Bristol Place redevelopment plan clears first hurdle
Mayor Deb Feinen talks Bristol Place Wednesday at 4:20 on WDWS.
CHAMPAIGN — The boarded-up Bristol Place neighborhood is dotted with crows and lined by bent fences. The shriveling homes are stained with discoloration and holes in the siding.
Tearing down and rebuilding the area is the city's biggest project in recent years, according to Kerri Spear, Champaign's neighborhood programs manager. Spear also said it should hopefully be the last of its kind for as long as possible.
On Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council took its first vote on finalizing the Bristol Place Master Development Agreement and unanimously decided to do so.
Before it can be enacted, the agreement needs to be approved by vote at a Jan. 26 Champaign County Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting and again at a city council meeting on Feb. 7. If fully approved, Spear said the city will be on track to finish related acquisitions, relocations and demolitions by the end of this year.
"This has been a long time in the making," Spear said, noting that work on preparing the area for redevelopment started in 2014. "We've had substantial public input. ... It wasn't just a city staff decision."
A steering committee was formed in 2012 for the neighborhoods' residents to comment on what they would like to see from redevelopment. Spear said their concerns included real-estate tax increases, having access to housing choice vouchers and increasing minority- and women-owned businesses in the area.
As a result, Spear said the city's demolition policy was written to have minority contractors and employees in mind. The developer the city picked for the project is Chicagoland-based AHDVS LLC, which is minority-owned.
In addition, Spear said the new neighborhoods will be required to have market rate and a variety of price points. "We do not want to build isolated islands of poverty," Spear said. "It was really popular back in the day but not the best game plan."
Several council members stated before the vote that they want diversity to keep being considered throughout every next step of development, or they won't continue supporting the project.
Spear said she has been asked why the city is tearing down the area and starting from scratch instead of renovating it.
"The best example for disinvestment in a property," Spear said, "there was a house built here in the early 2000s ... it cost about $86,000 the first time it sold — it was three bedroom and two bath. It sold again for $27,000 and was assessed at $26,000.
"It was still a new home, less than 10 years old. ... When we're faced with that kind of disinvestment, how can we convince anyone to invest in their property?"
According to a city staff memo to the council, $8,051,953 was budgeted by the city for the acquisition, relocation and demolition activities — known as phase one of the project. Spear said the Housing Authority contributed to that with $1.092 million in cash and vouchers.
The redevelopment activities for phase two aren't budgeted yet, according to the memo. Spear said that before phase two begins, the city will remove itself from the property ownership structure with the Housing Authority, AHDVS and future investors.
The city "isn't in the business of owning housing long-term," Spear said. "But we do want to get a return of the money we put in on the front end, so we'll share, in an intergovernmental agreement with the Housing Authority, some of the profit and developer fees."
Jean Algee, a community development specialist with the city, has been working to clear the area before it's torn down. If necessary, the city will use its eminent domain ability and quick-take authority to clear the units.
Algee said she's most excited to see the city-owned home at 212 E. Bradley Ave. torn down in the next week or so.
"Once we take that house down, you can see straight through the neighborhood," Algee said.