Tom's #Mailbag, March 8, 2019

Tom's #Mailbag, March 8, 2019

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This week's Mailbag is more crowded than the long line of miscreants volunteering to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis of Virginia.

The 'Bag has information about the old Bergner's store in Champaign (going down), an abandoned farmhouse along Curtis Road (cited for needed repairs), stepped-up security at high school basketball games in Springfield, new license plates for pickup trucks in Illinois and issues at Lincoln Square.

Also: requirements for construction cranes and for radio station "locators," Brendt Christensen's legal bills, ratting out illegal parkers, Hillcrest in Champaign, and remembering two vintage auto dealers in C-U.

Finally, thanks to Shelley Wolford, the senior vice president of communications & strategy for Golden Corral Corp., who didn't call the cops last week when I dropped in at the restaurant chain's corporate headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., to meet her and to have my photograph taken.

For those unfamiliar, the Golden Corral has been the most oft-asked question in the 5-year history of the Mailbag and has become a running joke everywhere I go: church, the blood bank, the gym, the golf course. Wolford said she was familiar with the Mailbag and the stream of GC-related queries about it. She said the company is looking forward to coming to the Champaign-Urbana market and eager to begin construction next month.

 

Action on abandoned house

"Is there any recent/latest movement from the city/county and the owners involving their abandoned house that is situated near Carle (east of Mattis and north end of Curtis)? Each time I drive by, I see more and more windows broken into/blinds twisted, and it appears likely that illegal activity has been occurring. I hope that this eyesore is removed or cleaned up soon."

We've received a number of questions over the years about this property, which is owned by the ATSA Trust, whose owners include Albert Lo, Alexander Lo, Tiffany Lo and Stephanie Kennelly.

Alexander Lo told us last year that the home "is part of our farmstead, and is not for sale. We often field inquiries about projects/developments that would remove the home, but so far have not been approached with any initiatives that we have felt would benefit the local community."

Meanwhile, Savoy village manager Dick Helton said that a notice of violation was sent out in February to the trust. The notice says that the house "is in disrepair and poses a risk to the public," he said.

If the village doesn't receive a response to the letter, Helton said, a second notice will be issued and the owners will be given a deadline to make repairs or the village will take legal action.

"We have received a couple of complaints, mainly from our staff and one other individual in the community who wanted to know what was going on with it," Helton said. "And that's surprising. As you're hearing in your questions (to the Mailbag), something like that attracts a lot of attention. But we're trying to get something done with it."

 

Basketball game security

"Upon entering Springfield Southeast High School for Tuesday's (Champaign Central) basketball game, fans were subject to a wand once-over by police. Is this just a Springfield thing?"

Bree Hankins, a spokeswoman for the Springfield school district, said the "enhanced security procedures" were instituted at all boys' basketball games at the three Springfield public schools at the beginning of last season.

"Security personnel scan all guests with metal detector wands prior to entry. All bags brought into the games are subject to search prior to entry," she said. "There were no specific incidents that prompted the practice. The practice was modeled after our security procedures for large scale events including Boys Basketball City Tournament and high school graduation ceremonies."

Neither Hankins nor Matt Troha, a spokesman for the Illinois High School Association, said they knew how common electronic "wanding" is at high school games.

 

Requirements for tower cranes

"I was driving past the tower crane at 55 E. Green St., Champaign, this afternoon, when a tower crane swung a load out perhaps 40 feet above my car. I wondered about my own safety as the load of what appeared to be several bathtubs on a crate teetered above the road. There were no signalmen, flaggers, or anything of that nature. What is the proper procedure when you encounter such a circumstance? The truck behind me honked, and I proceeded."

What you experienced is not approved, said Larry Happ, Champaign's building safety supervisor.

"Tower cranes jibs routinely swing into the airspace above neighboring properties and public way. Tower crane loads should be securely fastened and have flag men keeping the area below the load clear. Typically crane loads are kept within the project's property lines," he said. "The project construction manager will be contacted to address this circumstance."

 

Pickup truck plates

When is the Secretary of State's office going to start issuing new license plates for pickup trucks? I've had my set for 14 years now, and some out there are even older than that. It is getting difficult to imagine a time when they sent a new set of plates each and every year, when now they struggle to send out a new set every 15 years."

Henry Haupt of the office of Secretary of State Jesse White said, "The plan is to start replating pickup trucks (B license plates) early next year."

 

Christensen legal bills

"Are (accused killer and kidnapper) Brendt Christensen's legal bills being paid by the taxpayers? Is there any way to find out the amount to date? The longer the lawyers drag it out, the more they get paid, right?"

Yes, because the attorneys are all federal employees who are salaried, said Urbana attorney Steve Beckett, who has an extensive background in federal cases and also is involved in the Christensen case as a representative of the family of the late Yingying Zhang.

"They receive no extra pay for this case. Federal defenders are part of the budget of the Administrative Office of the Courts which include the judiciary and federal prosecutors," he said.

And no, there's no way to find out the various costs to date. That will all be accounted for after the case is completed, Beckett said.

 

Costco (again)

"There is renewed buzz about a Costco coming to town, perhaps in the space vacated by Bergner's. Any truth to the rumor?"

A buzz, huh? I can tell you that if Costco is coming it won't be in the Bergner's building on the west side of the Market Place Shopping Center.

The city of Champaign has an application to demolish the department store building, which has been vacant since Bergner's closed last August. In addition to razing the store, another 145 feet of the mall is to be razed, according to the demolition permit application.

As of right now the only building permit application is to rebuild an exterior wall on the west side of the mall.

Further, a Costco spokesman repeated what he said last year when this question came up — that the company doesn't comment on future stores until it is ready to share details about a new location, usually two to three months in advance. For example, Costco is opening four stores in the next three months in metropolitan areas much larger than Champaign-Urbana: Bayonne, N.J.; Oklahoma City; Ipswich, Australia; and Hanam, Korea.

There is a single Costco in downstate Illinois, East Peoria. There are 11 in the Chicago area, three in the Indianapolis area and three in metropolitan St. Louis. You can do the math.

 

Radio station locators

"Why when radio stations give their call letters and say where they are located they also say the name of another town?. Case in point, WKIO says 'Champaign-Urbana, Arcola' and WSJK says 'Champaign-Urbana, Tuscola.'"

Actually, you've got that backward but your point is well taken. At WKIO, for example, they have to say "Arcola, Champaign-Urbana," said Mike Haile, vice president at News Gazette Media and "Mike in the Morning" on WKIO-FM.

When stations give their call letters at or near the top of every hour, Federal Communications Commission rules require them to first name the city from where the station is licensed. They then can add any other communities in the listening area.

The original WKIO was licensed in Urbana, Haile recalled, and the announcers would say "WKIO, Urbana-Champaign-Danville."

 

Lincoln Square issues

"Tom, along with any remodeling plans that Lincoln Square has, I hope that they will remodel the bathrooms. The public one on the north side of the building are in terrible shape. I hate to have to use them when I go to walk. Also, when the high school students arrive in the afternoon they are unruly, loud and obnoxious. Is there any security personnel over there?"

Let's see, you use the mall, which is private property, to walk indoors, out of the elements and free of charge. But you feel entitled to complain about the condition of the bathroom and about other guests at the mall. You're fortunate to have a place where you can walk safely on an icy central Illinois day and take advantage of the hospitality of a gracious business person.

Speaking of whom, this response comes from Jim Webster, the owner of the 55-year-old mall:

"I am sorry to hear about the mall walker's complaint regarding the bathrooms at Lincoln Square. We constructed the bathrooms new 14 years ago. They are intended to be used by customers or clients for businesses at Lincoln Square, yet they serve people who have no intent of patronage. They are subject to continual vandalism and abuse. We have increased our hours of maintenance in the last two months and have plans to make upgrades."

As for security, Urbana police have begun to regularly do walk-throughs at the mall, which is frequented not only by students from nearby Urbana High School but by bus riders. Have a little sympathy for Webster who continues to make the mall a community asset and a safe and inviting environment but with limited revenue from an evolving business environment.

 

Illegal parking app

"I'm tired of seeing people parking illegally in accessible spaces or fire lanes around town. These people seem to think they are entitled to park there because they will only be a few minutes.

"Have you heard of the app Parking Mobility? It's an app that allows people to report people who park illegally in accessible spaces and other illegal parking. If the city is on board with the program, it can help the city issue citations. Do you have any idea who to contact or how to get Champaign to get on board with this? (I have no affiliation with the app)."

"We understand the frustration many feel when they come across a vehicle illegally parked, and we appreciate the suggestion," said Champaign Police spokesman Tom Yelich. "However, the best course of action to take if you notice illegal use of an accessible parking space is to contact the Public Works Department at 217-403-4700 or the Champaign Police Department's non-emergency number at 217-333-8911 with the vehicle information.

"From there, an officer can be dispatched to the location to investigate the matter more."

 

Old-time auto dealers

"OK two questions, where was Miller Auto Sales located? Where was Twin City Pontiac located?"

Miller's Auto Sales was at 713 S. Neil and Twin City Pontiac's address was 1303 S. Neil, approximately where Meatheads is now.

 

Hillcrest?

"Along the CN line between Old Time Meat & Deli and the Green Onion on South Neil Street, there is a sign that appears to be a railroad location called 'Hillcrest.' Was this ever an official location of a town or neighborhood or a stop on the (Illinois Central)? What is the origin of this location?"

That strip mall once was the site of Hillcrest Lumber Co. The company was hurt by an arson fire in 1958 but rebuilt on the same site and remained in business another 30-plus years. Stories in the February 1966 News-Gazette noted that Hillcrest Lumber was at the southern city limits of Champaign and that commuters missed a clock outside the business that somehow had been stolen.

"The clock was ideally situated because the Hillcrest offices right next to the city limits sign and commuters could tell whether they should hurry to the office or take it easy," said the news story.

 

Outdated website

"The following statement is on the city of Champaign's website: 'The City's boards and commissions perform a vital role in making our democracy work at the local level." With that in mind, can you find out why the schedule for the much ballyhooed Citizen Review Subcommittee is so out of date that it reads as follows elsewhere on the same website: 'Regular meetings are held on the 2nd Wednesday during the months of May, July, September, and November at 5:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers, 102 N. Neil St., Champaign.' This schedule is for 2018, by the way. What gives?"

The Citizen Review Subcommittee — a new group responsible for promoting public confidence in the police department through a review of the investigation of citizen complaints — is scheduled to meet on the second Wednesday of January, March, May, July, September and November, said Jeff Hamilton, communications manager for the city.

"Their meetings are open to the public and start at 5:30 p.m. in Champaign's council chambers. All subcommittee meetings are publicly noticed and listed on the city's website calendar," Hamilton said. "The meeting information listed on the Citizen Review Subcommittee webpage, which your reader referenced, inadvertently omitted the months of January and March. When that webpage was first created last winter, the subcommittee's first meeting wasn't scheduled until May 2018. The webpage has now been updated and we thank your reader for bringing it to our attention. For more information about the Citizen Review Subcommittee, including meeting agendas and minutes, visit our website at champaignil.gov/CitizenReview."

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