CHAMPAIGN — City officials would be one step closer to swapping parking for a plaza in the middle of downtown Champaign if council members tonight OK a plan to hire a local firm to put together a conceptual design.
Under tonight's proposal, the city would pay Ratio Architects $50,000 to outline ideas for the plaza with public input. The city has set aside the money for the preliminary plan but not for construction.
Officials say, however, that the conceptual design is critical if they are to apply for grant funding, sponsorships or donations.
The city council will look at the proposal when it meets in study session at 7 p.m. in the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St.
City officials are looking at laying the plaza over the 130-space parking lot just southeast of the intersection of Neil and Washington streets. The idea has been in city plans since 2005.
When it was brought in front of the city council last year, the plan turned up concerns from business owners — particularly those along the east end of that parking lot — about availability of parking and traffic circulation.
Those concerns weren't lost on city administrators, who now say that maintaining some level of business parking, handicap spaces and pick-up and drop-off circulation is "an important consideration."
"In response to stakeholder input, staff believes a portion of parking should be preserved," city officials say in a memo to the city council. "The recommended site layout will include parking adjacent to businesses on the east side of the project site."
Otherwise, officials think there is plenty of parking capacity for times of overflow: There are 1,100 public parking spaces in the immediate area, and extra spaces in the Hill Street parking deck that are regularly going unused.
City officials say in the memo that residents and residential property owners have supported developing the parking lot into a plaza. And they believe that a plaza would be a strong asset to attract visitors to the Hyatt Place hotel under construction at Neil and Main streets.