Champaign council gives initial OK to redevelopment on downtown's northern edge

Champaign council gives initial OK to redevelopment on downtown's northern edge

CHAMPAIGN — An area of city suffering from a lack of nearby grocery stores might get some relief after the Champaign City Council gave unanimous initial approval Tuesday to redeveloping the property at 500 N. Walnut St. on the northern edge of downtown.

Developer New Market Commons LLC proposed a $4.1 million overhaul of the about-30,000-square-foot property bound by Washington, Walnut and Market streets. The plan is to create leasable commercial spaces that tenants can buy and build out, interior-wise, as they see fit.

Included in the overhaul would be a new facade for the entire building, updating the surrounding streetscape and new utility systems, like electrical and plumbing.

The current tenants in that area are the Simply Amish furniture store, Blind Pig Brewery bottling and brewing facility, The Pointe fencing club and Dog Den daycare. New Market Commons' Tom Harrington said each tenant has a different lease situation, and he's staying in touch with them about options going forward.

"Blind Pig is under a very long-term agreement, so they will stay a brewery; Simply Amish has a short-term arrangement, so they're open," Harrington said. "Dog Den has a long-term lease, but it's considering a move somewhere else."

Harrington said he couldn't disclose names, but he's received interest so far from potential tenants that provide specialty retail and food and beverage services. Council members Tom Bruno and Matt Gladney encouraged Harrington to consider a tenant providing fresh food. In fact, the Common Ground Food Co-op earned the council's approval in 2015 to expand to this location but scrapped the plan shortly afterward.

"Some innovative investor might think of a smaller grocery, a green grocer or a place for greens and meats," Bruno said. "Some place where people can walk to for healthy food that's not from a convenience store."

T.J. Blakeman, the city's senior planner for economic development, said the city will stay open to potential grocers but noted the difficulties involved with putting one in a compact space: "Groceries typically need a lot of space for parking and loading docks, so it's hard to put one in a dense downtown area," Blakeman said.

The proposed redevelopment area is part of the Downtown Fringe TIF District established in January. If approved, the project would be the first in this district and would make the city's financial incentive a $500,000 maximum reimbursement over a 10-year agreement.

Blakeman noted that this agreement is performance-based.

"I'm cautiously optimistic about this," Gladney said. "I'm not sure if we've reached critical mass for food service there, but when I think of walk-ability, food seems like the next logical step."

The project would be eligible for the city's Infill Redevelopment Incentive Policy, which Blakeman said would reimburse the new or increased city revenues it generates.

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Khristine wrote on August 09, 2017 at 11:08 am
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Ingress and egress in that area for semi truck traffic is going to be a nightmare. Walnut Street is a northbound one-way that turns into a two way street at the intersection of Washington Street. Wrong way traffic entering Walnut Street going southbound toward downtown would be even more common than it is now, which is frequent. If a semi were to go the wrong direction on Washington Street it will take them right to the Washington Street viaduct, which is not tall enough to accommodate a semi's height. Like Springfield Avenue's viaduct, it would become a weekly event of a street closure due to a semi peeling the top off their rig like a sardine can.


Then, there's the great hope that poor people will come to a "green" grocer to spend twice as much money on organic food as they would at the local Walmart or the nearby convenience store. Ho hum. Good luck with that. It would, however, be a nice addition to the area for the downtown residents who have spent several hundred thousand dollars on their condo.