Delays force Champaign high-rises to postpone move-ins

Delays force Champaign high-rises to postpone move-ins

CHAMPAIGN – First, Brian Davidson signed a lease for an apartment in a new luxury campus high-rise on Green Street known as the "Whopper."

Then, last April, two of his roommates backed out. So Roland Realty let Davidson transfer his lease to a smaller apartment building under construction at 54 E. Chalmers St.

As it turned out, neither building will be ready Friday, the original occupancy date. The Whopper, in fact, has a giant crane sitting on top of it.

So Davidson and hundreds of other University of Illinois students have had to settle for temporary living quarters while construction on their buildings is completed.

"I think it's kind of going to be a hassle," said Davidson, of Champaign, who moved into Lincoln View apartments in north Urbana on Wednesday, courtesy of Roland Realty. "I guess I've got to deal with it."

With fall classes about to start, three major projects in Champaign – 309 E. Green St., Burnham 310 and Presby Hall – failed to meet their move-in dates.

Presby Hall did allow students to move in today under a conditional occupancy permit. Owners of 309 E. Green hope for at least partial occupancy soon.

Developers for the Burnham project last month announced tenants wouldn't be able to move in until October, when the building is complete.

It's an annual rite of fall, as developers inevitably cut their timetables a bit too close, said Garry Bowman, Champaign's building-safety supervisor.

But there were more high-profile projects this year, and an unusually wet spring wreaked havoc with construction schedules. Torrential rains delayed concrete pours, which threw off everything else, Bowman said.

"They always, always, always do these with the most optimistic time schedules, and they just really don't have a whole lot of room for delay," Bowman said.

At the 24-story Whopper, the tallest of the projects, some apartments are nearly complete but others were still under heavy construction last week, Bowman said. Developers are trying to get a partial-occupancy permit by Sept. 5 for the first 16 floors, which include seven levels of parking, a multipurpose level and eight residential floors.

The upper levels won't be ready until January, as planned.

Any occupied portion has to be safe from construction hazards, said Craig Rost, deputy city manager for development.

"We won't allow any occupancy of the building unless we're convinced it's completely safe – as safe as a finished building," Rost said.

Several upper floors have yet to be enclosed, though Bowman said the modular walls will go up quickly. Contractors will waterproof the 17th floor so occupied apartments below won't get any water from rain, he said.

They also must create a "quiet level" between the apartments and heavy construction work above.

The crane likely won't be needed any more, but crews have to wait for a safe time to take it down, perhaps a holiday weekend when the campus is less populated, he said. For now, it's "perfectly safe" to have it up there, he said, though "it would have been much nicer not to have that."

Inspectors this week were to review the sprinkler and alarm systems, both of which must be fully functional "from top to bottom," even in unfinished areas, for the building to get even a partial-occupancy permit.

After that, the plumbing and other mechanical systems will be inspected, and the building must pass a final safety inspection.

Bowman wouldn't predict when that might be. He's fielded at least eight calls from anxious parents, students and one attorney this week, asking the same question.

What does he tell them?

"It's the new hot spot, and the kids want to be in there," he said. "You have to decide what's important."

No one's been put out on the street, he noted, but it is a hassle for the students to move twice.

"All I can tell you at this point is they want to keep trying" to pass inspections, he said. "As long as we can accommodate that, we will."

Tenants at 309 E. Green have been getting e-mails since April from Roland Realty President Tom Gillespie expressing hope that the project could be completed on time but also noting that alternative housing arrangements would be made just in case.

J.J. Smith of Campus Acquisitions, project manager for 309 E. Green, said his firm "made a judgment call" a few days ago to delay move-in and send tenants to Lincoln View for the next few weeks, rent-free. They will also get cash payments for the inconvenience.

"We will continue to work around the clock to finish construction and get the units ready," Gillespie wrote in an Aug. 16 e-mail. "It is our intention to have everyone moved in by mid-September. We apologize for the inconvenience and will continue updating you regularly."

Smith said both projects are "making tremendous progress by the day," with crews working around the clock and on weekends.

Davidson said developers have tried to take care of tenants, and he appreciates the rent subsidies. But he wishes he could be closer to campus; he'll have to drive or take the bus from Lincoln View.

"That's why I wanted to live" at 309 E. Green, said UI junior Molly Boyd, who will eventually have a ninth-floor apartment. "It's kind of frustrating."

Rost said developers have been cooperative with the city.

"It's an exciting project," he said. "It makes a statement about campus development."

Apartments at a glance:

Several campus-area apartment projects due to be finished by mid-August are still awaiting occupancy permits or operating under conditional permits, according to city officials. Here’s a detailed look:

309 E. Green St., C
A 24-story tower going up on the site of a former Burger King restaurant, hence its nickname, the “Whopper.” Developers are trying to get a partial-occupancy permit by Sept. 5 for the first 16 floors, which include seven levels of parking, a multipurpose level and eight residential floors. The upper floors won’t be ready until January.

Burnham 310
An 18-story, 259-unit loft-apartment development at the former site of Burnham Hospital at Springfield Avenue and Third Street in Champaign. The building was two-thirds leased, but developers announced last month they would postpone move-in until it can be finished in mid-October, rather than attempting partial occupancy now. Tenants were sent to three other apartment buildings and will be compensated for the inconvenience, said Theresa Kamerer, property manager for Burnham 310.

Presby Hall
The McKinley Foundation’s seven-story residence hall near Fifth and John streets in Champaign opened today, about a week late. It failed inspections on Friday but received a conditional occupancy permit this week allowing students to move in while non-critical inspection items are addressed, officials said. McKinley found accommodations for a handful of international students who’d planned to move in Sunday, but most students simply delayed their arrival until today, officials said.

54 E. Chalmers, C
A five-story apartment building. Garry Bowman, building safety supervisor for the city of Champaign, said developers must finish installing exterior blocks before students can move in, but delivery of the material was delayed.

A fifth project, an expansion of Newman Hall, passed final inspection a week late but is ready for occupancy, Bowman said.