Champaign set to deliver offers for Bristol Place homes next month

Champaign set to deliver offers for Bristol Place homes next month

CHAMPAIGN — Charles Campbell has lived in the Bristol Place neighborhood in the northeast part of the city for 28 years. He doesn't know where he'll go yet when the city buys and bulldozes his home.

"It's been so long," Campbell said. "We've been staying here so long."

It all depends on what the city's offering, he said. And if city administrators' timeline stays on track, he and other residents of 82 homes in the troubled Bristol Place neighborhood should be finding out within the next couple months.

Appraisers are finishing up their work valuing all the homes in the doomed neighborhood now, said Kerri Spear, the city's neighborhood programs manager. Offer letters should be going out in August, she said. Those homes will come down in groups during the next three years.

City officials think many of the owners will be eager sellers. Administrators have been communicating their plans for the neighborhood to residents: The entire seven blocks will be leveled to make way for new mixed-income development after city officials determined that there's no other way to refurbish an area with one of the highest crime rates and lowest property values.

"We think many will be anxiously awaiting those letters," Spear said. She added that "there'll be a few holdouts," but the vast majority have been asking officials for months when the city is going to buy them out.

The neighborhood is "far quieter than it used to be," Campbell said, and he wonders if there may have been another way to bring it back. Even though some pockets of problems remain, it has come a long way.

"It used to be kind of noisy," Campbell said, and in 1998, police estimated that a drug transaction took place every two or three minutes at one intersection in the middle of the neighborhood.

Now, property maintenance issues plague the neighborhood, city officials say, and some crime issues remain.

Champaign City Council members will discuss the next steps when they meet at 7 p.m. today. They'll have to give the green light to administrators' plan to demolish homes in groups of no more than five at a time.

The strategy to move forward with small, phased demolitions is to avoid ending up with large clusters of vacant structures that could act as "havens for crime and fire hazards," according to a city memo. Because the process of buying and bulldozing homes will take years, city staff want to limit the risk to residents who stick around longer than others.

"Living in an environment among numerous vacant structures is unusual for anyone and could be very intimidating," according to a city memo. "This is particularly relevant in an area like Bristol Place where public safety is a major, ongoing concern and social cohesion is low."

Smaller bid packages will also encourage participation from smaller demolition companies owned by minorities and women, according to the memo. City officials also hope to encourage salvage and reuse of the materials from the demolished homes.

City officials think the acquisition and demolition of 91 parcels will cost $5.3 million. The entire first phase of the Bristol Place project — which also includes relocation assistance for qualified residents — is expected to cost $7.66 million.

Those figures do not include the eventual redevelopment of the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Campbell is waiting to find out what his future holds.

"I'm just waiting around to see what happens," he said.

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