MTD board to kick off talks on proposed downtown development

MTD board to kick off talks on proposed downtown development

CHAMPAIGN — An exceptionally large and complex downtown Champaign development plan is going to require an exceptionally thorough review process, officials say.

It will begin Wednesday when the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District board undertakes what MTD Managing Director Karl Gnadt calls "an information exchange" about the general scope of a proposed project, which could include several structures south and west of the MTD's Illinois Terminal, including an expansion of that 18-year-old building to allow for more bus bays and office space.

Developer Hans Grotelueschen of Prairieview Park LLC will describe the project, potentially valued as high as $150 million, on Wednesday along with Gnadt and Champaign city planner T.J. Blakeman.

"This is the reason we did the public announcement (last Tuesday) so that some of this work could be done in the public. Two of the three partners are public entities. You can only do so much work with the staff of the city and the staff of the MTD," Gnadt said. "You've got to start conversations with the city council and the MTD board and we're at that point now."

Details of the development, which Champaign officials say could be the largest in the city's history, are few.

And once they become available, it will set off a period of review and assessment.

"It's likely we'll have multiple study sessions on this," said Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen. "Our normal process is sort of a general study session: 'Do you even want us to spend any staff time talking to the developer?' I'm going to be optimistic and assume that the answer to that is yes.

"From there, it really becomes something where the staff gets numbers and information from the developer and comes back to the council with: 'What do you think about these various issues that may end up in a development agreement?' We usually give direction and then staff goes back and continues to work on a development agreement and it may come back to another study session before it ever gets on a council agenda.

"The other thing we usually do is run their numbers through our financial advisers and make sure that the numbers work for the city. This is not an instantaneous thing by any stretch."

In fact, said Bruce Knight, Champaign's planning and development director, the city could undertake three separate assessments of the project.

"We want a financial analyst to look at the details of the development, the financing of the development and indicate that in fact that level of support from the city, whatever it might be, makes sense," Knight said. "We're going to have an economic impact study done to see how this affects the economy of the city as a whole, the economy of downtown and how does that play out as a benefit to the community?

"And we also want to look at a traffic impact analysis and understand what are the impacts on our infrastructure and how do those have to be addressed.

"All of that information will be brought back to another city council study session to discuss: 'Here's what the ask is and here's the potential costs to the city, here's the potential benefits to the city and the community as a whole, and is this something we want to proceed with and participate in?'"

'A lot of due diligence'

Knight said the city "almost always" has financial analysts review projects where the city is providing something of a financial value, but that the reviews of this project could be extraordinary.

"Pieces of this are common. But given the magnitude of this project, we're going to do a lot of due diligence, probably more than we have for other projects because it warrants it," he said.

Feinen said the city council knows virtually nothing about the project, which replaces an earlier Grotelueschen proposal that was slated for the north side of downtown Champaign.

"I have not talked to Hans directly about this proposal," she said, adding that the city council hadn't even discussed it in executive sessions.

"There was general discussion in the community about whether the project up north was going to happen, and what's going on. I think there have been discussions with our planning and economic development staff," said the mayor. "But it's been the staff that has been doing the work."

And although particulars about the Grotelueschen plan are sparse — it could include a 5,000-seat athletics center and ice skating rinks — Feinen said she's "really excited" about it.

"This is an amazing project and I love that it's local developers. It's going to be great for the MTD and it will continue to have an impact on our downtown and Midtown," she said. "How lucky are we to have someone proposing this in our community? Lots of communities would give their right arm to have this kind of opportunity."

Talking timetable

Grotelueschen said this week he hoped to begin construction work in about a year. Feinen said she didn't find that timeline unreasonable.

"Some of it is how quickly the developer wants to be moving dirt. I think the city is very good at trying to accommodate those kinds of requests if developers have time frames they're trying to meet," she said. "At the same time, it's reasonable to assume that a project of this magnitude will need sufficient review by our staff, by council, by outside bond counsel to make sure it makes sense for the city of Champaign."

Even if Grotelueschen's part of the project — an office building, hotel, convention center and the possible athletics center — breaks down, Gnadt said the Illinois Terminal expansion would continue.

"If some worst-case scenario happened where Hans for whatever reason decided he would not or could not participate at that location, we would still move ahead with an expansion of the Illinois Terminal," Gnadt said. "The reasons we initiated that study (of expansion) we did 3 years ago, those reasons are real, valid and existing reasons."

If the MTD has to go it alone, he said, it would conduct its own financial, economic and traffic studies.

"But I absolutely believe that (Grotelueschen) is committed to this and as a partner he will be participating in those analyses and studies as well," Gnadt said.

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Citizen1 wrote on July 22, 2017 at 9:07 am

Stop MTD.  They only want to keep expanding in a never ending loop, running empty buses to most areas, in an effort to fund their own excessive salaries and benefits on the backs of taxpayers.

787 wrote on July 22, 2017 at 10:07 am

This is the end result of the MTD being created, with an unexhaustable source of taxpayer fudning, and no  one to ever say the word "no".

The CUMTD is overstepping its bounds, as a taxpayer funded operation.   I'm not sure why my money is going to support a for-profit project created by Hans Grotelueschen.

Will part of the profits from this project, be redistributed back to the property tax payers of C-U?   No.  They'll go to Mr. Grot. and the MTD, and that will be the end of that.

I'm waiting for someone on the Champaign City Council to show that they have a spine, and start asking some tough questions on behalf of the taxpayers.   How about Fourman?  Time for you to shine.

CallSaul wrote on July 22, 2017 at 11:07 am

So why is it that our local rightwing reactionaries always display such knee jerk and delustional rage at the MTD...?


I wonder......

It sure is a puzzlement, huh...?

Could it be that in their crimped, delusional, Trumpian, Fox, Brietbart and Rush Limbaugh fueled worldview, only those people use the MTD while only good, 'hard working' Real Americans (wink, wink) pay the taxes to fund it...?

Why do you think their frothing rants against the MTD so often veer into Bircher style dissertations about the mythical 'free stuff' and 'Obama phones'...?

Now, of course, the reactionaries contend that being called out for their racism and bigotry is a million times worse than their actual racist and bigoted comments and beliefs but the rest of us have a different take on that particular matter.

That the majority don't share this view with them is constantly brought home to them by many things, including the mere existence of things like the MTD.

That is why you see them respond with such white hot rage at the mere mention of those letters.

It's tiresome and sad but at least it consumes a lot of their time and energy...

aantulov wrote on July 23, 2017 at 3:07 am

Nifty project, a virtual playground getaway but...
TIF tax incremental FINANCING means they do not pay into the general fund for things like schools, police , sewers so these areas don't benefit but needs grow and everybody else pocks up the slack
The same developer got a 28-year tax free status via "incentives", "tax abatements",etc for the Hyatt and wants the same for this?
The ten acres in question is currently paying taxes, so does this mean the schools get less?
There may those"community leaders"that have been buying up property looking for contracts but I wonder do they have best interests of the community at heart?
Construction jobs are temporary. Long term jobs, full time , I don't see numbers for. Trickle down economics?
Remember when we had the Bears and it did not bring more money but more congestion? Remember the letter from the folks who lived from where they normally played asking if we would keep them?
It looks nice. But I don't see numbers that say lower residential property taxes, better schools , road &sewer maintenance covered.
It would be nice to see the math. I am sure with everybody working together it will generate profit but unless taxpayers pay attention will it generate prosperity?
Is there a tax projection model (s) that can be shown over time deals are made for "incentives?"

aantulov wrote on July 25, 2017 at 7:07 am

Where will the Times Center go? Where will the womens homeless shelter that has been talked about for years during the annual February protest event sleeping outside raising money?

This should be discussed. 

Is this not the same spot where the city offered the Common Ground Coop a paltry tax incentative leading to the withdrawal from a lease option? That was relatively 100 full time unskilled full time jobs for the area, training and community service.  Will this plan address the same needs the for profit Common Ground Coop offered the community at large?