Council to discuss minor-league baseball, campus parking lot development

Council to discuss minor-league baseball, campus parking lot development

CHAMPAIGN — Mayor Don Gerard's dreams of a minor league baseball field could take another step toward reality when city council members meet this week to take a look at a report on whether building a stadium could be feasible.

The report, authored by a student-run consulting group from the University of Illinois College of Business, says the idea could have legs under the right conditions. Council members will need to decide if they want to turn it over to city administrators to start looking at feasible locations for a stadium and the idea's economic development potential.

Here is a link to the report, a 3.5MB pdf file of 58 pages.

The city council will meet to discuss the report and an unrelated Campustown redevelopment project on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St.

Gerard, who pitched the idea of minor league baseball in Champaign in 2011 and later followed up by assembling an "exploratory committee," said he is as excited as ever that the proposal continues to gain ground.

"It's really easy just to say, 'We've tried that before, it doesn't work,'" Gerard said. "It's another thing to have a committee to have (committee chairman) Tony Johnston put in a lot of time and energy."

The city council has yet to discuss the idea formally, but members are likely to take a straw poll on Tuesday regarding whether they want to invest more time in exploring the proposal. If they move forward, Gerard's idea would become a project for city administrators.

The report envisions a hypothetical $20 million facility with 5,000 to 6,000 seats and 10 to 15 luxury boxes. It theoretically could be leased to a minor league team for anywhere between $222,000 and $333,000, according to the report, and the stadium owner could sell the naming rights for $150,000.

The key to success would be ensuring a vibrant fan experience, the report says. That could include gate giveaways, family-friendly attractions and discounts.

It also would include accessible and diverse concessions options. Alcohol has been pointed out as notably missing from failed Champaign minor league teams of years past. Those teams played at the University of Illinois' baseball field, which does not sell alcohol.

The report also points out that University of Illinois sports could be a significant competitor to a minor league baseball team.

But its recommendations are just that, Gerard said. City officials would have to explore what kind of partnerships would be available with private investors and where a stadium could actually be built.

It would not necessarily require a large taxpayer investment, Gerard said. "It would be more of us creating incentives," he said.

And officials would need to find a good place to put it. Gerard said a stadium could be an economic boon to the city's more depressed or under-developed areas.

Between the stadium and developers' proposals for building on the city-owned parking lot J in Campustown, Tuesday will be a big night for city council discussions of development projects.

Council members will see four proposals from three developers to build on the parking lot between Green and Healey streets and just west of Sixth Street. Here is a link to the city memo on the proposals, a 3.8MB pdf file of 53 pages.

City administrators are recommending that council members green-light beginning negotiations with JSM Development, which offered two proposals for redeveloping the site.

The first proposal is an eight-story project with 110 hotel rooms and between 49 and 175 residential units on the upper floors and retail space on the ground floor along the Green Street and Sixth Street frontages, according to a city memo. The design would include a parking structure on the northwest corner of the site containing 218 private spaces and 221 public spaces. Right now, Lot J has 131 public parking spaces.

The second proposal from JSM Development, to be "implemented in the event a hotel could not be secured," would have no hotel rooms and 143 residential units.

According to the memo, JSM has air rights over the buildings at the corner of Green and Sixth streets, which currently house Chipotle, Noodles, and Flat Top Grill. Both proposals include construction over the Flat Top Grill building and the potential for future construction over Sixth Street to link to JSM-owned property to the east.

The architectural design emphasizes the use of masonry with glass storefronts and "significant glass features introduced along the Green Street facade, above the Boneyard Greenway, and through the residential portion of the project," according to the memo.

JSM would offer $3,365,000 for the city-owned land and would request city assistance to offset the cost of parking.

Core Campus, a Chicago-based student housing developer, has also submitted a proposal: A 12-story building with 240 resident units and ground-floor retail space with 461 parking spaces, of which at least 131 would be available for public use.

According to the city memo, the Core Campus architectural design primarily uses glass, "with colorful metal and stucco interspersed throughout."

Core Campus would offer $3.9 million for the land and requests no city assistance, according to the memo.

The final proposal from HERE Enterprises is a 20-story building with ground-floor retail, a parking structure above that, topped by a 216-unit residential tower. The parking structure would contain 621 parking spaces, of which 282 would be public.

The design "combines detailed masonry panels with glass walls," according to the memo.

HERE Enterprises would offer about $4 million for the land and would request financial incentives from the city in the form of property tax and sales tax abatements.

While JSM Development's purchase price is lower than the other two developers', a financial consultant for the city estimated the project would generate total revenue for the city of about $4.48 million over 20 years. That is between $1.65 million and $2.25 million more than the other two, based largely on hotel-motel tax revenues, according to the report.

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EdRyan wrote on August 27, 2012 at 9:08 am

Quite a lot of research out there that shows taxpayer investments in stadiums is a good way to waste a lot of tax money.

David Illinois wrote on August 27, 2012 at 11:08 am

How about dozens of roundabouts surrounding the stadium?

Squirrel wrote on August 27, 2012 at 11:08 am

So exactly where is the money for this supposed to come from?

What happens if this experiment doesn't work?

Is this a dream of the Mayor or of the community?

Considering how many people atmypicsitend UI baseball games why would anyone think this will be a popular attraction?

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 27, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Liquor is why the Mayor thinks that a stadium will bring in revenue.  Who will get the liquor concession?  The Liquor Commissioner will decide.  Who is the Liquor Commissioner?  It is the Mayor.  Taxes from the people of Champaign, and grants from the State of Illinois will fund it primarily.  Some minor league owner will get tax breaks just like the auto dealer got tax breaks to move to a location that the dealer already owned.  The results are campaign donations to the Mayor.  Last year's consideration of lessening public safety for the city will come back along with other public necessities.  They will have to be financially addressed.  The stadium with liquor being served will divert police coverage.  Consider the necessities needing funding besides a minor league stadium.  Does spending part of one night in the cold wearing a fur hat solve the homeless problem?  Does the increasing crime rate get solved by holding public meetings?  Will the fire stations stay open?  Will money be there for new equipment?  Will more public safety officers be hired?  Stadiums built at public expense have proven to be financial drains all across the country whether they are for major, or minor league teams.  Thankfully, the Mayor has not proclaimed himself a polo fan.

read the DI wrote on August 28, 2012 at 3:08 pm

I see no reason why the city shouldn't look into the possibility of bringing a minor league team to town. There is nothing stating the taxpayers need to underwrite it: this could just be the blueprint for a private investor. And that research about public investment in stadiums is based on huge, major league caliber venues, not small fields.

I do wonder whether a failed restaurantuer is the right person to spearhead the effort, but that's a different discussion.

read the DI wrote on August 28, 2012 at 3:08 pm

I see no reason why the city shouldn't look into the possibility of bringing a minor league team to town. There is nothing stating the taxpayers need to underwrite it: this could just be the blueprint for a private investor. And that research about public investment in stadiums is based on huge, major league caliber venues, not small fields.

I do wonder whether a failed restaurantuer is the right person to spearhead the effort, but that's a different discussion.