CHAMPAIGN — In November 2015, developer Hans Grotelueschen announced ambitious plans for a $95 million project at Washington and Walnut streets.
A few months later, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District Managing Director Karl Gnadt reached out to Grotelueschen to discuss the MTD's long-planned expansion of the Illinois Terminal, not wanting to get in each other's way.
"We had two really potentially significant projects, and I thought it would be good for us to not step on each others' toes," Gnadt said Tuesday. "As that conversation progressed, it just became really obvious to both of us that there were a lot of elements from our original projects that married one another really nicely."
On top of that, Grotelueschen's project had run into some "hurdles," Gnadt said.
"When you've got one project with difficulties, and you've got another project that has a big wow factor to it, it just makes sense," Gnadt said.
One of those difficulties: moving the Orpheum Children's Science Museum to a new building behind The News-Gazette to make way for conference space. At the time, Orpheum board President Perry Morris supported the plan.
However, "while the original proposal was intriguing, the perceived benefits to the museum were diminishing," Morris, now vice president of the Orpheum, said Tuesday in an email. "The Orpheum Children's Science Museum is very fond of our home in the historic Orpheum Theatre, but we are not averse to moving, as additional space for the museum would benefit our patrons."
Grotelueschen downplayed this difficulty Tuesday.
"We had ideas about what to do with the Orpheum, we had ideas about how to include it and those didn't materialize," he said.
Instead, he said the decision to move the project south had more to do with the "efficiencies and synergies" with the MTD expansion.
This project officially unveiled Tuesday includes plans for a hotel and conference center topped with high-rise apartments, a standalone office building, additional bays for the MTD and intercity buses, and more office space at the Illinois Terminal.
The new site south of the Illinois Terminal has room for a 5,000-seat sports facility that could be used as an ice arena. That is dependent on the University of Illinois athletic department deciding to make hockey an NCAA Division I sport and then deciding that it wants to play in this proposed arena.
Last month, UI Athletic Director Josh Whitman announced that Illinois would begin studying the feasibility of adding hockey as a varsity sport.
UI athletics spokesman Kent Brown said Tuesday that the study won't begin until mid- to late-August.
"We don't have anything to add at this point," Brown said.
The new project lacks many specifics at this point, including a detailed timeline and budget.
If everything goes according to plan, construction crews could be breaking ground next summer, Gnadt and Grotelueschen said.
"That's pretty aggressive, so I don't know that we'll be able to do that because we have all the architectural and engineering work that needs to be done," Gnadt said. "And we have lots of agreements that need to be worked out between the city and MTD and Hans and other partners that we're still talking to."
The MTD board will discuss the proposal later this month, and the Champaign City Council will review it at its Aug. 22 meeting.
Grotelueschen said he's still working on buying the 8 to 10 acres of land south of the Illinois Terminal and east of Neil Street where the project would be located. The city already owns some of the parking lot space on this land.
"We're under contract with some of it, and we're in a due-diligence period, which means we have a time period to explore what we want to do, and the magnitude, and we're still in negotiations for some other businesses," said Grotelueschen, of Prairieview Park LLC, who also developed the Hyatt Place Hotel in downtown Champaign.
Knight: City here to help
As for costs, Grotelueschen said he doesn't have a final number.
"If we don't have an event center, then it will probably be about the same" as the $95 million project, Grotelueschen said.
It will be funded with a mix of private dollars, tax-increment-finance district funds and federal funds allocated to the MTD.
"I have equity partners that are interested in this project," Grotelueschen said.
Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight said the city will likely help with some of the infrastructure for the project.
"It's in a brand-new TIF district. That means we have financial tools to work with to help support the project," he said. "And we're probably going to be involved in helping replace parking, building structured parking and helping deal with the infrastructure needs for the project. But all of that is still subject to negotiations and finalizing a developer agreement."
For the MTD, Gnadt expects to pay in the neighborhood of $10 million, with much of that coming from federal funds.
"If it is $10 million that we're putting in, I'd be looking at $8 million in federal funds and $2 million in local funds in our local capital reserve fund," Gnadt said.
Q&A: Development details
What's included in Hans Grotelueschen's new proposal?
➜ An expansion of the Illinois Terminal.
➜ 175-200 hotel rooms.
➜ 200 apartment beds.
➜ 100,000 square feet of office space.
➜ Retail space on the first floor.
➜ More parking.
If the proposed hockey arena is built, what would it come with?
➜ About 5,000 seats.
➜ Three sheets of ice.
➜ Four full-size basketball courts.
➜ 15 volleyball courts.
➜ 24 wrestling mats.
➜ A public ice skating rink.
Where will this be located?
On 8 to 10 acres of land between the railroad tracks to the east, University Avenue to the north, Springfield Avenue to the south, and Neil and Walnut streets to the west.