Tom's #Mailbag, Nov. 10, 2017

Tom's #Mailbag, Nov. 10, 2017

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Lots of stuff in this week's 'bag but first two sports-related announcements:

— I have two tickets and a parking pass available for tonight's Illinois-Southern basketball game at the State Farm Center. First person to email me at gets them.

— The Champaign Urbana Baseball Stalwarts (CUBS) will march in the Parade of Lights at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25. All Cubs fans are encouraged to join us to celebrate another successful Cubs season, although it was slightly less successful than last year. Watch this space for more details.

This week's mailbag menu: updates on the big Cronus plant in Tuscola, Jim Turpin, the MCORE project, the Sitara restaurant, the Presence/OSF merger, and questions about pollinators along I-72, Clark Park, Lovie Smith's salary, posting street addresses, the House Republican tax plan, uneven surfaces in parks and — just what we need — another chain restaurant.

Interstate pollinator landscaping

"On I-72 east between Monticello and White Heath there have been workers clearing brush and planting grass. It appears they have now moved beyond the Route 10 exit. Why are they doing this? Why did they pick those areas?"

Here's a good news sort of response from Kensil Garnett, the Region 3 engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation: "The person that asked the question pays very close attention to our roadsides, which is good to hear.

"We are becoming more environmentally conscious at IDOT and we have a project to remove volunteer brush and reseed the area with pollinator friendly seed. IDOT's statewide roadside manager chose the locations where the pollinator friendly seed is being placed."

Clark Park's past

"I have read that Clark Park was donated by John S. Clark and Samuel P. Atkinson. I know Atkinson owned the memorial business in downtown Champaign; what can you tell me about John S. Clark, and why does the park bear his name instead of Atkinson's?"

Nothing for certain but it's probably because the entire area around Clark Park had been part of the Clark farm, said T.J. Blakeman, a senior planner for economic development for the city of Champaign and president of the board of directors of the Champaign County Historical Museum.

Andrew Weiss, director of planning for the Champaign Park District, said there is "very little in our history files regarding Clark Park, but the files do indicate that John G. Clark Park was conveyed to the Board of Park Commissioners on March 24, 1924, by the city of Champaign."

It's worth noting, he said, that West Side Park, Scott Park, Beardsley Park, Harris Park and Washington Park also were included in that conveyance.

Blakeman also added that "there has been some interest in a parks exhibit at the (historical) museum next year.

"We are thinking of pairing it with a streetcar exhibit that would demonstrate how they were tied together. As part of that exhibit we were thinking of rounding up info on how each park got its name so this conversation would be of value to us."

Cronus future

"Still no visible evidence of anything happening with the Cronus plant west of Tuscola. Last report was 6/10/17. Five months later, nothing has happened. If you ask the officials in the know, they will probably tell you something should start happening in the next nine months. That's the standard response."

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said the $1.6 billion Cronus development has been delayed because there was a change in the contractor for construction of the big fertilizer project.

Rose said the original contractor was bought out and got out of the business of building such plants.

The new contractor is Thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions, a German multinational conglomerate, which met with Tuscola officials about a month ago.

He said he sat in on their presentation.

"It's a pretty impressive group," he said. "They're a major force in construction and they've built plants like this across the globe."

Thyssenkrupp was doing its due diligence about the project and probably will have a decision later this year.

In the meantime the Legislature this week approved raising the bonding authority for the Eastern Illinois Economic Development Authority from $250 million to $500 million. Its bonds — which Rose stressed are corporate bonds, not government-backed general obligation bonds — could provide some financing for the Cronus project.I should also note that The News-Gazette's Tim Mitchell reported Aug. 23 that construction on the Douglas County plant would likely begin in the second half of 2018 and last 37 months, putting the opening in the second half of 2021.

Here's a link to that story ...

Turpin future

"I've heard Jim Turpin is retiring/being pushed out of 'Penny for Your Thoughts' on WDWS. Can you get us the scoop from the man himself and/or management? He will be missed, when is his last show?"

Jim said on the air last week that his last day as host of "Penny" would be Friday, Dec. 22.

That will be the conclusion of a 40-year career on WDWS, including three years as an undergraduate while at the University of Illinois and, in 1980, a return to the station where he broadcast Illini sports, hosted "Penny" and was the station manager.

In the interim he worked at an advertising agency, did some radio and worked at Sangamon State University in Springfield (one of my alma maters) in Springfield. My best wishes to a central Illinois radio legend and a fellow colleague of the late Bill Miller, who directed the master's program I was in many years ago.

MCORE future

"What is the status of the MCORE project? I understood the work was to be completed with a 'substantial' daily penalty beginning Dec. 1, and that the contractor was given two added weeks due to the work stoppage while there was no state budget (four or five days, I think). Each end of the project in Champaign appears well behind even the extended schedule."

The Champaign portion of the project now is scheduled to reopen on Dec. 17, according to Champaign Public Works spokesman Kris Koester.

Here's his complete response to your question ...

"On behalf of the four major MCORE Project partners, I'm happy to provide an update to the status of the current work.

"While the project has experienced delays from spring rain events and, most notably and most recently from the state budget shutdown, the contractor is still estimating completion of the major infrastructure items for the Green Street project by the end of the calendar year. Currently our contractor, Duce Construction, is working five 10 to 10.5-hour days and one 8-hour day per week. "They also plan to work on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

"While the overall final completion date for the contract (which includes both Green and White Streets in Champaign and Green Street in Urbana) remains Nov. 2, 2018, the state budget shutdown delayed Green Street construction by about two weeks, impacting the current construction schedule and justifying a 16-day extension to four 2017 contractual obligations outlined in the contract:

"Champaign (Project 2&3)

— The original contractual completion date to have First Street open to two-way traffic was Aug. 18. First Street was reopened to two-way traffic on Aug. 21, ahead of UIUC's move-in weekend.

— The original contractual completion date to have Green Street open to traffic between Neil Street and First Street was Dec. 1. The revised completion date is Dec. 17. Green Street between Neil Street and Third Street will have new pavement and be completely reopened by this date. Additional work between Third Street and Fourth Street will occur next construction season. There may also be minor streetscape and landscape work along Green Street that will occur next year.

— White Street & Wright Street (Project 3) are on schedule for construction starting March 2018 and should wrap up by Nov. 2, 2018.

"Urbana (Project 1)

— Project 1, Stage 2 (Green Street from Mathews Avenue to Goodwin Avenue) and Stage 3A (the south portion of Green Street from Goodwin Avenue to Lincoln Avenue) was delayed due to the state budget shutdown in mid-summer of 2017. The original substantial completion date was Nov. 3 for those stages and the revised date is now Nov. 13 The contractor is working toward meeting the substantial completion criteria which consists of getting Green Street open to two-way traffic from Wright Street to Lincoln Avenue as well as completing key sections of curb and gutter, bike lanes and sidewalks. Work on some items such as lower layers of asphalt pavement, traffic signal work, and work around the gas stations east of Lincoln Avenue is allowed outside of the revised substantial completion date.

"We hope to bid out Project 4 (Wright Street/Armory Ave) and Project 5 (Green Street from Lincoln to Race) in October 2018, with a plan to begin construction in March 2019. Up to date information can be found at"

Sitara future

"What is happening to the Sitara restaurant in downtown Urbana that was damaged by fire last month? Will it reopen or will the owners direct all of their attention to the Himalayan Chimney Restaurant in downtown Champaign?

There is a shared ownership and Ari De at the Himalayan Chimney said that Sitara would be renovated and will reopen "in about a month."

Here's hoping that is so.

Presence/OSF future

"What is happening to BCBS negotiations with OSF? Will people who have BCBS be covered fully for Presence and Christie clinic after sale goes thru of Presence?

Erin Mitchell, the regional director of marketing and communications for Presence Health, released a statement about the ongoing negotiations around OSF HealthCare System's proposed purchase of the two Presence hospitals in East Central Illinois and the effect on Blue Cross Blue Shield patients:

"OSF HealthCare is still in discussions with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois and remains hopeful that an agreement can be reached so that we can continue to provide high quality in-network care to our patients.

"Physicians and providers employed by OSF HealthCare are still in-network caregivers for BCBSIL and will remain in network after December 31, 2017. This includes OSF HealthCare Medical Group practices, OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute and OSF HealthCare Illinois Neurological Institute. The providers are not part of the termination by BCBSIL of OSF hospitals, which means physician office visits are covered in-network.

"Patients can access care at OSF hospitals at in-network rates through the end of the year and at OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony's Health Center in Alton, IL, which will continue to be in-network after December 31, 2017 .

"If no agreement is reached and BCBSIL does not reinstate OSF HealthCare hospitals as in-network, OSF will do as it has always done with out-of-network patients who desire our services. We will work with the patients and families to ensure access to the treatments and services they need, regardless of insurance carrier or ability to pay.

"We will continue to respond to inquiries from individuals and families every day as part of our commitment to the communities we have been called to serve. For the most current information, visit us online at"

House Republicans tax reform

"The House Republicans' tax bill introduced last week would make university tuition waivers count as taxable income, increasing taxes on thousands of graduate employees at UIUC by about $4,000 per person per year. A $4,000 tax increase would be unaffordable for graduate students, many of whom make less than $20,000 per year. Is Representative (Rodney) Davis aware of the tuition waiver tax provision and the effect it would have on graduate students and on the U of I? Does he support the tuition waiver tax? And if not, what will he do about it?"

As we reported in The News-Gazette, Davis sent a letter Nov. 8 to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, urging that the provision you wrote about be retained. Here's part of that letter:

"Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code incentivizes an employee to accept tax-free qualified educational assistance from an employer as a means to further the employee's education and obtain skills to thrive in the workforce. Since 2014, I have championed the importance of this benefit and have attempted to expand it through my bill, H.R. 795, the Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act. Seven in ten college seniors graduate with student loan debt — which now represents the second highest form of consumer debt. This debt harms our economy because it prevents many young adults from buying a house, purchasing a car, or saving for retirement. For this reason, I ask that you consider retaining this exclusion in tax reform and expand it to include H.R. 795.

"Additionally, repealing Section 117(d) of the IRC will eliminate a taxpayer's ability to exclude qualified tuition reductions from income and will raise the barrier of entry to college for many individuals. Colleges and universities throughout my district provide employees — as well as their spouses and dependents — with tuition reductions. By repealing this provision, middle-income individuals who rely on these reductions to obtain a college degree will be forced to pay taxes on amounts they never actually physically possess. These individuals include the children of janitors who ensure facilities are in working order, or the spouses of university police officers who provide safety to our students. Repeal of this exclusion will place an unnecessary burden on these taxpayers whose only ability to attend college is often through receipt of qualified tuition reductions. As such, I ask that you retain this exclusion in tax reform."

But the final product, which passed out of Ways and Means on Thursday, did not include those changes.

The House Rules Committee could make further changes to the bill.

And there's a much different version of tax reform just beginning the legislative process in the Senate.

"We're trying to work with many of my colleagues and the leadership to have this addressed," Davis said Thursday. "I was talking to a Democratic member on higher ed issues on the floor yesterday and these were some of the issues where we hope to bring bipartisan support to the bill."

Posting street addresses

"As a local driver for Uber and Lyft, I have recently noticed just how many buildings in Champaign, Urbana and Savoy do not have address numbers on them. Most houses do (though many are poorly lit and often difficult, if not impossible, to see at night), but a large number of businesses and apartment buildings do not have addresses visible. What is the rule for display of addresses on buildings?"

I did a review of ordinances for each of the municipalities and found that only Champaign has such a requirement:

In Chapter 22 of the city's Code of Ordinances it says: "Buildings shall have address numbers placed in a position to be plainly legible and visible from the street or road fronting the property. These numbers shall contrast with their background. Address numbers shall be Arabic numerals or alphabet letters. Numbers shall be a minimum of 3 inches high with a minimum stroke width of a one-half inch."

There's no reference to posting street addresses in Savoy's ordinance.

Urbana's doesn't appear to require addresses to be posted but it does have a provision if the wrong address is posted: "If any person shall publicly display any number on any building or lot within the city that is not in conformance with the official street number assigned to each respective lot and building by the public works department, the city engineer shall cause to be served, by certified mail, upon the record owner and the person who last paid the general taxes on such lot (if such person be different from the record owner), a notice that the building number displayed is not in conformance with the official number assigned and shall advise such persons what the correct number is, and further shall order such persons to permanently remove the incorrect number within ten (10) days of mailing of the notice."

Park hazards

"Does the Champaign Park District take any steps to control pests/vermin within park boundaries. Sunset Ridge Park is full of mouse tunnels which appear very dangerous to visitors. Seems like they could easily cause a park goer to fall and twist their ankle."

Finally, someone is speaking out about natural hazards on public lands. This is a serious problem in the Rocky Mountains, on the Appalachian Trail and even in Sunset Ridge Park. Creatures are making life difficult for human beings.

OK, I'll be serious.

Dan Olson, the newly appointed director of operation for the Champaign Park District, said the district "does not currently control mammals in parks or natural areas. However, we occasionally find turf areas disturbed by small and large mammal activity that we repair back to a level condition. This is the time of year when the activity is most noticeable. As small mammals such as mice, voles and ground squirrels become less active, their underground tunnels and nests collapse making indentations in the turf.

"Larger mammals such as foxes and domestic dogs stay active year round digging holes that are often more noticeable. Parks such as Sunset Ridge and Porter may have more activity since they are surrounded by vast open areas known to have natural wildlife populations. Since wildlife activity can happen very quickly, we encourage park patrons to call 398-2591 if they see any hazardous areas."

Also of note, said Olson, is that the Champaign Park District "has had an initiative to put accessible concrete paths in many of its parks including Sunset Ridge. Using these paths provide a nice alternative for park patrons that may be concerned with being active in mowed areas."

Mellow Mushroom Pizza

"Are you hearing any rumors about Mellow Mushroom Pizza coming to C-U?"

I am not hearing rumors but I can say that the folks at Mellow Mushroom do not return phone calls or emails. There are no Mellow Mushroom franchise restaurants in Illinois.

Lovie Smith's salary

"Many people debate the source of Lovie's salary. Not his 'shoe contract' but the part that comes from UIUC. Is his salary from state funds allocated to UIUC or is his salary set by UIUC but drawn from 'Athletic funds' — donations, Big Ten Conference funds, etc. The central point is whether paying Lovie's big salary (or those of his assistants) impacts the UIUC budget."

The football coaching staff salaries, including compensation for the head coach, "are paid directly from the budget for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. The DIA generates revenue through four primary sources: ticket and premium seating sales; sponsorships; private donations; and distributions from the Big Ten Conference and NCAA for media rights and revenue sharing. All of these revenue sources are potentially used to fund salaries, with the exception of private donations, which are used primarily to fund student scholarships, student programming, and facilities projects. Thus, all coaches' salaries are funded with self-generated revenue, not money from the University," said Urbana campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

But as Julie Wurth reported earlier this week Jay Rosenstein, a UI professor of media and cinema studies, calculated that the state pays more than $8 million annually in indirect state subsidies for athletic department employee pensions, health care coverage and other benefits.

Here's a link to that story ...

Kaler also noted that the DIA receives "modest student fee revenue (approximately 3 percent of the total budget) that is used to pay debt for past renovations to Memorial Stadium."

And "shoe contracts" between apparel companies and individual football and basketball coaches have not existed on the UI campus for many years, she said.

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bb wrote on November 10, 2017 at 3:11 pm


On the requirements for displaying addresses, Urbana adopts "model codes" that make up the building code, including the ICC International Fire Code.  In that, it states the following:

505.1 Address identification. New and existing buildings
shall have approved address numbers, building numbers or
approved building identification placed in a position that is
plainly legible and visible from the street or road fronting the
property. These numbers shall contrast with their background.
Address numbers shall be Arabic numbers or alphabeticalletters.
Numbers shall be a minimum of 4 inches (101.6 mm) high
with a minimum stroke width of 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) . Where
access is by means of a private road and the building cannot be
viewed from the public wa.,X a monument, pole or other sign or
means shall be used to identify the structure. Bill Brown, City Council ward 4

Common Sense wrote on November 11, 2017 at 10:11 am

Sorry, but Penny For Your Thoughts is one of the driest, most boring radio shows I've ever come across. Can't imagine how it lasted as long as it has, unless that's what the listeners want.