Tom's #Mailbag, June 21, 2019

 

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CHAMPAIGN — It was all giddy smiles and excitement at Tuesday's city council meeting as members discussed the prospect of a Costco coming to the area, a move some feel will be "a shot in the arm for Market Place Mall" as well as a regional economic driver for the area.

After Tuesday's study session on the issue, Costco consultant Ted Johnson said the wholesaler and Brookfield Asset Management — which owns Market Place Mall — are finalizing the purchase agreement for a new lot that includes the former Bergner's department store, its parking lot and two fields that front Neil Street.

Johnson said Costco hopes to finalize the agreement by the end of April, finish construction documents by May 15 and then make a project submission to the city in July. With the current agreement, Brookfield is supposed to start demolishing Bergner's in August or September.

"We're not exactly sure how much work we're doing to the site this year," Johnson said. "But we will start full speed in April of 2020 and be able to have it open late October or early November that year."

There will also be some changes to the mall's layout. Rob Kowalski, the city's assistant planning and development director, said the new Costco store would not be directly connected to the mall with an inside entrance. He also said Old Navy will move to another part of the mall and have an exterior entrance. The reduction in retail space, Kowalski added, might be the best move for Brookfield, as malls around the country struggle to find tenants willing to invest in brick-and-mortar stores.

Kowalski said Costco will serve as a new anchor for the mall and will generate additional motor-fuel tax revenue from the gas station the wholesaler plans to build facing Neil Street.

Council member Greg Stock called Costco a "shot in the arm" for Market Place.

"This is a win-win for the city on a whole lot of levels," Stock said. "We're going to be bringing people from Decatur and Effingham and Danville."

The big victory in council member Will Kyles' view is Costco's willingness to work with the city's diversity advancement program.

"I would like to thank all the people involved because I think it's a critical part of this," Kyles said. "But critical to this is obviously compliance. Without compliance, it just doesn't work. Many communities have diversity initiatives, and many still fail. This one is one we should be excited and proud of in our community."

Council member Clarissa Fourman said the project will bring development back to the city's north side.

"Not everything has to go to southwest Champaign," she said.

But with more development north of I-74, Fourman said the need to keep in mind proposed Neil Street Corridor improvements becomes more and more relevant.

"The corridor is still a big part of this," she said. "The traffic that's going to be driving into town because of this, I just want us to talk about that. I'm now a little more concerned about the lanes being reduced. We want to make sure that when you're coming to Costco from somewhere else, you're going to make that left or that right on Neil Street to head downtown. That infrastructure on Neil Street is important."