Tom's #Mailbag, April 27, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, April 27, 2018

Questions for Tom? Ask them here and he'll chase down your answer

Better late than really late spring has arrived in central Illinois. With it comes Mailbag questions about apartment construction, a rumored golf course closure, a rumored funeral home demolition, work being done in a park, what looks like a developing sinkhole and moving students around.

Also more information about table shuffleboard, Elizabeth Hess' newspaper column, a cryptic emergency department signal at Carle and News-Gazette online pageviews.

Stone Creek golf course

"I keep hearing stories from people who live at Stone Creek that the developer has threatened to close the golf course after this year, saying that it is losing money. Could that be true?"


"The rumor mill has been spinning out whispers about Stone Creek Golf Club closing. I've heard for some time now that the golf course is financially struggling. Is there any truth to these rumors?"

Stone Creek, which is owned by TAG Investment LLC (The Atkins Group), will be open through 2018, said Spencer Atkins, a director of the company.

But there are no promises beyond that.

That's what the firm told Stone Creek subdivision homeowners last fall, he said.

"We wanted to give the homeowners the courtesy of being the first to know that we are interested in exploring options for the golf course," he said. "Since we opened it in late 1999 we've run it just how Clint (Atkins, Spencer's late father) envisioned it. And we believed in letting the homeowners know that the golf industry has changed. It's not what it was. It's not near what it was. And if an opportunity arises we'd like to formally investigate it."

Last month, he said, TAG met again with the homeowner's association.

"The question came up, what could the golf course be?" he related. "We put things out there that maybe folks hadn't heard about or thought about. Whatever happens with the golf course, it won't be an easy decision, it's going to take a lot of time and we won't do anything without thinking it through."

Atkins said TAG hasn't hired a broker to market the golf course. But among the options being discussed are making the golf course private, partnering with other private courses, shrinking it to nine holes instead of 18, lowering the quality of the course, raising the quality to attract more regional business and having a public agency operate it.

He also said that the course could be "repurposed" into a public park, a private park, gardens, concert pavilions, horse stables or other uses.

"We haven't engaged a planner yet but in our travels we're seeing that that kind of community is coming and I think it eventually will come to Illinois," he said.

Times have changed in just 19 years, Atkins said, and golf's popularity is waning.

"In Clint's vision golf was the right thing to do in the long term," he said. "But quite frankly it's probably not now. It was at that time."

Coming in Sunday's News-Gazette, a more comprehensive look at the declining golf industry in our area.


Funeral home not demolished


"I noticed some time ago that Heath and Vaughn Funeral Home at 201 N. Elm had been demolished, presumably by Unit 4. I also read that funerals and visitations are still being held at that address. Just wondering how that can be."

I am delighted to report that the funeral home has not been demolished, is as intact as it has been for 135 years and there are no plans to raze it, said Chuck Vaughn, owner of the business.

The property is not within the area that the Champaign school district is using for its expansion of Central High School, and Vaughn said he doesn't anticipate it ever will.

The funeral home was built in 1883 and was the home of Ross R. Mattis, who had been president of the Trevett-Mattis Bank in Champaign for 42 years until his death in 1945.

Vaughn loves to tell the story of Mattis.

"I'm enamored of this home because of my interest in history," he said. "He was from Pennsylvania as a young man and he ran off to join the Civil War as a drummer boy for the Union. His parents went to the battlefield and got him and dragged him home and then sent him here (to Champaign) to work for his uncle who owned a hardware store."

Someone else began building the house in 1883, Vaughn said, "and they went bankrupt and (Mattis) picked it up for a song and then he did 95 percent of the construction. He imported the marble fireplace downstairs from Italy. And we still have the old gas lanterns up. All the old beautiful wood floors, the ambience here is just wonderful."

Good to know that the building will stay where it is.


Campustown apartment construction


"The News-Gazette has reported recently about two more large-scale apartment structures planned for Campustown — beyond those that have opened in the past five years. Does anyone know the total number of bedrooms added to the rental market since 2010, and how this number compares to actual and projected population growth?"

While not exactly the answer to your question we can report that overall the city of Champaign has added 3,311 apartment units since 2010 and that it's likely the bulk of those were in the Campustown area, said Rob Kowalski, assistant planning and development director for the city.

Further, he said, about 2,000 bedroom units have been added in the city's core — Campustown, downtown and midtown — between August 2015 and November 2017.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported in January 2017 that the rental housing market in the Champaign-Urbana Housing Market area (which includes Champaign, Ford and Piatt counties) was soft with an estimated 10 percent vacancy rate (12.9 percent in the student-targeted area; a December 2016 number).

"The student-targeted apartment market is currently soft because an estimated 4,600 beds have been added to the market since 2012, including 2,400 beds during 2016 (Triad Real Estate Research)," HUD said. "UIUC enrollment has only increased by 2,000 students since 2012."

HUD also reported that demand was expected to increase for almost 900 rental units over the next three years (2017-2019).

"The 700 units under constriction are expected to satisfy all of the demand for rental units during the first two years of the three-year forecast period," said HUD. "Demand is expected to be greatest for one- and two-bedrooms units and for units not targeted at students."


Trevett-Finch Park


"There is heavy work being done at the park on Prospect and University. Tell me my favorite tree isn't in any kind of danger. It's the best place for a family photo in the area in my opinion."

The work under way at Trevett-Finch is a new wall to replace the timbers in a garden area at the park. Your osage orange tree will be fine, said Champaign Park District planner Phil Burke.

"Thank you for your concern and interest in Trevett-Finch Park. We at the park district also have a great fondness for this culturally significant Maclura pomifera. Please be assured that the appropriate care and consideration has been given to all the trees in the park. In fact, the new wall design makes accommodations to protect the large Black Walnut at the west end of the property," he said. "It can be argued that both the wall and the osage orange make this space iconic.

"We have great confidence in Stark Excavating and are pleased to be working with them. They are well aware of the sensitivity of the site and have assured us that there will be no need to encroach within the dripline of the osage orange, as specified in our agreed upon contract. Please be patient as we move forward in making Trevett Finch the very special mini-park that it is."

Here are links to past Mailbag questions about the osage orange and the park ...


More table shuffleboard

Thanks to readers we know about a lot more bars in the area with table shuffleboard ...

"In response to the reader's question about shuffleboard in the area on 4/20/18 there are shuffleboard tables at East End in Monticello, Monarch Brewery in Monticello, and the Ivesdale Tavern in Ivesdale."

"No question, just wanted to let your reader know that Daly's in Philo also has a shuffle board table."

"Reference to your question about shuffleboards in our area. The East End in Monticello has one."


N-G pageviews

"Has the end of online comments affected the The News-Gazette page view counts? I expected page view counts to drop, as people like myself used to view heavily commented articles a couple times just to view and sometimes laugh at the comments."

Jim Rossow, The News-Gazette's vice president of news, reports that "online numbers haven't changed much since we eliminated online comments.

"It's something we track daily (as anyone who has toured our newsroom knows) as our audience at continues to grow. On Tuesdays, in fact, we detail the previous week's top stories/vidoes/galleries as well as our pageview count. For comparison sakes ...

The week before we dropped online comments saw 1,270,045 pageviews:

The week after comments were eliminated saw 1,206,019 pageviews:

"March tends to be a bigger online draw simply because of a great Illini presence — both in sports and at the bars (Unofficial). It slows down a bit in April until Ebertfest and the marathon roll into town.

"As our print base holds steady, our online audience continues to grow with between 5-6 million pageviews each month. There's nothing like it south of Chicago.

"Hope this helps."


High school musical chairs

"A question about the overcrowded high schools in Champaign: Seems like they could redraw the districts to send a lot of the Champaign Central students out to Centennial. They might have to take some properties to add on to Centennial but wouldn't that be better than tearing down historic mansions in central Champaign. Secondly, send a lot of the students in south Champaign and Savoy down to Unity (High School) in Tolono. Might have to add on to Unity but they would be taking farm ground instead of historic mansions. Has this redistricting idea been looked at? Seems like a win-win to me."

First, I don't think overcrowding is the issue in the Champaign high schools. It's more about improving the environment for learning, especially at Central, which was built as a junior high school during the Depression. As for your suggestion about sending Champaign high school students to Unity High School, that would be a spectacularly complicated issue since those are entirely separate school districts.

"It could be done but typically an individual property owner who has land that is in one district but is contiguous or touching the boundary of another district can petition to detach from one district and annex to another," said Jane Quinlan, the regional school superintendent for Champaign and Ford counties. "That's when that regional board of school trustees would have to meet. A number of houses or a subdivision could petition to do that too. But usually what I've seen is a single property owner."

In this case, you're talking about entire parts of two municipalities annexing to another school district.

"The way we're talking about it here it would have to be done through a petition and the regional board of school trustees. And the petitioners would have to show that there would be a direct, significant educational benefit for the children," said Quinlan.

Finally, the proverbial horse is well out of the barn in this case. Voters approved the bond issue to modernize the schools, the bonds have been sold, the property has been acquired, the planning is well under way and the historical mansion you referred to (the Burnham mansion at 603 W. Church St). could still be saved by moving it nearby.


Hess columns

"What happened to the Elizabeth Hess (columns)? Can't be that she had to choose between radio and print because Loren Tate did both. I enjoyed Elizabeth's opinions whether I agreed or not."

I asked Elizabeth, a former neighbor over in southeast Urbana, and she said: "Thank you for inquiring about my column. My favorite thing to hear from listeners/readers is that they may not agree with me, but they enjoy listening to/reading my opinions. I was grateful for the opportunity to write a column in my home-town paper. It was a management decision to end the experiment, and I respect that decision. Please continue to tune into the WDWS Morning Show, Monday through Friday, from 7-9 a.m."


Post office sinkhole?


"Is there a sinkhole developing in the campus post office parking lot at Third and Green? The storm drain has a significant tilt and what looks like a new crack in the pavement running north and south."

Champaign Postmaster Larry Chandler said he's filed two work orders in recent weeks to get the lot fixed.

"I made it the highest priority," he said. "I think it's getting worse with the increased traffic in there because of all the construction on Green Street."


Carle emergency department signal

"What does it mean when the 'Batman' theme music is played in Carle's ER? I know the answer but have a bet riding on this. Your answer provides me with a delicious dinner at The Ribeye."

It's an alert to the emergency department staff, said Laura Mabry, the public relations coordinator at Carle.

"While all Emergency Department cases require staff expertise and teamwork, the Batman theme is a ringtone on a dedicated phone line that signifies paramedics and EMTs are bringing a patient on Advanced Life Support (ALS)," said Mabry. "The Level 1 Trauma Center team uses this and other tools to alert staff to the additional level of preparation needed."

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