CHAMPAIGN — The vacant Gateway Studios has stood for four years as a troubling public safety concern and a "black eye" on the community, city officials said, but demolition could begin this fall after the city council gave administrators the OK on Tuesday night.
They estimate the demolition could cost between $750,000 and $1.25 million, and the city hopes to recover that money through a sale of the property after the building is torn down.
Building inspectors evacuated the apartment complex — formerly a Holiday Inn hotel — in 2009 when they documented hundreds of code violations, and they say it has only gotten worse since then.
It is so bad, said Neighborhood Services Director Kevin Jackson, that administrators hesitate to send in their own staff.
"We had a concern about sending our personnel into the building without some kind of assistance or security detail," Jackson said.
The building has been a hot spot for police calls, drugs and sexual activity since it was abandoned four years ago. City officials showed photos on Tuesday night of broken staircases, balconies without rails and stagnant water collecting in what was once a swimming pool.
The building has been gutted of all its copper and other valuable raw materials.
City council members said such a blight standing at the southwest corner of the Neil Street interchange with Interstate 74 is unacceptable.
"This is the gateway and the entrance coming in to our city," said council member Vic McIntosh.
They ultimately cast a 7-0 vote to move forward with the demolition, which could begin in mid-October. A completion date for the project is still up in the air until an asbestos inspection is completed and officials get a handle on the true condition of the property.
The city will front the cash for the project out of urban renewal funds slated for the revitalization of the Bristol Park neighborhood, which is right across the street. They hope to recover those funds through a sale of the property before they need to start paying for the Bristol Park project 18 months from now.
The Gateway Studios land is estimated to be worth $1.2 million upon completion of the demolition.
Code Compliance Manager David Oliver said the city has spent $13,782 in four years boarding up broken glass and mowing the lawns, among other activities, to keep the property from getting out of hand. Council member Tom Bruno said it is hard to estimate the negative impact is has really had on Champaign — he called it a "big black eye" on I-74.
The property is owned by Donovan Acres, a limited liability company, with Phyllis Seehausen listed as a trustee of the trust that is the company's sole member. In May, the city sought a court order for demolition, to which Donovan Acres agreed.
"Our community can sit there and say, 'Well, it's not our mess,' but that's not a good answer for a community," Bruno said.
The Holiday Inn opened at 1505 N. Neil St. in the 1960s and operated there until the mid-1990s. In succeeding years, the hotel was known as Champaign Inn, Howard Johnson's and finally Premier Inn.
In 2006, it was converted to Gateway Studios. The complex includes four two-story buildings and one three-story building, for a total of 208 guest rooms.
Taxes on the property have not been paid, but city officials believe it is prime real estate for redevelopment. The first step, though, is removing the crumbling building.
"Right now, we're drawing no tax base on this whatsoever. It's just sitting there," McIntosh said. "It's costing us."