Purchase offers next phase of Bristol Place replacement
CHAMPAIGN — City officials say there will be a lot of activity during the next few months related to the purchase, demolition and replacement of an entire neighborhood in north Champaign.
An appraiser this month will begin to evaluate homes and apartments in the Bristol Place neighborhood as the city prepares to start making purchase offers. Officials have been planning for years to tear down the homes and rebuild the neighborhood, which has some of the city's lowest property values and worst crime problems.
Letters will go out this week to property owners and apartment tenants announcing what is going on. It's the first official step in the purchase process, which city officials say the majority of owners have been looking forward to for some time.
In fact, a lot of the residents want out.
"If there's some people who don't want this to happen, they're not calling," said community development specialist Greg Skaggs.
And while the letters kick off the formal negotiation process and indicate that the neighborhood's days are numbered, it will not be the first that the residents are hearing about the project.
"There's been a lot of pieces of mail that have gone out over the years," said Kerri Spear, the city's neighborhood programs manager. And that's in addition to regular meetings between city officials and its residents.
But now it is getting down to crunch time in the Bristol Place neighborhood, located northeast of Bradley Avenue and Market Street, as its residents will have to start thinking about selling their homes and moving out. For some of them, they have lived in Bristol Place for so long because they cannot afford to go anywhere else, Spear said.
City officials are required to offer relocation assistance to eligible residents. They plan to start looking for an agency that will administer that program — and then some — in the coming months.
Beyond just paying for the residents' relocation needs, city officials want case managers to consider the individual needs of each household and try to match them with resources that can help.
"We've really all along said we wanted more of a human development side to Bristol," Spear said.
Purchase offers will start going out around July, and city officials will start interviewing apartment tenants around that time to assess their relocation needs.
People could start moving out as early as October, but Spear said relocation will happen "on a timeline that meets their needs."
Demolition could start around that time, too. City officials expect the already-vacant properties will go down first, and they will continue knocking down houses in phases as people move out.
The phased demolition is so city officials can avoid having an entire neighborhood of vacant homes as people move out.
"No. 1 is safety," Spear said. "We don't want a lot of vacant homes."
The purchase, relocation and demolition process could take up to three years. City officials right now are planning to begin construction on the new neighborhood in May 2017.
What the new development will look like is still somewhat up in the air. City officials have used the nearby Douglass Square neighborhood as a model, but the Bristol Place site is more than twice that size. They expect the new neighborhood would have a mix of different kinds of housing.
City officials are finishing up a conceptual plan they hope to unveil at a March 20 meeting with the neighborhood. They'll use that concept as they start seeking offers from a developer to do the work.