Urbana Free Library buying lot to create gateway to downtown

Urbana Free Library buying lot to create gateway to downtown

URBANA — After a spike of around $75,294 in citizen donations for this fiscal year, the Urbana Free Library is ready to buy the 4,508-square-foot lot at 202 W. Green St. to create a landscaped entryway for the library and greater downtown area.

The Urbana Free Library Foundation is scheduled to announce today that it signed a $115,000 agreement for the vacant lot at Race and Green streets, made possible by the Urbana Free Library Foundation raising $105,069 from last July to May 15. Library Executive Director Celeste Choate said the purchase deal between the foundation and Persistence of Illinois, the land's owner, is slated to close June 30.

Choate said the $105,069 came from 242 donors, a couple of whom provided sums in the high-$20,000 range. Choate said while the foundation typically gets donations in the high $20,000s annually (fiscal year 2015-16 saw $29,775), this year was different because of high interest in the lot.

A foundation newsletter from November asked for donations specifically to purchase the lot.

"We're thrilled with the support ... this will help us control the block and create a vista for the gateway of downtown Urbana," Choate said, noting how Race Street connects the library to downtown. "People have been asking us for years if we were going to buy the lot."

The block is bordered by Elm Street to the north. Green Street to the south, Race Street on the east and Cedar Street on the west. If the deal closes, Choate said the block will be owned by the city and library except for one privately owned house.

Specific uses and decorations for the lot will be chosen by the library's board, and Choate said she expects it will take public input for ideas. Some plans that have been floating around show a cut-through path to the library, artwork, benches, a community garden or rain garden, and sculptures, she said.

Since the landscaping costs will require tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention closing costs, Choate said, the foundation is planning a fundraising drive, and landscaping may have to happen in phases.

The lot used to house the Auler Law Office building, which was torn down in 2015.

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