URBANA — Democratic mayoral candidate Les Stratton has leveled another attack on a downtown Urbana project as a February primary election between him and Mayor Laurel Prussing nears.
Stratton said on Wednesday that work under way to beautify the Boneyard Creek around Race Street and Broadway Avenue is an example of overspending and will not attract the business that city officials hope it will.
Meanwhile, Prussing said that Stratton is, once again, a "day late and a dollar short," and that she expects Urbana's $7.9 million Boneyard Creek project to be the most successful of similar projects that the University of Illinois and the city of Champaign have undertaken in previous years.
Stratton has spent the past few weeks criticizing the city's handling of a renovation of the Landmark Hotel, formerly the Lincoln Hotel. He said the city has mismanaged the project and spent more money than necessary to assist the hotel owner with reopening the business.
Prussing has defended that project, which includes $1.45 million in city funds over several years, as a key initiative to get the historic building back up and running and to bring more foot traffic to the downtown area.
Now, Stratton says the development of park-like space around the creek in downtown Urbana is a waste of $5 million that could be better spent on attracting business to vacant downtown properties.
"While it makes sense to improve Race Street and Broadway, it doesn't make sense to spend $5 million to make a mini-park out of a stretch of the Boneyard that is only two blocks long," Stratton said.
Stratton pointed at four other properties — including an empty block just north of the City Building on Vine Street and the former Denny's Dry Cleaners at 119 N. Race St. He thinks the city could leverage more funds to encourage private investment in those businesses, rather than spend the money on the Boneyard Creek beautification.
"If all the economic development money is used on the Boneyard, none will be left to help with incentives to develop these key sites in downtown Urbana," Stratton said.
The city has already spent money to assemble the block north of the City Building and has been working with architect Gary Olsen to attract developers to build a residential, office and retail center worth an estimated $84 million.
The city has also fronted the $200,000 to demolish the old Denny's Dry Cleaners, a site that still needs environmental cleanup. Officials hope they would recoup that money when development moves forward.
City officials hope the Boneyard Creek beautification will help drive more foot-traffic to downtown Urbana and encourage more private investment north of Main Street.
The project is based on input Prussing and other city officials gathered from residents during public meetings, she said.
"We have a lot of public input, and the public was offered different choices, and we had numerous meetings where they were offered options," Prussing said.
And Prussing said she did not see or hear from Stratton at the time.
"If he was interested in it, he could have come," Prussing said. "He could have participated."
Comparisons have been made to Champaign's $11 million project to build a park around the Boneyard Creek between Springfield and University avenues. But that was primarily a storm water drainage project, with a park included in the design.
Urbana's creek project, on the other hand, is not expected to affect water flow.
But city officials do expect it to affect quality of life and economic development, and Prussing is more confident in Urbana's project than the upgrades already completed in Champaign and on the University of Illinois campus.
"They will think the Urbana part is actually the prettiest," Prussing said. "And I think it will work economically."