Major upgrade for old Champaign train station

Major upgrade for old Champaign train station

CHAMPAIGN - The C-U Station, Champaign's train station for most of last century, will be getting a major face-lift.

Owner Dr. William Youngerman is planning $643,664 in improvements to the outside of the historic building, mainly the roof, and between $225,000 and $450,000 more to the inside as tenants dictate, according to plans submitted to the city.

The biggest single improvement is retiling the roof, a $434,700 endeavor. Marc Miller, Youngerman's attorney, said the supplier of the original tiles has been located and is still making the tiles used when the station was built in the early 1920s. Ludowici Roof Tile of New Lexington, Ohio, will be used again as the project gets under way in late April.

The old tiles were tarred over by the Illinois Central years ago. The sloppily applied tar now conceals what was originally a red tile roof.

?It was just globbed on,? Miller said. ?It probably worked for their purpose even though it looks bad. We're going to bring it back to the original. It'll look great. Imagine what that building will look like with all that color.?

The station was completed in 1924. It was built larger than was standard at the time to accommodate football traffic to Memorial Stadium.

Youngerman bought the building from the railroad in 1991. The interior was renovated. The third floor, formerly an attic, was finished, skylights added and an elevator installed. A parking lot was added on the north end and the area was landscaped.

The second and third floors are now filled with professional offices.

The City of New Orleans restaurant, which had occupied most of the first floor, closed nearly two years ago. Miller said they're in negotiations now with prospective tenants for that space. The only one publicly identified so far is Rum Runners USA, a North Carolina-based chain of restaurant/bars that features a tropical Caribbean theme and dueling pianos.

?If they don't take it, we'll look at something similar, a larger theme bar/restaurant,? Miller said.

Rum Runners is also looking at other spaces downtown.

Youngerman is applying for city assistance with the project under the city's Revelopment Incentive Program, which awards grant assistance for up to 20 percent of a redevelopment project up to $100,000. The money comes from the city's Downtown Tax Increment Financing District. Liquor licenses are awarded as a matter of right if requested under the RIP program.

Youngerman is seeking two liquor licenses for the building under the rationalization that it was platted as one lot yet takes up the space of an entire block. Miller noted that if the property was broken up into several lots, it would be eligible for licenses depending on the number of lots created.

Miller said they've been working with ?several? business that are interested in locating there ?so long as they can secure liquor licenses.?

Bruce Knight, the city's plan director, said the reasoning appears sound. The city council will have final say on whether a second liquor license can be granted there.

Staff approval of the RIP grant will occur soon, Knight said, with formal council approval occurring in June. The money for the Youngerman project will come from next fiscal year's TIF budget since this year's budget is exhausted by all the projects going downtown, Knight said.

?This is definitely an exciting project,? Knight said. ?That new tile roof will really add a lot and help make that building stand out.?

Besides the roof, improvements to the station include masonry repairs, rebuilding windows, sidewalk repairs, more parking on the east side and more landscaping.

The proposal to the city notes that when Youngerman bought the property in 1991, only $2,000 in property taxes was paid. In 2002, he paid over $40,000.

You can reach Phil Bloomer at (217) 351-5371 or via e-mail at bloomer@news-gazette.com.

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