Champaign council officially puts hotel project in former Illini's hands

Champaign council officially puts hotel project in former Illini's hands

CHAMPAIGN — After being in limbo for a few months, downtown's upcoming millennial-focused boutique hotel is officially back on track with a new developer.

The Champaign City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to turn the Best Western Hotel Vib (pronounced "vibe") project over to former Illini basketball player-turned-developer Doug Altenberger. The project's original developer, Chris Keller with Grasshopper Hospitality LLC, couldn't produce necessary documentation to prove he could pay for the hotel, slated for the currently vacant lot at 401 N. Neil St.

Construction on the hotel was supposed to start in January, after the city council approved the project last September. The new plan is to start work no later than Jan. 1, 2019, and be substantially complete by Dec. 1, 2020, according to a city staff report.

Altenberger is paying the city $275,000 for the lot and isn't asking for financial assistance to complete the hotel. The project also will include new streetscaping on Hill and Neil streets and the leasing of 100 spaces of patron parking in the top floor of the Hill Street parking garage, according to the report.

In other business:

— The council approved giving out $100,000 in Redevelopment Incentive Program funding to Main Street Rail LLC, which wants to turn the vacant building at 40 E. University Ave. into a microbrewery with upper-floor residential space. If the project goes through, the building would open up for the first time in 12 years.

"I'm excited about this project because this is a cornerstone building downtown, where you come into downtown and see that the building is empty," Councilwoman Alicia Beck said.

— Council members heard a presentation Tuesday from a group of Centennial High School students, who proposed that Champaign ban the use of e-cigarettes, vaporizers and JUULs in places where traditional smoking is prohibited.

— The council officially approved an honorary street designation for Rabbi Benjamin Frankel, who created the University of Illinois' Illini Hillel in 1923. John Street, between Fifth and Sixth streets, will become Honorary Rabbi Ben Frankel Way for 10 years.

Mayor Deb Feinen also officially recognized and endorsed the Champaign-Urbana Eruv, which is a wire boundary set up to extend Jewish households out into public areas. Within it, activities that are normally not allowed in public on the Sabbath are permitted.