CHAMPAIGN - Back in the mid-1980s, when much of their new residential subdivision was still on the drawing board, the developers of Robeson Meadows were already envisioning the neighborhood shopping center they would build when the population in southwest Champaign caught up with their dreams.
Now that 15,000 to 18,000 people live within a mile and a half of their planned shopping center site, they think the time to build those stores and restaurants has arrived.
?We're right on schedule,? said Ralph Sackett, a partner in Robeson Crossing Inc., the group that has developed Robeson Meadows, Robeson Meadows West and the Robeson Crossing office campus.
Sackett said the new shopping center, to be called Village at the Crossing, will be under construction this spring at the southwest corner of Windsor and Duncan roads if the city council votes to approve the plans tonight.
Village at the Crossing would be a 20-acre neighborhood center that would offer 150,000 square feet of retail space and 50,000 square feet for offices.
Sackett said he and his partners, Robeson Crossing President Kyle Robeson and architect Bruce Hutchings, won't finalize any deals with businesses interested in moving into the center until the city council signs off on the project. But they have spoken with many shop and restaurant operators, and several are anxious to move in.
Among the prospective occupants of the center are a family-style restaurant, dine-in pizza shop, wine shop, sandwich shop, bakery, drugstore, florist, dry cleaner and neighborhood-style tavern.
?We've talked to a great deal of people who want to be there,? Sackett said.
The shops will be in several detached buildings, and businesses will have the opportunity to own their own building or lease, Sackett said.
The developers plan to include angled parking in front of the shops, a tower focal point, green space for a farmers' market, and easy pedestrian access from the walking trails in Robeson Meadows and Robeson Meadows West.
Bicycle and walking trails and hundreds of pine trees will help buffer the surrounding homes from the commercial area, Sackett said. He and his partners are also taking additional steps to shelter residents visually with low-key lighting and by keeping most parking in front of the stores rather than behind them.
Sackett said the whole center is being designed for social interaction. He envisions families that live in the area strolling over to the center for pizza after a softball game. ?We want to create social interaction for a lot of folks, the 18,000 people in this area,? he added.
The shops and dining places will be on the ground floors of the buildings and will open to canopied walkways. But the buildings will have high-pitched roofs that will leave space for second-story apartments in some, Sackett said.
While businesses will have an opportunity to own their own buildings, Sackett said, Robeson Crossing will retain strict architectural control over the design and materials used to ensure the quality the developers want.
Sackett said he and his partners have ruled out fast-food tenants and big anchor shops at the center, and envision most of the businesses having local owners. But national chains would also be welcome if they fit the concept Robeson Crossing is striving to create, he said.
The developers hope to start work on the roads, sewers and other components of the infrastructure in the spring, and with good building weather, hope to start moving businesses in later this year.
Sackett said the center is a culmination of all he, Hutchings and Robeson have been planning since Robeson Crossing was launched in 1985. The residential lots of Robeson Meadows and Robeson Meadows West are nearly sold out, he said, and all the lots in the office campus are sold with the exception of one, for which a sale is under negotiation.
Hutchings, the designer of the group's residential, office and commercial developments, said the long-standing plans for the shopping center have evolved a bit over the years but the underlying goal remains the same.
?We want to create something that people will want to come to,? he said.