Former Illini star: 'I believe in downtown Champaign'

Former Illini star: 'I believe in downtown Champaign'

CHAMPAIGN — Downtown Champaign doesn't look quite the same as it did when Doug Altenberger left Illinois basketball in the 1980s.

Now the property developer and Illini radio analyst wants to leave his mark on the decades of downtown Champaign redevelopment that occurred after his campus exit. He's agreed to be the new developer of a millennial-focused boutique hotel at 401 N. Neil St.

On Tuesday, the Champaign City Council gave initial approval to putting Altenberger on the project, which was green-lighted last fall with the intention of it being branded as a Hotel Vib (pronounced "vibe") by Best Western, made to be high-tech and attractive to younger customers looking to stay in urban environments.

However, the project's original developer, Chris Keller with Grasshopper Hospitality LLC, didn't meet a deadline to show the city he was financially capable of completing the project.

"This put the agreement in default," said Rob Kowalski, the city's assistant planning and development director. "We told Keller of this by certified mail and haven't heard back."

This led Dave Mastio, who initially proposed the project, to recommend Altenberger to the city.

Altenberger, a University of Illinois alumnus and president of Stonegate Properties in Hoffman Estates, said he has been impressed by downtown Champaign's growth whenever he comes back to visit.

"I really believe in downtown Champaign," Altenberger said, "the city's vision and renovation."

The change in developers has stalled project construction, which was slated to begin Jan. 1.

Despite the delay, Kowalski said the city won't reopen the parking lot where the hotel will eventually sit. He noted that heads on the lot's parking meters have already been removed and that the city has made accommodations for the lost lot space.

If an agreement with Altenberger gets final council approval, Kowalski said, construction will start in late 2018 and finish at the end of 2019. The agreement would only be to switch developers and modify timelines, Kowalski said, noting how the hotel will still lease 100 spaces of patron parking from the top floor of the Hill Street parking garage and won't require city funds.

The entire project agreement, Kowalski said, isn't being restarted because city staff already consider the current terms as the best possible option. But since the agreement doesn't require that the hotel be a Best Western Hotel Vib, Altenberger said he's looking at his options.

"We have a number of top-notch, national brands that are interested," Altenberger said.

But there's still a plan to stay with the boutique, millennial-focused approach, which Mastio called the "name of the game" in the hotel industry now.

Altenberger's company has done small hotel projects before, and Kowalski said he's feeling good about this partnership.

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BruckJr wrote on February 28, 2018 at 1:02 pm

What is a "millennial-focused boutique hotel"?

champaign61821 wrote on March 01, 2018 at 8:03 am