UI Foundation takes next step in selling land that hosts orchards

URBANA – The University of Illinois Foundation is one step closer to the eventual sale of the Pell Farm, a 160-acre property in southeast Urbana currently home to university orchards.

The foundation has hired Champaign-based Devonshire Group to conduct a market study to determine, among other things, how the foundation should best proceed with the land sale, such as hire a broker or put the farm on the auction block.

"We will ultimately sell it," said Brad Hatfield, senior vice president for administration for the University of Illinois Foundation.

Hatfield said he was "aware of a general interest" in the property, but there have been no formal talks or offers to buy the land from the foundation.

The farm, home to apple and peach trees, grape vines and blueberry bushes, sits at the southwest corner of Windsor and Philo Roads.

"It's a facility that has been there for us for a long time, and it's right in the path of Urbana development," said Bruce Branham, interim head of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.

The east side of the Philo and Windsor roads intersection is home to the newly opened Meijer store, Carle and Christie medical clinics and Stone Creek Commons, a commercial development currently being marketed by Devonshire.

The Pell Farm, which is also called the pomology research center, is where researchers with the UI's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences' Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences have conducted fruit research.

In September 2006, University of Illinois trustees approved a land swap with the foundation. In exchange for receiving land for the expansion of South Farms, the university gave the UI Foundation the Pell Farm.

At the time, the land was estimated to be worth $2.5 million or $15,625 an acre, according to the university.

The foundation has not had the land appraised since then, Hatfield said.

After the land exchange was approved, the department started transferring root stock and plants to the new location at Lincoln Avenue and Windsor Road.

The college will essentially vacate Pell Farm this fall, Branham said. However, one to two acres of apple-breeding stock will have to be transferred from the Pell Farm to the new site sometime in the spring, he said.

The college is also finishing building two new storage facilities for the new site and is preparing to issue a request for bids for additional buildings to house offices and laboratories.

In the meantime, Hatfield said the foundation had no preference on what sort of development eventually replaces the farm, although "it seems as though it is likely going to be some kind of mixed-use" development, he said.

Ultimately, though, it is up to the developer how the land will be redeveloped, he said.

"I would like to see it as very nice residential," said nearby resident Christine Ecklor, who is particularly interested in condominiums for retirees.

Pointing to the recent openings of Meijer, the medical clinics and other businesses in the Philo/Winsdor Road corridor, Ecklor said "it's going to be a great area if they keep working on it."

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