Orchard Downs on Board of Trustees agenda

Orchard Downs on Board of Trustees agenda

URBANA – Redevelopment of the University of Illinois' South Campus could move forward, if by a few small steps, as university trustees on Thursday consider approving a land swap as well as several design contracts with housing developers.

The UI Board of Trustees will meet at the Illini Union on Thursday to review the university's budget request for fiscal year 2008, listen to a presentation on Global Campus, the UI's online education initiative, and approve faculty and staff appointments.

Tucked into the agenda are two items that will affect the future of South Campus.

The university is set to award several contracts totaling $525,000 to five developers. Each company will put together a plan for redeveloping Orchard Downs, the 160-acre site south of Florida Avenue and east of Race Street. That area is currently home to graduate and family housing facilities.

The five developers are the Atkins Group/Fox Development Corp./Vermilion Development Corp. of Champaign and Danville; Devonshire Development LLC of Champaign; Royal Properties of Champaign; Snyder Corporations/BLDD Architects of Champaign and Bloomington; and Broadacre Management Co. of Chicago.

Each firm will receive $105,000 for its plan.

"Over the next six months, (the firms) will interact with the community and the university and then come back to us with their ideas on how to develop Orchard Downs," said UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

The UI will own all five of the plans and it could choose one of the concepts or blend several of the proposals, Kaler said.

At some point in the future, there will be a meeting on campus where university and community members will be invited to share their opinions about the plans.

The UI held a forum on Orchard Downs redevelopment in the spring of 2005. Viewpoints shared during that meeting will be forwarded to the developers, Kaler said.

The Urbana campus strategic plan calls for reshaping Orchard Downs into a mixed residential development that would be marketed to tenants such as faculty who do not want to own a home in the area.

The UI would own the Orchard Downs property, but the new development would be built and managed by an outside firm.

According to the plan, Orchard Downs would be a "model community ... a showcase for excellence in all of the university's missions." And the redevelopment would be a "model for environmentally sensitive planning and construction."

According to the strategic plan, the first residents of the redeveloped Orchard Downs would move in by September 2011.

A campus committee is expected to review the developers' plans in six months.

Trustees on Thursday also will be asked to approve a land exchange between the UI and the UI Foundation, the UI's money-raising arm.

The UI Foundation has purchased for the UI several parcels of land on the south end of campus, down to Willard Airport. All the properties are within the campus' master plan boundaries.

In exchange for the properties, the UI will transfer ownership of the pomology research farm to the UI Foundation. The 160-acre farm, also called the Pell Farm, is at the southwest corner of Windsor and Philo roads in Urbana. It is where faculty with the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences conduct research on growing apple trees and grape vines.

The UI Foundation does not have imminent plans for the property, said the Vice President for Administration Brad Hatfield. However the foundation does tend to sell properties it acquires, he added.

The Pell farm is worth $2.5 million or $15,625 an acre, Kaler said.

In the meantime, research activity will be gradually moved closer to campus, said Wes Jarrell, professor and head of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.

"We're in the process of beginning the move," he said. Next spring, the department will begin to move plants to land southeast and southwest of Lincoln Avenue. Relocation would be phased in over several years, he said.

Jarrell said he would like to see more fruit trees, berries and grape vines planted in that area. His vision is for an "integrated landscape" where the plantation research farm (located west of Race Street, across from Meadowbrook Park), fruit and berry research and other related horticulture-related research activities would be conducted on land parcels contiguous to each other.

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