Tom's #Mailbag, Aug. 24, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, Aug. 24, 2018

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The business of the Mailbag is business, at least this week. Plenty of questions about new businesses, old businesses, rumored businesses and even a park district lake that once was a business.

Also, questions about driving golf carts on Champaign streets (don't), donating money to governments to fix potholes (go ahead) and whether there's a website to read all the special Illinois Bicentennial stories the state's newspapers are publishing (there is).


Golf carts on Champaign streets

"I noticed here lately that there have been several golf carts on Champaign streets, mainly around the Champaign Country Club. (There was one golf cart that appeared to have an Illinois license plate on it)."

If golf carts are operating on city streets their operators are doing so illegally, said Champaign City Attorney Fred Stavins.

"The Illinois Motor Vehicle Code prohibits a person from driving a golf cart on streets in Illinois, unless the local municipality passes an ordinance that determines that operation of a golf cart on roadways will not jeopardize public safety and sets restrictions consistent with the requirements of the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code in 625 ILCS 5/11-1426.1," said Stavins. "The city of Champaign has not passed such an ordinance as it requires, among other things, a study to determine which streets are safe for golf carts, posting of signs, mandatory insurance, and extra equipment on golf carts such as headlights, turn signals, brake and tail lights, etc."


Oldest Campustown businesses

"Today's story about the closing of Campus Florist got me wondering about other long time Campustown businesses. Once Campus Florist is gone, which of the non-chains that remain has the longest tenure?"

I asked around and the consensus is that there are three local businesses in Campustown that have been around for more than 50 years: Kam's, a bar that has been around in some form since 1931, the Illini Inn, which got its first liquor license in 1960 as the Midway Cafe, and the Lando Salon, at 707 S. Sixth, which has been around almost since the Lando Building opened in the mid-1960s. Of course, none has had the same owner for all of those years like Campus Florist and its owner, Anne Johnston (77 years).


Proposed Campustown high rise

"The high-rise that's causing Campus Florist to leave ... Is it residential, commercial business, new site for ObamaWorld, what?"

From a story last spring: "A Chicago-based firm called CORE that specializes in college-town developments is planning a 17-story, 175-foot-tall mixed-use project along the east side of Sixth Street where The Clybourne and Firehaus bars are located, according to Champaign City Council documents for tonight's meeting.

"'The ground floor would contain commercial uses with upper floor residential. The project site would occupy approximately 260 feet of Sixth Street frontage from Green Street to the south,' wrote T.J. Blakeman, the city's senior planner for economic development."

Here's a link to the story ...


More on dockless bikes

A little more on the local dockless bike program, which was a question in last week's Mailbag. This comes from Steve Breitwieser at the UI's Facilities & Services:

"The start of the dockless bike share program was discussed with representatives of the Champaign Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study, which includes the village of Savoy, through Champaign County Regional Planning Commission meetings. While it is expected the program's launch will primarily address the mobility needs of individuals for short-distance trips and short-term rides throughout Champaign, Urbana, and on campus, it is possible to ride the bicycles to nearby areas like Savoy since bike companies will be able to monitor their fleet through the use of GPS devices.

The bicycles will not lock up on the user while riding outside of Champaign-Urbana.

"The cities and the university are committed to reviewing the pilot program and making improvements in the future which includes receiving feedback from neighboring communities and exploring opportunities with them."


Illinois Bicentennial series

"I've enjoyed reading the Illinois Press Association's bicentennial history series in the Sunday editions of The News-Gazette, and am wondering if there are plans to compile the whole series into a book (or perhaps make them available through a permanent website)."

Dennis Anderson, executive editor of the Peoria Journal Star, said there are no plans to create a book from the Illinois Bicentennial series.

But there is a website, he said, that has all the stories up to this point:


New Savoy businesses

"I've noticed ground has been broken southwest of Aldi in Savoy and wondered what is going to be built there."Here's your information from Dan Davies, the zoning administrator in Savoy: "Mike Thompson is building Phase 3 of Savoy Square Subdivision which will have a 5,000 square foot retail center plus a smaller retail building.

"He does have one tenant, however the tenant does not want to be identified yet. I can tell you this pending retailer is something a lot of the residents have been asking for. We are excited to see this begin."


New Champaign business?

"There is a rumor circulating that Costco is coming to Champaign. Is it true?"

I doubt it.

Costco's site criteria reportedly requires a minimum $75,000 median income within a 5-mile trade area. That's not Champaign-Urbana ($48,899 median household income in 2016 dollars, according to the Census Bureau).

But we checked out your "rumor," just in case. The city of Champaign has not received a building permit application for a Costco and although Costco said it doesn't comment on store openings beyond three months, it provided a list of locations opening soon and Champaign-Urbana wasn't on it.

There is one Costco in downstate Illinois: in East Peoria.


Champaign interchange businesses

"Any progress in sprucing up the I-74/Neil interchange? I still see an empty lot where the hotel used to be. The east side isn't much better off. I have read multiple times of wide-ranging city plans but have yet to see anything put in place."

Champaign Planning and Development Director Bruce Knight said the site of the old Gateway Studios at the southwest quadrant is "dependent on the owner either selling it or developing it.

"As far as the Neil Street Corridor Plan goes we are just finishing the plan and will have to work projects into our 10 Year Capital Improvement Plan to implement it so nothing will happen overnight."


West Springfield business

"Any word on the old Za's on Springfield Avenue and Country Fair Drive still becoming a Dunkin Donuts?

The city of Champaign has not received a permit application for a Dunkin Donuts at that site, said Larry Happ, Champaign's building safety supervisor.


Carle at the Fields businesses

"It's been a while since we have heard anything new concerning retail tenants at the Carle at the Fields development or in that area. Have you heard anything beyond El Toro / Hampton Inn that might be opening up out there?"

Just two, said Happ — a Health Alliance office at 3301 Fields South Suite 105, and a Hazen Hair Salon and Boutique at 3401 Fields South Suite 122.


Hypothetical pavement improvement

"A pure hypothetical scenario: Suppose a person just passed away in this community and noted in the will that a donation $500 million to be given to Champaign only replace the city and county roads and to ensure that the roads are smooth and free of bumps. He/she noted in his/her will that he/she is/was fed up with so many potholes, bumps, patches that are not smooth. All this is to be blamed toward the state budget mess for not enough capital and monies to fix these roads locally and across the state.

"Does the $500 million have to be rerouted to the state and then be given to Champaign County/city of Champaign and Urbana? What is the process to ensure that his/her donation is appropriately executed?"

I asked Champaign County Engineer Jeff Blue, who said he was eager to learn more about anyone wishing to donate $500 million for road improvements in the county.

"Assuming that the lawyers could find a good way for this to happen, I don't know why the money would have to be re-routed to the state," he said. "We do use some state money on our roads, but at least 50 percent of my budget comes directly from county funds. If it was left directly to the local agency the money could be spent at our discretion, but we would obviously have to bid and build everything using state standards."


Fishing sites

"I was wondering if there was a good resource to find out which lakes/ponds are available to the public for fishing in Champaign city and/or county. I know the park districts have several lakes in Champaign but there are several freeway ponds in the area along with neighborhood lakes."

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has a pretty good list online at ...

That list includes sites in Champaign, Urbana, Mahomet, Villa Grove, Tuscola, Danville, Clinton, Decatur, Bloomington, Shelbyville, Paris and a number of other nearby communities.

Those "freeway ponds" and neighborhood lakes you refer to are private property. You'd have to contact the owners for permission to fish there.


Kaufman Lake history

"I am curious about the history of Kaufman Lake on Springfield Avenue. I am assuming it was manmade, what was the reason for it being built? When was it made? Did the park district always own it? If not, who was responsible for the landscaping? There seem to be hundreds of different kinds of plants and trees. It is really beautiful and well done."

Originally known at Kaufman's Clear Lake, the property had been the site of a gravel excavation business that closed in 1956. A year later Wally Harrell, the former president of the Champaign Sportsmen's Club, leased the property from Champaign clothier Stanley L. Kaufman and opened it as a business where fishermen would pay to try to catch bluegill, bass, catfish and crappie. A 1957 story in The News-Gazette (picture above) said that the lake was up to 40 feet deep and that it had a sand and gravel bottom.

In 1978 the Kaufman family donated the lake to the Champaign Park District. The land around the lake had been donated to the park district 10 years earlier. All the landscaping is done by the park district.


Remember this?

"Whatever happened with the high-rise building on campus by Green and Fourth that had the automatic car parking system? I think the company that was supplying it went bankrupt. I think by city code you are supposed to have so many parking places for so many apartments. Did they ever figure out a solution to make that work or did the city just give them a pass because I'm sure the building is occupied."

Champaign Zoning Administrator Kevin Phillips reports that the parking requirement "has since been eliminated in all three Central Business Districts (Campus, Downtown and Fringe) as well as the MFUniv District for reasons not directly related to this building" at 308 E. Green St., known as HERE.

"It is true that the company supplying the software for the parking elevator system apparently went bankrupt just days before the system was activated at that site, and the software was seized by the creditors just prior to activation," he said. "The (city) codes had not yet changed and the owner sought (and received) short-term relief from the codes in the interim to permit students to move in as planned, the city also worked with the developers and nearby property owners to secure parking nearby for students who had been planning on the unavailable parking."

Here's more background on HERE and its proposed robotic parking system ...


High school attendance estimates

"Unit 4 provided estimates of 500 to 1,500 attendees for Champaign Central varsity football games at the Aug. 14 Champaign City Council meeting. Could the school district please provide similar estimates for the athletic events anticipated at Central High School's new athletic fields at West Church Street and in Spalding Park?"

The school district doesn't have crowd estimates for those games since they are not ticketed and attendance is not tracked, said school district spokeswoman Emily Schmit.


Followup on Urbana city seal

A question about the Champaign and Urbana city seals came up in the July 20 Mailbag and here's more from Karla Gerdes at the Champaign County Historical Archives at the Urbana Free Library:

"The city of Urbana has had three seals that we know of. The Urbana city clerk's office has all three of these. In the first one, the outer circle contained the wording, 'SEAL OF THE CITY OF URBANA Chartered 1855.' The inner circle contained the words organized under General Law 1873. The seal also contains a scroll and what looks like a plow, a hammer and anvil, and a wagon wheel.

"The second seal contains the same items as mentioned above as well as lines that look like a sun burst.

"The current seal has all of the items that are in the second seal but they are much more pronounced and detailed."

Gerdes said the first reference to a city seal that the archives staff was able to find was in an 1880 city ordinance.

"We still do not know when the first seal was made or who designed it but in the city council minutes from February 3, 1908 we found "Ald. Van Wegen moved the clerk be instructed to purchase a new seal at cost of $6.00 on which shall be date of Charter and date of organization under The general Law. Motion carried."

Thanks, Karla.

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