URBANA — With the recent addition of a martial arts studio, Lincoln Square Mall’s ground floor is filling up again.
“Our main floor is pretty full,” owner Jim Webster said. “We have a couple of vacancies.”
CU Jiu Jitsu in December moved into the space vacated two months earlier by Charter Fitness. Co-owner Michael Stoller said the new space is larger than at its previous location on Philo Road.
“It’s working out very well,” Stoller said. “We’re happy to be able to offer a lot more space for the programs we do offer.”
The medical test prep PASS Program uses about 12,000 square feet on the first floor, Webster said, and the Place for Children with Autism has been growing in the lower level since it opened in 2018.
“They’ve expanded by about 50 percent,” he said.
The biggest remaining vacancies are in the lower level, he said, where Health Alliance used to have offices before it moved to the Carle at the Fields development in southwest Champaign.
And for the first time in a while, there are two restaurants in the center food court area: Yellow Canary Cafe and Baldarotta’s, which has started hosting comedy nights at the mall.
“They’re both doing well,” Webster said.
Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin said the mall has transitioned “from retail to a mix of office and organizations,” with several religious organizations and wellness companies on the first floor.
“The management team has done a pretty good job of keeping the spaces leased,” she said.
Marlin said she’s optimistic about the mall, especially with the MCORE project repaving Green Street in Urbana this year up to the front door of Lincoln Square.
“It will be a different street,” Marlin said, with bike lanes, bus stops and new sidewalks.
And she hopes the nine-square-block area that includes the mall and the city-owned parking lots around it can be transformed.
In 2018, the city sought ideas for its “What’s in Your Square?” initiative.
The survey results indicated people want more green space and more arts and entertainment at the mall.
Of the 1,499 respondents to a question about “things you would like to see,” 863 chose green space while 846 selected performance space.
Of 1,324 answers to a question about the “single-biggest change you’d like to see,” entertainment (246 votes) was second only to business (310).
Webster said he’s making progress.
The goal, he said, is to transform the large hall on the south side of the mall into “more of a streetscape.”
Webster is adding “tables, chairs, trees, plants, to try to create that inviting effect,” he said. “There’s several other ideas that came out that were very helpful and we’re following up on.”
But the big hole in the nine-square-block area is the Landmark Hotel, which has been closed since 2016.
It’s connected to the mall, but owned by Xiao Jin Yuan.
Last summer, the city signed a redevelopment agreement with Maryland-based Marksons Affiliates LLC to renovate and re-open the hotel, but the hotel has yet to be sold.
Marlin said they have until the end of the month to complete the sale.
“We’ll see what happens,” she said. “There’s been a lot of activity behind the scenes. By all indications, we’re a go.
“I see the renovation and opening of the hotel as really the first step in the long-term transformation of the whole site,” Marlin said.