Two developers, one project, competing ideas

Two developers, one project, competing ideas

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign developer Peter Fox is aggressively comparing his plan for a multisports arena for the University of Illinois against one that has been advanced by local developer Hans Grotelueschen in partnership with the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District.

Fox has gone so far as to spend an estimated $50,000 for architect's, construction and consultant's reports and to meet with city, state and federal officials — all for a project that he wouldn't build or finance and on land he doesn't own.

Further, there's no guarantee the University of Illinois Department of Intercollegiate Athletics even wants to build the arena, which could become the home of a Division I hockey team — if the UI decides to add that sport.

The DIA isn't saying anything until it completes a feasibility study of a full-fledged hockey program. Hockey is now just a club sport at Illinois.

All that DIA spokesman Kent Brown would say about the study and the likelihood of hockey at the UI was: "We are currently working with the consultants on a feasibility study. That is our main focus and we have not been meeting regularly with any outside groups or agencies."

The Big Ten has a seven-team men's hockey league: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State and Notre Dame.

But just the possibility of hockey at Illinois has Fox and Grotelueschen touting competing arena proposals.


Consultant: Benefits 'clear' for campus spot

Fox said he has spent $50,000 with Johnson Consulting, Hammes Company and SinkCombsDethlefs, an architecture firm, to develop exterior drawings, schematic layouts, even a financial pro forma for a multisports facility that would be built south of State Farm Center.

The Johnson Consulting report, dated Nov. 14, says that a multisports facility — including Division I hockey, women's basketball, women's volleyball and men's and women's gymnastics, along with Campus Rec and community programs — could more than break even.

The facility, as suggested, would include two sheets of ice with the potential for a third in layouts that could be converted to use for other sports or for meetings, conferences or entertainment. One arena would seat 5,000 with club suites, the other 500. The facility also would include 10 locker rooms, offices for coaches and others, concessions and a shop.

The Johnson Consulting report also compares Fox's suggested site with the location in downtown Champaign, south of the Illinois Terminal, that Grotelueschen and the MTD have proposed for a hotel and conference center that also would include apartments, office space, parking and more bays for MTD and intercity buses.

The Johnson Consulting report concludes that "there are clear benefits to developing the (multisport facility) on-campus at the athletic complex site as opposed to the alternative downtown site.

"The benefits include: close proximity to existing university athletic facilities, ease of access, abundant parking, a unified athletics and recreation campus for the university, no requirement for additional infrastructure, close proximity to existing retail cluster on Neil Street, compatibility with the DIA master plan and would not be limited to a 10-year lease agreement that would be the case at a downtown development."


ACES dean: Time to move feed mill

The site is just east of his I Hotel and Conference Center and would be part of the UI Research Park that Fox developed.

But it would be on land owned by the UI that is now the site of a 90-year-old feed mill operated by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

"What I've told President (Tim) Killeen, Chancellor (Robert) Jones and anyone else who will listen is that we think that Fourth Street and St. Mary's Road is a good site because of the fact that there's a 90-year-old obsolete facility there," Fox said. "The new dean of ACES, Kim Kidwell, is in 100 percent agreement. The university already has a site for a new one and the cost to demolish the existing one and build a new one is pretty modest."

Kidwell acknowledged ACES is working on a plan to raze the feed mill and relocate it, and she hopes to have something decided by the end of 2018.

"It's something we talk about almost every day," she said.

Fox said his site "is substantially cheaper and faster to develop than the site downtown because we already have 6,500 existing parking spaces" at State Farm Center, the large lot west of the State Farm Center and at locations throughout the Research Park.

And he thinks the city of Champaign should focus on housing downtown, not an arena.

"If I were the city, I would want to push the university into developing this," Fox said. "If I were downtown Champaign, I would want to create another 500 to 1,000 housing units that were affordable so that the people who work at Christie (Clinic) or The News-Gazette have a place to live nearby.

"I'm biased because I'm selling this thing but if I were the city, that's what I'd do. If you look at this (arena plan) it's a blob. We'd make it architecturally correct but it doesn't belong downtown, where you're trying to do all of these other things."


Grotelueschen: 'I just respectfully disagree'

Fox's plan doesn't mention how much the arena would cost, who would build it, nor how it would be financed.

"If this gets built, we would have no role. We wouldn't be the developer. We wouldn't be the contractor. We wouldn't be the architect," he said. "Our motive is pretty simple. We want the Research Park to grow and prosper. We want the hotel and conference center, which the university already has a pretty significant investment in, to continue to evolve and grow. And we think the community in general needs a facility like this, just like they embraced the (new Stephens Family) YMCA.

"Our plan over the next who-knows-how-long is to try to educate people who might have an interest and respond to any critique or suggestions."

Grotelueschen, who had critiques, seemed almost flattered that Fox had taken aim at his project.

"I am confident enough in what we're proposing that I am surprised that there is any interest at all in an arena on the South Farms. It is surprising," he said.

He said he was "absolutely not upset" that Fox had a consultant compare the two proposals.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Peter Fox. The university does. The city does. He needs to be listened to. Every single time he has an opinion about something, he should be listened to. That's fine," Grotelueschen said. "I should listen to him also but I just respectfully disagree with what he's proposing. But we should all listen."

Repeatedly, he referred to the site Fox favors as "the South Farms," which is how it was designated before the I Hotel and the Research Park were developed there.

"To do pros and cons of sites seems premature to me, comparing it even," Grotelueschen said. "There are more things to what we're doing than just an arena and they haven't been fully released and people don't know about all the different pieces. So for people to say that one is better than the other, it's just premature to do that."


Downtown: 'Students can walk to this arena'

Grotelueschen said the downtown site is superior because it's closer to UI students, parking would be more convenient, it would be more accessible to MTD riders and much closer to downtown amenities.

"We're within walking distance of most of the existing students and the same distance for most students as Huff Hall is," he said of the home of UI volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics. "The thing he wants to do there on the South Farms is an extra three-quarters of a mile away, walking by all kinds of cemeteries and stadiums and empty space.

"Students can walk to this arena. It is exactly where you should put things — where lots of people want to go, in the center of town, within walking distance and on public transportation. We start with that."

Further, he said, it would be a better site for families who would go to the arena for youth sports tournaments and camps.

"It will be a much better thing to run a summer camp for volleyball, for basketball, for hockey, whatever it is, in the center of town, within walking distance to entertainment and so forth than the South Farms, where there is nothing around it," Grotelueschen said.

He contended that much of the parking at the Fox site is too remote.

"We will literally have about 1,500 parking spaces within 800 feet of the arena. His site has 500 parking spaces within 800 feet," he said.

Finally, Grotelueschen said his project would include more downtown housing.

"We're going to build a significant number without flooding the market. You can't build 2,000 apartments all at once in downtown but you can build several hundred and we mean to," he said. "We're advancing forward on all fronts. We mean to have office tenants in a building next to this arena and we need parking for those office tenants and for the employees who work downtown. We expect to move 500 employees downtown and we need parking spaces for those 500 people."


Champaign mayor: 'We don't control ice'

In the middle of this skirmish is the city of Champaign, which already is undertaking a number of studies related to the Grotelueschen/MTD proposal. Those are expected to be reviewed by the city council in early 2018.

Mayor Deb Feinen said she and other council members have met with Fox "but there's nothing pending before the city. He has not submitted anything. He hasn't asked us for anything.

"What the council saw from the other developer (Grotelueschen) was a proposal for a transportation center and a hotel and conference room and that he is partnering with the MTD and it's with or without ice.

"That's how the analysis was to be done, with or without ice. And we don't control ice. That's a DIA and (Athletic Director) Josh Whitman decision that really has nothing to do with the city of Champaign."

For now, she said, "it's just two potential projects in our community. Isn't it great that we have two developers who are interested in developing in the city of Champaign?"

Ultimately, the arena development is up to the DIA, she said.

"DIA could decide no hockey. I hope that that's not true. I think D-I hockey in Champaign would be amazing and I'm a hockey fan," she said. "I would love to see it but it's ultimately in their hands."


Matching them up

How a report by Chicago’s Johnson Consulting Inc. — paid for by Fox Development Corp., which is promoting the location in south Champaign — assessed the pros and cons of the two sites being discussed for a possible 5,000-seat multisports arena:

SOUTH CHAMPAIGN (Just southeast of State Farm Center)
➜ On UI land with easy access from central campus
➜ Easier and faster development
➜ No additional city infrastructure required
➜ Enhances existing athletic complex on campus
➜ Prime parking already exists
➜ Close proximity to Neil Street retail
➜ Compatible with DIA master plan and UI construction standards and financial practices and policies

➜ Lack of ability to walk to nearby retail and entertainment options

DOWNTOWN ARENA (Southwest of Illinois Terminal)
➜ Possibility of linking downtown to UI campus
➜ More amenities within walking distance of the development
➜ Within downtown tax increment finance district
➜ Shared parking with Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District development

➜ University cannot sign lease longer than 10 years
➜ Without input from more parties, the development could be delayed
➜ UI would not be able to control management of the arena
➜ Difficult to park, more parking development needed
➜ Extensive infrastructure costs
➜ Blighted area

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aantulov wrote on November 19, 2017 at 1:11 pm


aantulov wrote on November 19, 2017 at 4:11 pm


The who, what, where, when, why, and how does not always flourish in journalism today.  Unfortunately comedians are doing the investigative stuff. John Oliver may have a serious potty mouth but I have yet, like my receipt from Aldi's, found a mistake in his fact finding.  He did a show on stadiums.  If you want to press an easy button for a quick reason why everyone should pay attention to stadiums built with public funds or use, googling this episode is link is a good place to start.

The pro/con listed was paid for by Fox, is a bit biased.  

The UI can't sign a lease longer than 10 years is a good thing.  Many places are stuck in awful contracts IN PERPETUITY.

Easier and faster development is not a good thing when you consider all development should go through due process and due diligence.

Closer to Neil street businesses a plus? Its serious lack of planning that has made it difficult to get to those businesses as it is.

I don’t see how it could enhance the recently enhanced Memorial stadium and State farm center, if anything it competes with them.

Prime parking already exists? In the form of farm land, that may be a poor use of such a UI asset.

“Compatible with DIA master plan and UI construction standards and financial practices and policies” This is a meaningless statement as the plan is vague and changeable and anyone building there would have to adhere to policies and practices.

The proposal in a blighted area is not a con. It needs to be addressed, the old buildings unlike the UI mill, are falling down.

Infrastructure costs are a part of redevelopment and will have to be done eventually, this is not Puerto Rico, thank goodness, we access to federal funds.

Parking will be have to be put in but it will be well used for multiple purposes unlike the empty asphalt when there is not a game in Fox’s plan. Clarity of movement is a safety security issue. Did anyone feel safe at Parkland College when they hosted the fireworks? Lots of parking, no plans for  mobility.

The UI not controlling management of the arena? It will control what it wishes to pay for within the contract.

Given the amount of ever increasing foreign students without family here, would they want to be tied to the arena in perpetuity?

“with input from more parties it could be delayed” How is this a con? Development without due diligence, and input from all stakeholders is a good thing. You don’t buy a house, without consulting the variables, family and future investments.

I don’t see a TIF district as a good thing, unmonitored. Kentucky got a Subaru plant with seven years of a TIF district tax deferments. Providing 150 solid good paying jobs. We got a hotel giving 30 years, I believe, not that you can check easily on the website. TIF as a development tool can work well if we pay attention to the deals details.

I am no fan of tearing down the Ag school's mill or denigrating the studies there.  Considering how many farmers will be retiring in the next 15 years, 85%, the school should be expanding not giving up prime location. I certainly would like to see Mr. Fox work his magic on this dilemma.

The big picture is in an atmosphere above my pay grade. I wish they would settle the competition with a fashion run off. There are two of them are better dressed and fit men for their ages than many in town. For that I would buy a ticket to an arena. How about a charity event guys? That CU at home’s woman’s shelter, trying to fund it self with folks sleeping out in the cold in February, is not going to build itself.

j-e-i wrote on November 19, 2017 at 5:11 pm

Let me get this straight. 1 location in the center of town with easy access to a multitude of restuarants and a community around it that allows use of the rinks for the community. The other is on the edge of town in a corn field and would be difficult for anyone but people with vehicles to get to.  The first is part of reinvigorating the downtown and on a multitude of bus routes and the second uses space that limits its use due to other events such as other sporting events.


I feel like we have had this conversation before...


Also, can’t the women’s team use the Hall? do the really need a new place?


+1 on lack of investigating journalism here. Here have a report I paid for, to help my other businesses and write a really nice story for me. Did the N-G get paid for the propaganda?

kkmckay wrote on November 19, 2017 at 7:11 pm

No mention of the synchronized skating team and promoting this team to varsity status? Look at programs like Miami Varsity Synchronized Skating teams or Adrian College's Varsity Synchro program. The implications of a new rink are more than just hockey - Chicago suburban figure skating programs rake in tons of profit from Learn-to-Skate and freestyle programs.  

pattsi wrote on November 19, 2017 at 8:11 pm

The last time that there was an equally long article about these projects, I posted many a research article related to the fact that a community should not put any public funds into this type of project. The Readers Digest summary of these articles goes like this: if any athletic area is the type of economic development tool for "wherever" then why is it that the athletic team owners are in engaged conversations with the city decision makers to pay for the new venue? The answer is clear--the owners know it is not economic development and do not want to carry the cost burden. In addition over time, I have posed many times that TIF does not produce economic payback for communities of the type of economic standing such as ours, maybe East St. Louris and East Peoria, but not here. A search of the social science index will lead those who are curious to dozens of research article. It would be such fun if the N-G reporters did this and included the information in these articles.

rsp wrote on November 20, 2017 at 12:11 am

Although this is a TIF district there has not been any ask for money from the city. This is not a sports team asking the local taxpayers to build them a stadium. It's a private developer working on a project with his own money.

The report paid for by Fox does not give valid reasons to pick one over the other.

Another mention is no control of the arena by the UI and only allowed a  ten year lease. Wouldn't these things be negotiated at the time the lease was worked out? So how is it claimed as existing now?

Fox describes this as a "blob". Fox also suggests there might be 500-1000 employees at Christie Clinic or The NG who might want to live downtown. For some reason I think he's a little off here.