Retail-residential project shifts north at research park
CHAMPAIGN — Newly unveiled plans for the University of Illinois Research Park call for townhomes and apartments and a small shopping center to be built just south of the I Hotel.
Research park developer Peter Fox of Fox/Atkins in Champaign originally proposed a retail and residential complex for the northeast corner of First Street and Windsor Road. But because of other commercial redevelopment planned for the nearby South Neil Street corridor, the research park project has shifted north, closer to the hotel.
The project, which currently calls for a total of about 50 residential units and about 7,500 square feet of retail space, is being called the Research Park Town Center. Members of the UI Research Park Board of Managers reviewed and approved plans for the project earlier this week. Groundbreaking could occur in late-summer.
The future "Signature Building," a multi-story office building previously approved by the board to be built just south of the hotel, will move farther south, to just beyond the retail and residential development. Both the Signature Building and the shops will face First Street and include adjacent parking. The types of businesses envisioned for the space include restaurants, florists, beauty salons or barbers, dry cleaners, packaging and shipping store, and more.
"What the town center does is add a couple of elements we didn't think would be logical farther away (from the research park office buildings)," Fox said.
The key is bringing more "walkable" amenities closer to the research park clients, UI Research Park Director Laura Frerichs said.
"It seems like a better fit for that location," Frerichs said of the town center.
Fox said he anticipates investing about $16 million to $17 million in the project, including the residential, retail and office components. However, that number may vary depending on how large the Signature Building will be.
There has been interest from companies in the Signature Building, but no leases have been signed, according to Frerichs. The building could be two or three stories and it could house one tenant or multiple tenants.
As for the university's cost for the Research Park Town Center, the UI will spend about $281,000 to extend several utilities, including electric, gas, sewer and water, to the site.
Plans call for a total of 50 total residential units, with 10 of them to be two-story townhouses and the rest to be one and two-bedroom apartments. About 10 of the one-bedroom apartments will be located above the shops.
A variety of leases, including short-term leasing and extended stay, will be offered.
"The extended-stay component is for people who have been looking for rooms with more amenities and more space" for longer stays, he said. Fox opened the I Hotel and Houlihan's restaurant in the research park in August 2008. Since then he said some guests have asked for longer-term accommodations in the park. Tenants in the new units could take advantage of services, such as cleaning, from I Hotel staff.
Fox said he wanted the apartment units to be within walking distance to other office buildings in the park; he sees park employees as possible tenants of the apartments.
"The university wants to keep focus on serving professionals in the research park and employees in the university," Frerichs said.
Traditional, year-long leases will be geared toward professionals working the park, visiting employees or new employees to the university or postdoctoral students seeking housing in close proximity to campus, she said. Revised covenants will limit housing to undergraduate students.
"Single room rentals will not be permitted," Frerichs said.
Fox said he reconsidered the project being at First and Windsor after learning of other commercial projects planned for South Neil Street just to the west of the research park.
"I don't believe there's a substantial retail demand over on First Street as George (Shapland) and Jimmy (John Liautaud) develop land on Neil Street," he said.
A new County Market and Ace Hardware store are planned to be built after the current Ford City and Worden-Martin dealerships on South Neil Street move to new facilities north of I-74 in Champaign. The grocery store and hardware store will take up about 6 acres of the 17-acre lot, leaving an additional 11 acres up for redevelopment there. Liautaud Development Group is redeveloping the corner of Neil Street and St. Mary's Road, a site formerly home to the Fiesta Ranchero restaurant and prior to that, El Toro 2. In addition, The News-Gazette, Inc., has put up for sale 10 acres of land at Neil Street and Windsor Road.
Still, Fox did not rule out future development of the First/Windsor corner. The parcel is included in the research park boundary.
With the building of the shops, apartments and townhomes, essentially the entire block along First Street from St. Mary's to Hazelwood Drive will be built out, Frerichs said. Hazelwood is currently being extended from First Street to the new Fourth Street. The new Fourth Street from St. Mary's is being extended to Windsor Road and is expected to be done later this summer or fall.