Downtown Champaign in midst of transition game


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CHAMPAIGN — In the last few months, Bacaro, Radio Maria, Destihl, 51 Main and Memphis on Main have either closed or announced plans to move from downtown.

But One Main Development CEO Dave Jones isn't concerned.

"When something closes or changes, it gives everyone pause," he said. "But if you take a step back and look at everything in the larger picture, it's not really a concern."

Before the One Main building opened in 2004, Jones said that where Guido's is currently at — 2 E. Main St. — was considered the north edge of downtown.

"Now where's the edge of downtown? It's moved north, west and east," Jones said. "From my perspective, it's going to continue to expand in all directions. We have a lot of demand and interest from people that want to be down here."

Destihl won't be leaving for a larger space at Carle at the Fields until the summer of 2020, and Jones expects One Main will be able to fill that without much trouble.

"We've got any number of options once they vacate, which is still another 18-plus months before it's available to me," he said. "There's no specific plans as of yet. Obviously it's best suited to a restaurant because of the kitchen, but it can always be sub-divided."

And the tapas restaurant Radio Maria, which closed in December after more than 20 years in business, has a replacement, with the popular hamburger restaurant Farren's planning to move from Randolph Street to 119 N. Walnut St., C.

Bacaro also appears to have a replacement, though it hasn't been announced yet.

"I know it's leased, but you'd have to reach out to the owners of the building," said commercial broker Jill Guth, who had been advertising the property.

One of the building's owners, Hans Grotelueschen, did not respond to a request for comment.

On the east end of downtown, the nightclub 51 Main left for 1906 W. Bradley Ave. Also, the bar Memphis on Main closed, but that's because the buildings' owner, Christie Clinic's Dr. William Youngerman, is seeking higher-end tenants.

That stretch of bars also includes Derailed, which is still open, but probably not for too much longer.

"We're working on a settlement for closing," said Alan Nudo, who handles the leasing for the properties as a broker for Berkshire Hathaway.

Once Bubin Properties completes its mixed-use development at the old News-Gazette press building across the street at 48 E. Main St., and if and when The Yards project is completed on the south end of downtown, Nudo expects the east end of downtown to thrive.

"The Yards is going to be a great attraction. When festivities at The Yards empty out, Chestnut Street is going to be the main entrance to downtown," Nudo said. "We have great confidence that The Yards is going to become a reality."

The Yards is a $200 million project that would include an expansion of MTD's Illinois Terminal, a new hockey arena, a 175-room hotel, convention space, and 154,000 square feet of retail and office space.

The city of Champaign has been in discussions with the project's developers about what they'll ask of the city, and city planner T.J. Blakeman said the project is tentatively scheduled to appear before the city council sometime this spring.

Like Jones and Nudo, Blakeman is optimistic about downtown Champaign.

"It's expanding in lots of different directions," he said. "Downtown is strong and businesses continue to evolve. We're seeing when one closes, another one opens. It's just a natural progression. And there's a lot of big projects coming up."

North of One Main, construction crews have demolished buildings at 508 and 510 N. Neil St.

Jones said One Main hopes to eventually add apartments there.

"We're getting the site prepared," he said. "We're still working on plans for what is the final project going on that site. ... The intent would be to put some residential apartments on that site, with retail on the first floor. We just don't have it finalized."

And north of that, the new Serra Ventures headquarters at 520 N. Neil St. is nearly complete. That five-story building is also expected to include a coffee shop, fitness area, incubator space and 35 apartments.

Nudo said adding living space downtown will be key to its growth.

"Density around downtown is really increasing," he said. "We might see more service and more retail, not just restaurants and entertainment. That's a positive aspect that's going to change the mix of use downtown."