Old motel in Champaign is now our problem

Old motel in Champaign is now our problem

A demolition project scheduled to begin in late October demonstrates the high price of community blight.

The idea of spending a small fortune in taxpayers' dollars to demolish a dilapidated building on a major Champaign thoroughfare doesn't thrill anyone.

But the city council gave little pause Tuesday when it unanimously authorized the expenditure of between $750,000 and $1.25 million to demolish the five-building structure best known as the former Holiday Inn. Located at the intersection of Interstate 74 and North Neil Street, this 208-room facility was once a thriving enterprise that long ago fell on hard times.

Last operated as the Gateway Studios, it's been empty since May 2009, when Ameren cut off utility service for nonpayment and the city subsequently condemned the building, forcing 52 hard-luck families to find new quarters.

Essentially abandoned by its owner, the daughter of the husband-wife team who opened the facility as a Holiday Inn in the 1960s, the building has since fallen into even greater disrepair. It's now a dual threat — posing a public safety problem and making a negative impression on visitors who turn off from the interstate at the Neil Street exit.

The city's ultimate plan is to clear the property, hoping to recover its costs by overseeing the resale for a new commercial development. A 2010 appraisal placed the value of the land at $1.2 million, but there's no guarantee of a willing buyer at that price. Further, recovery of costs depends on what the demolition costs are, the final price to be determined by how much asbestos must be removed.

It's appropriate that the city will pay for demolition from its Urban Renewal Fund. If eliminating this blight doesn't qualify as urban renewal, nothing does. Nonetheless, it poses a risk for taxpayers, again demonstrating how declines in business and property values affect more than those directly involved.

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