Not everyone happy with designs for Champaign's downtown plaza

Not everyone happy with designs for Champaign's downtown plaza

CHAMPAIGN — A multimillion-dollar downtown revitalization project 12 years in the making is about to move one step closer to reality — and not everyone's thrilled about it.

Tonight, the Champaign City Council is set to weigh in on the design and uses of a downtown plaza that would replace the football-sized parking lot at Neil and Washington streets. First proposed in 2006, the space is now used more and more on nights and weekends to host special events like farmers markets and festivals.

The plan up for discussion tonight calls for about 45 to 55 of the current 140 parking spaces to remain. David Meyer said that would be a "crummy deal" for his business — Meyer Drapery Fabric Outlet — one of several in the 300 block of North Neil Street that relies on the plaza area for parking.

"It would be pretty sad if we had to close; we've been there for about 30 years," Meyer said.

"A retail business needs parking, and we basically cater to older clientele," Meyer said. "The plan itself would have a devastating effect on our business.

"Right now, the space works for everyone, so if you want to beautify it, beautify it," he added. "There's no reason to go this far. It's not going to help us."

While 60 to 70 percent of the current parking spots would go away under the proposal, city staff note that there would still be 1,500 spaces within a five-minute walk of the site.

Community input gathered in recent months offered other ideas. Among them: Residents voiced a preference for a space that's "flexible" and has "variability and leisure, seasonality and identity."

Further, the input said it should focus on arts and entrepreneurship and largely offer free activities for people and families. Combined with food vendors, pop-up eateries, light elements and local art, the plaza should become the city's gathering place, proponents say.

The estimated construction costs fall somewhere between $2.5 million and $5.8 million. Add design and development, and the price tag is between $6.8 million and $15 million, though city staffers note that "funding has not been specifically established for the implementation of the plan," and it could take years for the downtown taxing district to raise that much.

-