Tom's #Mailbag, Aug. 11, 2017

Tom's #Mailbag, Aug. 11, 2017

Got a question for Tom's Mailbag? Submit it here

You have lots of questions, we have almost as many answers.

This week: updates on Golden Corral, Ice House, Buffalo Wild Wings, Enoteca Crudo, The Pines (old one), Steak 'n Shake and another Campustown apartment project.

Plus: where is all that Glenn Park dirt going, the "official" Illini fight song, what's up with an unsightly home on University Avenue, what can be done about long trains that block streets, how Urbana hopes to protect University High students while Green Street is closed, eclipse safety glasses, Champaign school buses and lots more.

Dirt dumped where?

"We live on Fair Street in Champaign and every day large dump trucks make trips down our street to the new drainage project in Glenn Park. We are wondering, where are they hauling all that dirt?"

The trucks are hauling out the soil from the new storm water detention basin at Glenn Park (Phase 2 West Washington Street Drainage Improvements), said Alex Nagy, a civil engineer with the Champaign Public Works Department.

"Approximately 66,000 cubic yards of soil need to be hauled out in order to construct the detention basin, which is approximately 5,500 truck trips," he said. "The soil is being hauled to the North Lincoln Avenue Project in Urbana."

University Avenue eyesore

"What is the status of the house on East University, just west of the volunteer fire department on Smith Road? Obviously, no one lives there. There are large holes in the roof and the weeds are over 3 feet high. Someone has mowed next to the street, which helps, but it is a real eyesore."

The address of that property is 2218 E. University Ave., Urbana, and the house is a "dangerous structure" that has been referred to the state's attorney's office, said John Hall, director of planning and zoning for the county.

"I anticipate that the state's attorney's office will file a complaint about that property in circuit court sometime in the very near future," said Hall.

The first complaint about the property, which is owned by Henri Merkelo, was received in May 2012, Hall said.

Long freight trains

"Last week I noticed Bradley Avenue being blocked by a freight train for roughly two hours in the early afternoon. What was the issue? Is the city ever going to create an overpass here?"

Part of the problem here is that Illinois no longer has a law that restricts how long a grade crossing could be blocked by a train.

In 2008, according to Marianne Manko at the Illinois Commerce Commission, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that an Illinois statute prohibiting the blocking of a railroad crossing by a rail carrier was unconstitutional and preempted by federal law.

Because of the doctrine of federal preemption, the Illinois Commerce Commission has no regulatory authority over trains blocking crossings in Illinois.

The Federal Railroad Administration has the authority to regulate blocked crossings, but has not issued a regulation to address blocked crossings, Manko said.

I tried contacting the Canadian National Railroad about the lengthy delays but never received a response.

As for construction of an overpass, that's an issue up to the city, she said. The ICC could offer financial assistance from its Grade Crossing Protection Fund, but it would be up to the city to initiate the process.

Springfield Avenue safety

"With the school year starting up and Green Street being closed for construction, what do the city and the university plan to do to help manage the increased traffic on Springfield, particularly at the crosswalk by Uni High?"

Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray said that a week before University Laboratory High School opens additional stop signs will be installed to create an all-way stop at the corner of Mathews Avenue and Springfield Avenue."Once Green Street is re-opened the added stop signs will be removed," Gray said. "Motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists are all asked throughout the MCORE projects to use caution and be alert to the changed street and sidewalk conditions in this area while on campus."

And University of Illinois police spokesman Pat Wade added, "This is probably a good opportunity to remind everyone that they might want to get out the door to go to work or class a couple minutes earlier if they plan to take Springfield Avenue. There might be a small inconvenience now, but obviously the hope is that this will help everyone get around campus a whole lot easier for many years to come."

Ice House

"The Ice House on Prospect seems to be closed. 'Sup with that?"

It is closed. We were unable to get in touch with anyone from the business but we noted that they no longer had an Illinois liquor license.

And Champaign's deputy liquor commissioner, Matthew Roeschley, reported that staff there contacted the owner "and they are indeed closed and in the process of selling the business."

Stoplight countdowns

"Why aren't all the stop lights set the same throughout C-U? Meaning when it's on the countdown why do some turn yellow immediately at 1 and others there is delay time before it turns?"

From Champaign assistant city engineer Chris Sokolowski: "Sometimes parallel crosswalks are not the same length due to the number of lanes on the side street, the location of the ramp or some other site specific reason. In these cases the shorter of the two crosswalks will reach zero first and then dwell in Don't Walk until the other side reaches zero and the light changes to yellow."

The Pines (old one)

"Say a word or two about The Pines, another favorite of my 1950s high school days."

Not to be confused with the neighborhood retail development in Urbana, The Pines was a drive-in restaurant at 1509 S. Neil St., where a Walgreen's now stands (the above photo shows an ad for it on a trash can on Main Street in downtown Champaign).

It started as a roadside cafe, operated by Hugh Brownfield of Urbana, in an area well outside the Champaign city limits in 1934. In 1949 it was remodeled but its owner, Finnis Jolly, died a few months later. It was rebuilt 10 years later after the state acquired about one-third of the existing building for right of way for the Kirby Avenue underpass under the Illinois Central Railroad tracks. The Pines was purchased in 1964 by the owners of the Ramada Inn that was built west of the restaurant.

Champaign school buses

"The Champaign school buses on Bradley Avenue are a terrible hazard. They get into the right lane to stop at the tracks, and then have to immediately get into the left lane to make the turn to the bus barn. I have nearly been hit numerous times, when the drivers are negligent of the traffic around them. I've reported it, but nothing seems to have been done. Can the buses not take a better route that doesn't require them to change lanes so quickly?"

Emily Schmit, director of communications and community relations for the Champaign school district, said she spoke to Paul Douglas, the district's executive director of facilities and Amy Magrini, director of Transportation, about the issue.

"While we haven't received any reports on this issue, it is something we've addressed and thoughtfully considered in the past," Schmit said. "Several factors are taken into consideration including access to the bus parking lot on Hagen Street. In addition, some of the side streets, including Dennison Drive coming from the west, are not as wide as Bradley Avenue and often have vehicles parked on both sides making it nearly impossible for the busses to navigate and turn.

"Safety is always our top priority and we'll take a look at the bus routes and traffic patterns again to see if other options exist. We appreciate the question and the chance to re-evaluate."

Neil/Windsor corner

"The property on the northeast corner of the intersection of Windsor Road and Neil Street has become quite an eyesore. Who would be responsible for looking into this matter and hopefully making improvements?"

It's owned by the Canadian National/Illinois Central Railroad and has been for more than 160 years. If you think it a bit rough now you should have seen it in 1850.Here's a link to the CN general contact addresses and phone numbers ...

Golden Corral update

"I keep hearing rumors that Golden Corral may be moving into the old Ryan's location. Know anything about it?"

Golden Corral has selected a location for a restaurant in Champaign but not at the old Ryan's site, said real estate broker Jay Sikorski at Coldwell Banker Commercial Devonshire Realty.

But he said he can't say where Golden Corral will be. They're hoping to announce their location by the end of the year.

Savoy chain restaurant

"My husband and I attempted to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings in Savoy yesterday evening; however when we pulled into the parking lot, the restaurant was fenced off and the inside of the building looked gutted. The BWW logo is no longer present on the building facade, so we wondered what might be going on? Closed for renovations or closed for good?"

The signs are back and the restaurant reopened Thursday after a remodel of approximately $190,000, according to its Savoy building permit.

Another Campustown Steak 'n Shake?

"I have not seen any mention in the Steak 'n Shake discussion about the older sites on the north side of Green between Wright and 6th, and also the one at Wright and Healy in the building where Jerusalem Cafe is located (also previously Papa Dels). I don't know which of those came first."

That was never a Steak n' Shake, according to city directories. For many years in the 1940s and '50s it was the home of the Campus Cab Co. In 1957 the city directory said it was under construction. In 1957 a King's Kastle Drive-In opened there. (There also was a King's Kastle at 1401 N. Prospect Ave., which is now a strip mall).

That was quickly followed by Mel's Drive-In, owned by Mel Johnson, who also ran restaurants in Tuscola, Mattoon and Peoria.

In 1962 Johnson told the old Champaign-Urbana Courier that the Wight Street location no longer would be a drive-in.

"Students come on foot, not in cars," he explained.

After Mel's the site was a Best Steak House and, in the early 1970s, Papa Del's.

"Official" fight song

"What is the university's official fight song, 'Oskee Wow-Wow' or 'Illinois Loyalty?'"

We asked Barry Houser, director of the Marching Illini and associate director of bands at the University of Illinois, for the answer.

"The Marching Illini view of this has always been that 'Illinois Loyalty' is our official school song and that 'Oskee Wow Wow' is our fight song," said Houser. "As most of our fans know, we play both songs during our pregame show. During in-game play, we will always play 'Oskee' from the Hold for an Illini touchdown and typically follow that with 'Illinois Loyalty' upon scoring a field goal."

South Wright Street project update

We got a question last week about the property on South Wright Street where Garber's Cleaners once stood. At the time there were no plans.There are now.

Champaign Planning & Development Director Bruce Knight said the city recently received a building permit application for a 5-story mixed use building (residential and commercial) on the site that would extend over the Boneyard Creek.

More research park work

"What is the new construction project next to Carle's new ortho/sports med building in the research park?"

Just an expansion of their parking lot, said Knight.

Eclipse glasses

"Where in C-U can one buy glasses for viewing the solar eclipse on 8/21?"

The American Astronomical Society says that the following retail chains sell ISO-compliant safe eclipse glasses and/or handheld viewers, (here's a link to that list — — so you can confidently buy solar viewers if you find them in their stores: Best Buy, Casey's General Store, Circle K, Love's Travel Stops, Lowe's, Pilot/Flying J, Toys "R" Us and Walmart.

Township assessors take office

"When do elected township assessors take office? Wayne Williams was elected in April as Cunningham Township Assessor, but my recent Notice of Property Assessment still lists Dan Stebbins as the assessor and Dan was quoted in a recent News-Gazette article."

The new township assessors — Williams within the city of Urbana and Paul Faraci within the city of Champaign — take office Jan. 1. They were elected on April 4, meaning they have a longer period between election and taking office than Abraham Lincoln did when taking the presidency 157 years ago. Lincoln was elected Nov. 6, 1860, and took office March 4, 1861.

Wine bar opening

"What is Enoteca (located next to the cupcake store on Walnut) and when will it be opening? It seems like I've seen the storefront under construction for some time. Thanks!"

There's a liquor license application pending at the city of Champaign.

The owner of Enoteca Crudo, Dario Vullo, who also is owner of Nando Milano Trattoria, said that he had hoped to be open in May.

"We are hoping to be open in the next six to eight weeks," he said.

Scoreboard significance?

"I live near the Champaign Central High School football practice field. I noticed that the scoreboard is usually set to 34-26 in favor of the home team during practices. Does this score have some significance to the team?"

Central Athletic Director John Woods said he's fairly certain that's the score of the last game played at the field last fall and the score hasn't been reset when the clock is used for practice. He noted that while the Central varsity doesn't play at McKinley Field, the JV and freshmen teams do.

Still awaiting tax refund

"Is there anyone else out there that still has not received their 2016 Illinois Tax refund yet?"All I get when contacting the Illinois tax department is that they are still backed up and due to additional security measures, they have no idea at all when I will received my tax refund. I asked if it would even be this year and I received a reply that it might or might not get processed this year."

The average wait time for an error-free, electronically submitted tax refund deposited electronically has been and remains at four weeks, said the Illinois Department of Revenue spokesman Terry Horstman. Paper returns can take eight to 10 weeks to process.

Returns can get flagged for additional review when an error or another discrepancy is detected.

Morrissey Park

"Two old high school friends were reminiscing about the days when the Champaign Park District supplied Morrissey Park with all sorts of construction tools and lumber for kids to play with. Is there any truth to this story? It would have been roughly in the mid-1970s."

Yep. The "Adventure Playground" (1974) was addressed in a mailbag column in 2015 ...

Dreamcoat colors

"So Tom, just how many colors are in Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat?"

I'm sorry we didn't get to this one last week during the successful production at the Virginia Theatre. According to my abacus and the lyrics of the Andrew Lloyd Webber song there are 29, including azure, ochre and mauve.

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James Meadows wrote on August 11, 2017 at 3:08 pm

The photo labeled as a view of the old Pines drive-in looks to be a view of Main Street in downtown Champaign from some years ago. However, there is an ad for the Pines on a trash can in the foreground of the photo. 

Niko Dugan wrote on August 11, 2017 at 8:08 pm
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Mr. Meadows,

Indeed you are correct. I have updated the text to reflect this. Thanks for pointing it out.


Niko Dugan
online editor

Orbiter wrote on August 12, 2017 at 11:08 am

The obvious best location for Golden Corral is the old Taffies location, in the decrepit Country Fair plaza.  Alas, the Taffies structure is too small for their operation.  But there is plenty of space across the street at Round Barn Center, where Famous Dave's used to be.  Assuming they want to go head-to-head against the OPH.