Developer has a different idea for proposed indoor UI sports arena

Developer has a different idea for proposed indoor UI sports arena

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign developer Peter Fox believes there's a better site for an indoor University of Illinois multisports center: right across the street from State Farm Center, at the southwest corner of St. Mary's Road and Fourth Street.

And next to his I Hotel and Conference Center.

"To be honest, obviously it would help the hotel. That's clear, but the hotel is doing pretty well, frankly," said Fox, who opened the hotel nine years ago.

"I think it's an easier, cheaper, more logical site," he said.

That's in comparison with another plan, unveiled in July, to build an arena in downtown Champaign as part of what developer Hans Grotelueschen said could be a $150 million project that also would include a hotel, conference center, office building and expansion of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District's Illinois Terminal building.

Grotelueschen said at the time he hoped to build the facility and lease it to the UI for use by a number of athletic programs, including a possible Division I hockey team.

The UI is expected to begin a feasibility study next month of whether to undertake a hockey program, said Associate Athletics Director Kent Brown. There is no timeline for its completion, he said.

Grotelueschen's project, meanwhile, will go before the Champaign City Council on Tuesday night for the first of what could be several study sessions.

Fox said Wednesday that he has been meeting with Champaign officials, city council members and UI Athletic Director Josh Whitman to promote the south Champaign location, now the site of a 90-year-old feed mill slated for demolition.

The site is owned by the UI, Fox said, and he wouldn't build, operate or own the proposed sports facility.

"We were kind of looking at this as being a facilitator to move it along," he said. "We have no portfolio. We have not been asked by Josh to do anything. We're just presenting what we think might be a viable opportunity, but if Josh decides he's not ready or he decides to put it someplace else, that's his call. But we're trying to be competitive."

Brown said the UI's Division of Intercollegiate Athletics is making no promises to anyone.

"Josh and the DIA have discussed possible facilities with multiple parties, as the facility is obviously a major component of the study, but there certainly have been no commitments," Brown said.

Fox said he believes the 6.2-acre south Champaign site is superior.

"What we're trying to say is that it can be ready quickly, it's a suitable site because all the utilities are at the site, and in addition we built two new drainage ponds that will handle all the stormwater, including the feed mill site if something were to be built there," he said.

"It also is the only site in C-U with chilled water (part of a 2004 UI project extended to the site). The benefit of the chilled water is that it's substantially cheaper, 15 to 20 percent, in terms of utility bills. And it's quiet because you don't have those massive condensers, and the reliability is better."

There also are 4,000 parking spaces nearby, Fox said, and 700 hotel rooms within a quarter-mile.

"I think people, whether they come from this community or other communities for athletic events, they want easy access. They don't want to fight the traffic and so we think this site addresses that," he said.

'It's a big blob plopped down'

Fox, who with Danville businessman Lou Mervis had proposed an ice arena at the UI in 2003, said he believes there's a market for Division I hockey here.

"The weather turns in early November and people are looking for things to do indoors," he said. "I think there are a lot of good hockey players in this state. The Blackhawks are as popular as any other professional team in the state. You've got hockey in St. Louis, Indianapolis and a lot of youth hockey."

Fox said he has met Grotelueschen once.

"I'm impressed that he got the (downtown Champaign) Hyatt built. That's a nice facility," he said.

But he said he doesn't think a large building with a 5,000-seat arena would be a good fit for downtown Champaign.

"I don't think it's the right thing downtown because these facilities are gigantic. We think ours would consume 6 acres. It's a big blob plopped down," he said. "I'm sure there are merits with what they want to try to do downtown. So we've been careful in meeting with the city and city officials that we're not trying to sell against downtown. I like downtown."

He said downtown Champaign is "a reason frankly why a lot of the young people in the (UI) Research Park choose to stay in Champaign-Urbana."

But, he added, "if I was the city, I would use whatever dollars they have to promote more housing downtown and create more residents downtown who consume more services that then provide more services that people are theoretically clamoring for."

'Very complicated to build'

Fox said he didn't believe a privately developed arena was economically feasible.

"My personal opinion is I've never seen one of these that would be privately owned that is anywhere near feasible unless I happened to get an NBA or NHL franchise for it," he said.

Even with use from youth and high schools sports, Fox said he didn't think it would work.

"Youth sports is affordable sports," he said. "If you're lucky, a lot of times when you get revenue for something like that — and I think the current (UI) ice rink would attest to it — you're lucky to pay your bills. So when you build a beautiful new structure that's going to cost a substantial amount of money, how do you make the debt payments? These are very complicated to build. You can always get a lot of feasibility consultants and other people to say, 'Oh build it.'"

Grotelueschen said Wednesday that he had "not seen plans for a hypothetical arena in south Research Park, so I couldn't really compare the two, but I'm guessing they are vastly different."

He added, "We have been overwhelmed with positive support for the arena and requests for additional office space, retail space and apartments, not to mention the expansion of vital community services brought about by our joint venture with MTD."

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whatithink wrote on August 17, 2017 at 7:08 am

it's really sad they tear down all these old historical buildings to make way for developers to line their pockets, and build crap the general public have no use for.  But, then old abandoned houses that have been added on and altered over the years only to fall in neglect and become empty, will be labeled "Historical" because ot cost too much to make the up to date?  

MarkDibley wrote on August 17, 2017 at 10:08 am

I'm with you in principal re historical buildings, but please advise what use a shuttered 90-year-old concrete feed mill has to the general public.

CommonSenseless wrote on August 17, 2017 at 12:08 pm

I believe the feed mill is still in operation.  I may be wrong, but is he talking about historical buildings in downtown Champaign?

sanjuan wrote on August 17, 2017 at 12:08 pm


sanjuan wrote on August 17, 2017 at 12:08 pm

Yes.  The feed mill is still very much in operation.  In the waning days of the 2014 campaign, Governor Quinn announced funding for its replacement. That funding dried up when Quinn lost.

RatDog wrote on August 17, 2017 at 2:08 pm

Enough with the sports already. This place is over saturated with sporting fields. Read a book, will ya? He'll lose his a$$.

dwbronson wrote on August 18, 2017 at 4:08 pm

Agreed! St. Mary's Rd. is a lovely feature in town; the development of that area needs to stop before the scenery is ruined. This is my town and my school. I hate the idea of mucking it up with sprawl. And I'm still unsure what's wrong with the existing ice arena. 

dwbronson wrote on August 18, 2017 at 4:08 pm

Agreed! St. Mary's Rd. is a lovely feature in town; the development of that area needs to stop before the scenery is ruined. This is my town and my school. I hate the idea of mucking it up with sprawl. And I'm still unsure what's wrong with the existing ice arena. 

UIUCHoopFan wrote on August 17, 2017 at 3:08 pm

Sounds like a ton of money will be thrown at feasability studies, architectural renderings, and consultants of various sorts only to conclude it's not financially possible or sustainable. 

If UIUC / DIA owns the facilty I wonder how far on the back burner the additional stadium renovation will be pushed or how much student facility fees will increase if this plan does come to fruition.

But wait!  Don't forget to sell the naming rights to the building and the ice!  CHA-CHING!

I would love to see D1 hockey at Illinois!  I honestly believe there are many people in the area sharing the same sentiment about Illini on ice.

No real high hopes here but a hockey fan can dream.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 17, 2017 at 3:08 pm

Will taxpayers' money be used for this folly?  Fox started his money with state office leases.  His political donations were not much, but they did win the leases.  Now, he is involved with the U of I.  Taxpayers should be asking about the funding, maintenance, and construction.  A hockey team requires coaching, scholarships, equipment, and a Big Ice House.  Someone has to pay for all of this.  Will it be the local, county, state taxpayers, or a long term investor risking their own moiney?  If "Build It, and They Will Come" does not work, what happens to the BIg Ice House.

Wanna play hockey?  Go to school at St. Olaf's. 

ArthurAndersen wrote on August 17, 2017 at 5:08 pm

Sid, what you don't point out about Fox's success in dealing with the State and UI is that he delivered a good product at a reasonable rate.  That, more than any campaign donation, will lead to an extended relationship with these entities. 

Your concerns about the startup costs of a UI hockey team are valid regardless of where their facility is eventually located. Those costs in great part will be DIA expenses, not construction costs. With those costs existing and being the same at any location, seems to me that the DIA's and the greater UI's interests are better served by working with Peter Fox on a site adjacent to other DIA facilities than by participating in a highly speculative downtown development where public funds and entities are heavily subsidizing the cost. 

rsp wrote on August 18, 2017 at 12:08 am

Public funds aren't heavily subsidizing the cost. I don't know why people think the MTD money is part on the deal, it isn't. That's more about timing and just working together. The MTD has to expand and upgrade the Illinois Terminal, no matter if the whole project is done or not. Having them work with the other development just makes sense in the long run, in many ways. But that money is separate. Having it downtown would also include conference space for large groups, and allow other teams to use the ice.

This isn't a case of having a team and needing a developer to come in and put the deal together. There's already a deal together and for Fox to try to profit off of someone else's hard work tells me a lot.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm

ArthurAnderson; Beans!  He did not deliver a good product.  Social Service agencies not on an MTD route have problems serving their customers,  More importantly, the leases were a product of corruption, Sure, both parties governors did it.  Giving a monetary donation for a building lease using taxpayer monies is corruption.

Sorry, but expanding Flag Ship athletics during a fincancial time like this is arrogant.  The absurdity of the DIA not using taxpayer money to finance buildings is a myth.  If it says the U of I on it, know that taxpayers monies were used.

787 wrote on August 17, 2017 at 6:08 pm

But if it is here, then the MTD's Karl Gnadt won't get to play the role of real estate developer, by using taxpayer funds from property taxes.  Nor will he get to be Hans Grotelueschen's BFF.

Where is the fun in that?  Karl needs to have some fun with money that isn't his.

The CUMTD doesn't need to be a real estate developer.  They've already bought enough land on sheer specualtion.   It is not in their purview, nor should it ever be.

rsp wrote on August 17, 2017 at 11:08 pm

MTD is using capital development money just like any other taxing body does. They are not "real estate developers". Just because you don't like them doesn't excuse this lack of basic research.

dwbronson wrote on August 18, 2017 at 4:08 pm

"I think people, whether they come from this community or other communities for athletic events, they want easy access."

Will the residents of this community who have to look at this monstrosity - and who may not be interested in the activities and visitors it hosts - have a meaningful say in whether it is plopped down on these 6 acres? I would bet there are more people in C-U who either don't want it or don't care about it than those supporting or profiting from it. Maybe if we find a way to pay for maintaining the character of our towns then decision-makers will listen.


MasterOfTheObvious wrote on August 19, 2017 at 5:08 am

Hey Josh, quick thought for you here Mr Smart Guy, how about winning in football, basketball (men's or women's), baseball, soccer, track and field, swimming, or any other sport before you go and spend another 100 million on a pair of hockey programs and more arenas.

Nothing at Illinois is winning, except debt. Just look at the last 5 years.

185 million to renovate the Assembly Hall.

Buyout Zook.

Buyout Weber.

Buyout Law.

Buyout Wise.

Buyout Beckman.

Buyout Thomas.

Buyout Cubit.

Fired Dee Brown.

Multiple Football Arrests stemming from Armed Robbery of Student, in a Dorm.

100 million for a new football building that includes no stadium improvements for the fans

Volleyball coach flees Champaign for Stanford.

Buyout Groce.

Buyout Bollant.

Women's Gymnastics coach leaves for NC State.

A 2016-17 school year with only a regular season Big Ten men's golf title out of all of the DIA.  1 title out of all of the teams that, together, account for a budget over nearly $100,000,000 annually.  And for that golf team it was the worst season in terms of national finish of the last 4 years.

Another year of operating in debt for DIA.

Massive Athletic Administrative Staff Increases for the DIA.



aantulov wrote on August 19, 2017 at 11:08 am

If anyone remembers the chaos when the fire works were at Parkland? That would no doubt be the experience if this were to go forward with Fox. The areas current pattern of growth would not be a compliment. Research park very scenic but logistically looks as if designed and took development advice from Dr. Suess. Expeditious for large crowds? Being a distance away from the assembly hall-State Farm center, and close to Amtrack allows for more flexibility when both hopefully are hosting.