Urbana ready to try again to develop vacant land
URBANA — City officials are rebooting a project they put on hold two years ago and are now looking for a real estate agent they hope will bring a retail and residential development to the eastern edge of downtown Urbana.
Toward the end of 2011, the city had a proposal for a six-story, $84 million complex in the 200 block of South Vine Street. But a developer never came along to build.
The timing is better now, said economic development coordinator Brandon Boys, and the city is starting again on what could be a key project for downtown Urbana.
"That (2011) process didn't come to fruition in terms of an actual project, so this is our reboot of that," Boys said.
Urbana launched a search this week for a real estate agent to market the property to prospective developers and tenants. The city owns the full block measuring 1.7 acres immediately north of the City Building and across Vine Street from the federal courthouse. Much of it is empty or a parking lot, but Goodyear is still in business on the northwest corner of the block.
Goodyear is leasing its building from the city through April 2015, but Boys said city officials could negotiate an early termination of that contract if they are ready to move forward with a building project before that date.
Boys said they are looking to take advantage of good momentum in downtown Urbana during the past year.
"The past year has been great for downtown," Boys said. "We're seeing all kinds of new businesses. We're seeing low vacancy along Main Street and in Lincoln Square."
He thinks the market can bear a multi-story, mixed-use development, with commercial space on the first floors and residential on the upper floors.
That's what developer Gary Olsen put together in his 2011 "Metro Centre" proposal, which included retail, office and residential in two separate buildings totaling about 350,000 square feet.
It was a big idea that never came to be, but city officials hope to find a real estate service to market that property and attract new proposals.
It's "the nearest you're going to get to a blank site in downtown," Boys said. And the city's plan for downtown includes more housing, so officials think this is a good opportunity to work toward that.
Boys thinks the recent activity has made the city's core more attractive: "A lot of restaurants, creative businesses, retail."
"I think downtown Urbana is a more desirable place to live in or near," he said. "And we're hoping that developers will agree to make that investment."