CHAMPAIGN — Within the next two weeks, the city will begin asking builders to submit proposals for the redevelopment of a key parking lot on Green Street in Campustown.
Officials think that the construction of a new, presumably multimillion-dollar building near Sixth and Green streets could be completed by summer 2014 if they get the right offers. Right now, Lot J is a paved area between Legends and Chipotle.
"In all honesty, a surface parking lot is not the highest and best use for that property," said Planning Director Bruce Knight.
Knight and other city officials believe that property to be among the highest-valued real estate in downstate Illinois, and they are in the process of getting it appraised. For decades, it sat in the Boneyard Creek floodway, which delayed its redevelopment.
That was the case in the mid-2000s, when the city worked with JSM Development and developer George Shapland to try a similar project. The design — known as the G6 project — included plans for a 14-story apartment building with two floors of commercial space and a 400-space parking deck on Lot J.
But then it got too expensive, and Knight said the flooding issues were the most serious problem.
"That significantly changed the kind of project that could be built," Knight said. "Because of that and because of the added expense that it created, they decided to scale back."
The biggest change is that, since the city has made improvements to the Boneyard Creek, the property is no longer in the floodway. Technically, it's still in the flood plain, Knight said, but only because the Federal Emergency Management Agency has yet to update its maps.
"We know that area is no longer in the flood plain," Knight said, but that won't be reflected in updated FEMA maps for another 18 months or so. In the meantime, any prospective developer would have to design around flood plain regulations.
"We think that because the flood plain issues are nearly resolved or close enough to being resolved that we can get through the construction phase," Knight said.
The city council could see the proposals later this year, and construction could begin in 2013. The city hopes to have a new building on that lot by 2014.
That segment of Green Street has become more valuable for retailers following flood control and streetscape improvements in recent years, Knight said. Even the failed G6 project eventually became a commercial building at Sixth and Green streets, where Noodles & Company and Chipotle opened shop. Urban Outfitters opened in a seven-story building across the street in 2008.
"The national firms have seen the value of that area," Knight said.
What the Lot J development will look like and how it will be used is yet to be seen, but Knight said the most likely outcome is some kind of mixed-use building. That could be restaurant or retail space on the ground floor and residential or office space on the upper floors.
The city will require any design to include, at a minimum, the same amount of public parking that currently exists in Lot J. But Knight said he hopes that developers would provide even more than that.
Officials are already thinking about how to provide public parking during construction. According to city documents, they are in discussions with the University of Illinois to see if there's a chance to use university-owned lots. They are also encouraging developers to submit temporary parking solutions with their proposals.
This story appeared in print on March 18.