Downtown Champaign mega project covers whole nine 'Yards'

Downtown Champaign mega project covers whole nine 'Yards'

CHAMPAIGN — The name of the mega development proposed for downtown Champaign's south side: The Yards.

The price tag: a cool $200 million.

The status: At least some of the details will be shared at a joint meeting tonight of the city council and the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District board.

This will be the first of what's anticipated to be three meetings leading up to finalizing two agreements — one between the city and the developer, Core Spaces, and the other between the city and the MTD.

Making presentations at tonight's meeting will be the MTD, the developer and the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, city officials said.

Chicago-based Core Spaces — a national developer in educational markets that's been largely behind the scenes until this point — is partnering with the man who's been the more public face of the downtown Champaign project, Hans Grotelueschen.

According to a video by the developer, The Yards' name was chosen as a nod to the city's history as a railroad town, said city Planning and Development Director Bruce Knight.

The Yards has its genesis in a redevelopment project pitched by Grotelueschen in 2015 for the city-owned parking lot at Washington and Walnut streets. The project was later shifted to the current site — about 11 acres surrounding the MTD's Illinois Terminal building — and grew in scope.

The current projected cost of the development assumes it will include a 175-room hotel, convention space for up to 1,000 people, 100-plus apartments, 154,000 square feet of retail and office space, a 5,000-seat multipurpose arena that could potentially house a Division I Illinois hockey program, parking decks and an expansion of the Illinois Terminal building, according to a memo prepared by Knight.

Also included would be a parking deck for Christie Clinic employees at Clark and State streets to replace clinic employee parking being lost to the development, Knight said.

The project site — bordered generally by University Avenue on the north, the Canadian National tracks to the east, Springfield Avenue to the south and Neil and Walnut streets to the west — is all vacant land or home to parking lots and aging buildings. And it's an area that has seen little reinvestment, according to Knight.

The current value of the entire site is about $930,000, and it generates $12,220 in property taxes for the city each year, he said.

A $200 million-plus public-private development in the downtown would have a significant long-term financial impact, depending on what kind of assistance it will take to make it viable, and also yield food and beverage, sales and hotel-motel tax money for the city, according to Knight.

Some of what the city has already learned from consultants is that a development of this magnitude would raise Champaign's stature as an event destination in the region and enhance downtown as a business location, he said.

At tonight's meeting, city staff will be looking for the council's OK to work on agreements with the developer and the MTD, subject to final council approval, Knight said.

At the second session coming up on this project in late October or early November, details about the financial assistance being sought from the city and a financial analysis will be presented, he said.

The third session, to be held in December, will be to present draft agreements with the developers and the MTD to the council.

The MTD plans to share a broad summary of its terminal expansion plans — at least in concept — with the council tonight, according to MTD Managing Director Karl Gnadt. The transit district doesn't yet have such details as architectural and engineering plans for this project, he said.

Final costs and other details will depend, in part, on how much of $25 million in federal grant money being sought is awarded to help foot the bill, Gnadt said.

The MTD needs a roomier Illinois Terminal because it doesn't have enough spaces for the buses coming in and out at certain times of the day, he said.

A larger terminal would accommodate the current bus volume and provide some room to grow and also make it safer for other traffic and pedestrians in the terminal vicinity, Gnadt said.