Editorial | New life for Landmark?

Editorial | New life for Landmark?

Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin is hoping to close an important deal.

Saints be praised — there's good news on the Landmark Hotel front at Lincoln Square Village in downtown Urbana.

But don't get carried away — there's been good news before on this issue, and nothing much came of it.

So here the citizens of Urbana go again with their fingers crossed in the hope that Mayor Diane Marlin and the city of Urbana are on the brink of a potentially game-changing agreement for a redevelopment of the long-beleaguered and closed hotel, as well as an accompanying change in fortune for the mall.

"I really see this as the beginning of a transformation of the Lincoln Square site," Marlin said after disclosing that the city is in the midst of negotiations with Olney, Md.-based Markson Affiliates.

The city recently released a copy of a March 16 "letter of intent to enter into a redevelopment agreement" that outlines many of the specifics that will be under discussion.

Under the proposal, the parties indicated they hope to reach a final agreement "not later than July 19, 2019," and agreed to "work together to solve any issues that arise throughout the negotiation of the agreement."

The Landmark Hotel, which has been closed since 2016, has been the source of intense city efforts to find a buyer willing and able to renovate and reopen the structure.

Its current owner, X.J. Yuan, took on the task in 2010 and, despite his best efforts, never really got going. He put the property up for sale in 2015 and closed it the following year.

Yuan sought $5.4 million, an amount widely considered to be unrealistic. The letter of intent states there is a "maximum land acquisition price of $1 million," meaning the hotel and the land on which the hotel sits, according to Marlin.

It's long been clear that, if the city was to attract a buyer to redevelop the hotel, that it would involve providing financial incentives. As a condition of the proposed $16.8 million project, the city has tentatively agreed to provide reimbursements from its tax-increment-financing funds "in an amount of no less than $5.2 million." The city also is offering "all eligible enterprise zone incentives," including sales tax exemptions "for new construction materials."

Sam Spiritos, real estate lawyer associated with Markson, speaks confidently about his intentions, something people in his line of work do out of habit. So, as noted earlier, skepticism is warranted. But he said the Landmark offers "a great opportunity on a lot of different fronts."

Everyone should hope he's right.

The letter of intent outlines plans for a "complete renovation of the hotel and grounds," a Hilton Tapestry hotel branding, 120 rooms, full-service restaurant with catering services, bar, ballroom, conference center and meetings room. In addition, it calls for "new furniture, fixtures and equipment" and "reconditioned exterior" and "resurfaced parking" lot.

It goes without saying that a successful hotel that serves as an anchor for Lincoln Square would provide a significant boost for all concerned. Located in the heart of downtown, right across the street from the library, it's prime turf that is far too important to be in the sad shape that it is now.

It's proved a tough nut to crack; three prior efforts have failed. Perhaps the fourth time is the charm.

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