Meeting keys on gains, pains from Volition

CHAMPAIGN - Build a $10 million building on an 80-space parking lot and you're bound to hear about it, about 80 times.

Almost that many people attended a city meeting Monday to hear more and say more about the growing pains the ambitious Volition project at 1 Main St. will impose on their parking habits.

To a person, those affected expressed enthusiasm for the five-story office, residential and retail complex. And many will be affected, from residents of downtown whose leased parking spaces are being displaced, to office workers who will be forced to move, to shoppers, diners and patrons of nightclubs who enjoy the proximity of their parking spaces to their favorite establishments.

Support, however, is tempered by misgivings over where the city is taking its parking system.

Craig Rost, the city's deputy city manager for development, admitted the parking system is a mishmash of rates and a maze of logic. The Volition project, he said, is an opportunity to design a rational and more equitable system.

"The timing for this is not ideal," he said. "What we're trying to respond to is a golden opportunity for downtown. The construction of a $10 million building is a big deal. Its coming here will start getting us to the point where we're a true urban center. We're at a growth point where we have to make some hard decisions."

Downtown residents and property owners are happy to participate in the process.

People with leased spaces on the 1 Main parking lot are feeling the immediate effect. They've been told their leases expire at the end of the month. Rost promised them the city will provide alternative spaces.

People who live downtown in particular are most affected. Their leased spaces generally aren't very close to where they live anyway. The new development will move them even farther out.

"It seems to me you've already decided," said Debbie Auble, the owner of Ward & Associates. "It seems to me you've already decided Volition and their workers are more important than us."

Tom Gillespie, an owner of Two Main, said parking spaces for patrons of his bar and residents who live above are all being displaced to as-yet-unknown locations, all of which affects the bottom line for a business little over a year old.

"I want to support this, I really do," he said. "But I've got to say that if I'd known this was going to happen across the street when I decided to invest over $1 million here, I'd have gotten cold feet."

Bruce Knight, the city's plan director, said the parking changes that are envisioned will be planned in earnest over the next few months. In that sense, the input received Monday will be a part of that process, in particular the needs of people who live downtown.

But for the Volition project, the need to make adjustments to the lot at 1 Main is immediate to allow the builders to break ground next month. They hope to complete the building within a year. A development agreement between the city and the Volition backers goes to the city council for a tentative endorsement on Tuesday.

Beyond that point, city officials are looking at broader changes to the overall parking system downtown. The changes will be designed around the principle that lease rates will be higher in the center of downtown and gradually decline the farther the spaces are from the center.

Volition, with developer Cody Sokolski, is building 24 condominiums on the upper stories and will build 40 parking spaces underground for residential use.

The city has also agreed to provide 80 leased spaces to Volition within about a block of the building at a cost of $50 per month for 12-hour spaces and $65 for 24-hour spaces. Rost said Monday that spaces at those rates will also be available to others downtown, which some said they'd gladly pay. Current downtown rates range from $15 to $25 per space per month.

In addition to the 80 spaces, the city has agreed to provide another 40 spaces for office tenants and 52 short-term spaces for retail uses of the project.

The city is trying to buy a new lot and trade outlying city lots for ones closer to downtown to consolidate its parking holdings. It is also working with David Meyer, owner of the old Robeson garage, toward renovations that will make that space available.

Meyer said he has proposed a plan to the city to make 200 spaces there available in the spring.

Rost estimated that with the planned purchase and trades under consideration, the city may be able to produce an additional 84 leased spaces.

Higher rates will be gradually phased in as the city works toward financing plans that can support the construction of a parking garage, which at this point appears most logical at Hill and Neil streets, Rost said.

City plans to crack down on illegally displayed ads

CHAMPAIGN - The city of Champaign announced Monday its intentions to start cracking down on illegally displayed advertising at gas stations and convenience stores.

Regulations allow for limited on-site advertising near fuel pumps that is not directed at passers-by. But over time, city officials said compliance with the rule has become increasingly lax and many additional signs have been erected.

Matt Flynn, the city's principal planner, said the city has taken inventory of such signage and issued notices to all businesses to remove the illegal signs by Jan. 15 or face fines.

"It's the city's intent to treat all businesses equally, and through voluntary cooperation, remove these unsightly signs from our streets," Flynn said.

The effort follows similar action in enforcing sign regulations on rights of way and regarding billposting for live bands in downtown and Campustown. Those efforts have met with good voluntary compliance, Flynn said.

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