso drinks.

Construction on the long-awaited McDonald's — to be built west of the CVS Pharmacy at U.S. 45 and Curtis Road — should proceed once debris from the recently demolished Reliable Mechanical building is removed, Helton said.

"I anticipate that will be done in the next couple weeks and they can start working on the store," he said.

Helton said other economic-development projects are bubbling along the U.S. 45 and Curtis Road corridors, ranging from retail projects to senior living projects. Some could come to light within a month, depending on the developers, he said.

Partnership seeks director

The Champaign Center Partnership is in the process of hiring a new executive director to succeed T.J. Blakeman.

Blakeman said he's planning to return full time to the Champaign Planning and Development Department come Sept. 1.

The partnership, which represents businesses in downtown Champaign, Campustown and the "midtown" area between them, was formed in November 2010 and operated a few months without a director.

In April 2011, the Champaign City Council agreed to provide financial support for the partnership as well as a portion of Blakeman's work time.

He spent 20 hours a week — Monday mornings, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and all day Fridays — working for the partnership and another 20 hours working for the planning department.

"I always intended to come back" to full-time work at the planning department, Blakeman said.

The partnership has 76 business members as well as 13 investor-sponsors, Blakeman said. The organization coordinates an array of events, including the Parade of Lights, Restaurant Week, 13 Thursdays and Center City Summer Stage.

Neil Plaza signs tenants

Three tenants have signed on to occupy Neil Plaza, the new strip shopping center on North Neil Street in Champaign across from Macy's.

In addition to Sport Clips, which was recently mentioned in a previous column, Lovely Nails and Lacey's Place will have spaces there, according to center developer Steve Zhao.

Lovely Nails is currently located at 1006 W. Anthony Drive, C, not far from Sam's Club. Lacey's Place will be a lounge that plans to offer video gaming, Zhao said.

Zhao said he hopes the center will be ready for occupancy in early August.

El Oasis opens

El Oasis, the new Mexican-style ice cream parlor, has opened in the former Smoothie King location at 510 N. Cunningham Ave., U.

Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays, according to an Urbana Business Association release.

In addition to traditional ice cream flavors like pistachio and mango, El Oasis offers flavors such as tequila and corn. It also serves sandwiches, yogurt, nachos and Mexican-style sodas, the release stated.

Contact Don Dodson at 351-5227 or 800-252-3346; by email at dodson@news-gazette.com; or by regular mail at The News-Gazette, c/o It's Your Business column, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.

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