Students finding not everything is HERE as semester starts


Listen to this article

CHAMPAIGN — HERE Champaign, the new luxury high-rise on Green Street, had been billed as bringing a taste of downtown Chicago to Campustown.

However, one week into the school year, some residents say it's not all it's cracked up to be.

Unfinished amenities, unpainted walls and ceilings, exposed wire and no on-site parking are just some of the problems encountered by residents, who moved into the new building at the start of the semester.

The building's gym isn't open. Nor is the fifth-floor outdoor deck with hot tubs and grills. The unfinished ceilings have construction writing on them.

"I guess I had a place to lay my head, but it's not what I was expecting," resident Trent Barron said Tuesday.

Others weren't even able to move into their apartments, instead living for more than a week in hotels, paid for by CA Ventures, the company that owns HERE Champaign.

"Instead of having kids live where we have construction, we put some in hotels for a short stay," said John Druffel, the company's executive vice president for student living.

Because of all the troubles, CA Ventures has given all residents one rent-free month, Druffel said. For the tenants of a four-bed, four-bath penthouse, that's $4,800.

"Obviously, we're not happy it wasn't finished, either," Druffel said. "I think the kids are happy with our response."

Not all of them. Shivam Gupta, a University of Illinois senior and former student senator, wasn't happy with the response, so he started a petition, which he and friends have taken door to door, asking fellow residents to sign.

So far, more than 80 residents have signed up, asking for more to be done — from rent being lowered permanently to another month free. Gupta's goal is 130 residents — or one quarter of the building.

Gupta believes HERE used deceptive marketing practices. He signed an online lease for a fully furnished, two-story duplex after seeing the magnificent, 360-degree view on HERE Champaign's website, which claims "At HERE, every apartment is its very own VIP lounge." It shows fully furnished apartments with painted access walls and finished ceilings, which is not the case in every room.

"I'm backed by 80 people," Gupta said.

The site's most notable amenity was a robotic parking system, which was supposed to carry cars from the loading dock on the first floor up to spots inside of the building — and retrieve vehicles at the wish of residents. However, that system does not work, and the company that supplied it has filed for bankruptcy.

In order for the system to be finished, CA Ventures must go through bankruptcy court, Druffel said.

For the time being, HERE has rented out 80 spots in a city of Champaign parking lot at the corner of Third and Stoughton streets that will be free to residents.

Barron said he didn't want to park in that lot because it was a few blocks from the building.

Instead, Barron said HERE paid for his parking in the new garage at the Marriott Towne Place Suites on Sixth Street. After it became clear the system was a more permanent problem, he said HERE paid for a spot for him at 309 E. Green St. for one semester.

West Quad, the other building owned by CA Ventures, had a much smoother opening, Druffel said. West Quad's pool was closed for a week, but it is now up and running.