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Big ol' Bag today, bulging like an oil and chip road on a hot, sunny day.

Topics include Trader Joe's, Domino's, scary-looking bridge supports under I-74, bulk vegetable seeds, Central High School construction and more interstate highway work. Also former C-U restaurants, Cardinal Road, a jammed photo gallery, the humane society garage sale and redesigning American high schools.

Bridge supports

"Why is there a large, yellow support that appears to be propping up the bottom of the I-74 bridge over the Canadian National tracks along Oak Street in north Champaign? Is it something we should be worried about?"

"The I-74 structure over the Canadian National tracks along Oak Street in north Champaign, despite the bad appearance, is structurally safe," said Kensil Garnett, the region 3 engineer for the Illino

is Department of Transportation. "Routine inspections in 2016 identified deterioration that was reported to our Central Bridge Office in Springfield.

"As a precaution, the Central Bridge Office designed the existing shoring towers that were installed in October of 2016. The shoring towers will ensure that the structure remains safe for traffic until we can identify funding to replace it. This structure is inspected by certified bridge inspectors every three months."

Interstate work

"Are there plans for major repaving of I-57 in northern Champaign County? Barricades up like crazy today, mon."

There are no plans for repaving I-57 in northern Champaign County during construction season 2019, Garnett said.

"The barricades are being utilized for a patching project which is repairing some of the worst spots in the existing pavement on I-57 from Tuscola to Rantoul and on I-72 from Champaign to the Piatt County line," he said.

Next up, Trader Joe's?

"If it took five years of Mailbag questions to get a Golden Corral in Champaign-Urbana, how many years of Mailbag questions will it take to get a Trader Joe's in Champaign-Urbana? I have enough friends who can ask a Trader Joe's question a bit differently every week for at least a few years. Please let me know if this will work."

Probably not, said Bruce Knight, who is Champaign's director of planning and development.

"There was a community group that developed an information packet and sent a letter to Trader Joe's a few years ago asking them to come here and as far as I know there was zero response," he said. "I happen to know that Costco was looking around our community for the right location for a number of years. I am not aware of Trader Joe's looking at our community at all and as entertaining as it is, I seriously doubt they are reading Tom's Mailbag."

HMart update

"Have you heard anything else about when the HMart will open? I am so happy about that and can't wait to drive there from Bloomington."

Nothing yet. No building permit application has been submitted for 702 S. Neil St., said Larry Happ, Champaign's building safety supervisor. "Only a demolition permit," he said.

I did not hear back from HMart, which last year confirmed it would open a store in Champaign but didn't have a schedule for the opening.

No mo' Domino's

I saw they tore down the Domino's at First and Green today. I hadn't heard they were going to do that. What's going in there?"


"Just noticed that the Domino's Pizza store at the northeast corner of First and Green has disappeared. What's going up there, yet more apartments?"

A building permit application for 102 E. Green St. is under review, said Happ.

It calls for a two-story building with a basement level that would be future retail and a bar. No application for a liquor license at 102 E. Green has been filed with the city, however.

Bulk veggie seeds

"Since FS Farmtown's garden center has closed, is there a place in the area to purchase bulk vegetable garden seed? It is that time of the year. We have purchased our seed there for years."

Thanks to advice from University of Illinois Extension's Ryan Pankau, an extension educator in horticulture (whose column appears on Saturdays in The News-Gazette), I went to Prairie Gardens in west Champaign and found some bulk seed of sweet corn, green beans and snap peas, plus onion sets and seed potatoes.

Moy's Tea Garden

"Where was Moy's Tea Garden in downtown Champaign? When did it close?"

The original Tea Garden Restaurant was at 121 / 2 Main St., just across the street from what is now The News-Gazette building in downtown Champaign. The Tea Garden had opened in 1947 and originally was owned by Charlie Chin, who soon sold it to his cousin, Harry Chin. Harry died in 1964.

In 1958 Harry Chin moved the Tea Garden to 204 N. Neil St., where it remained until it closed in 1989.

It became Moy's Tea Garden in 1968 after the business was purchased by James and Carol Moy.

Moy told former News-Gazette reporter Don Dodson that he spent 18 hours a day, seven days a week, at the restaurant, His family lived upstairs.

"I had a good business in those days," he said. "It was very busy. In those days downtown was downtown."

The Moys' children didn't want to take over the business, he said.

"No, they don't want it, the long hours and the hard work. They make better money in other work," he said.

Past Campustown businesses

"In the early 2000s on the southwest corner of Fourth and Green was there was a Greek restaurant called Taki's? (might be misspelled, I believe it was the owner's last name). I think he might have started as a food cart too. There was a building there that housed quite a few businesses over the years (if you could find and list any of the other businesses that would be an awesome bonus). I miss that building, and the Colonial Pantry that was across the street. All of the character is being ripped out of campus and replaced with bland and sterile high-rises. Please make it stop."

I could find no restaurant by that name in city directories or phone books. But in the 2001 city directory there was a number of restaurants at that intersection, including a place called Mykonos at 313 E. Green St. Others: Bagelmen's, Margaritas, The Oasis, Fazoli's, Dorcas and the Mandarin Wok.

Old steakhouse

"What happened to Mr. Steak, located on University Avenue in Urbana. They had great mushroom steakburgers. They also gave you a free meal for your birthday if you brought at least one other person with you to dine. Every year, for at least four years, each member of my family's birthday was celebrated at Mr. Steak."

It closed in 1994. The restaurant at 1203 W. University Ave., which was owned by the Majercak family, continued operating a couple more years as Campus View Casual Dining. At one time there were two Mr. Steaks in Champaign-Urbana, the other at 2312 W. Springfield Ave. Champaign.

Local attorney Ramona Sullivan wrote a remembrance in 2017 of her days as a Mr. Steak waitress. Here's the link ...

School construction bids

"It was my understanding Unit 4 received bids recently for Central High School renovation and expansion. I haven't seen any article about the bid results and wondered if the project was on budget, and moving forward?"

The major construction contracts for Central haven't been awarded yet.

The last big request for bids for Central's construction came in several million dollars over estimates. The school board will have to decide later this month whether to award those contracts.

Here's what's been awarded so far:

— Central High School Asbestos Abatement Phase II; awarded to Thornburgh Abatement, Inc. for $48,511.00

— Central and Centennial Hazardous Material Removal Phase 1: Central HS portion awarded to Environmental Assurance, LLC for $99,970.

— Central High School storm and sanitary sewer relocations; awarded to Duce Construction for $856,000.

— Asbestos abatement work at the old YMCA building at 500 W. Church St.: awarded to Abateco, Inc. for $123,798.

— Demolition of properties at 500, 615, and 619 Church St. and 308 Lynn St. awarded to Brandenburg Industrial Service Company for $504,500.

— Demolition of properties at 603 & 607 Church St., 201 & 203 Lynn St. and 606 Park Ave.; awarded to Stark Excavation for $207,800.

— Asbestos abatement at 206 N. New St., 615 W. Church St. and 619 W. Church St.; awarded to Valor Technologies for $55,700

— Central High School Utility Relocations; awarded to O'Shea Builders for $722,091.

Awarded bids and RFPs are listed on the Champaign school district web site under the "About" and "Finance" tabs.

Cardinal Road intersection

"At the north exit of Cardinal Road onto U.S. 150 is a poorly repaired section that never seems to be adequately fixed. I know this is the responsibility of a small township, but can't something more permanent be done?"

This intersection has been a problem for years and it apparently will remain so.

Robert Sherman, the Hensley Township road commissioner, said the issue goes back about eight years when he had planned to do some work at the intersection but was told by the Illinois Department of Transportation that it was under state jurisdiction.

Now, he said, IDOT says it's his problem.

"We'll try to get something done there. We're getting some help from the county and we'll mill it down and put in something," he said. "It won't be perfect."

Sherman said he has a similar situation a few miles west at the intersection of U.S. 150 and Lindsey Road.

Photo gallery

"I really enjoy the photo galleries online at but when there isn't a caption below listing who the people are in the photo, then the photos aren't worth looking through. I was really disappointed with there being no names under the Seventy Under 70 photos as well as others. Why isn't The News-Gazette listing people's names?"

Here's your answer from Jim Rossow, the vice president of news at News-Gazette Media: "In most of our photo galleries — we average 1-2 per day — a majority of the captions include IDs. But for Seventy Over 70 banquet, we opted not to do so as to publish as many photos as we could in a timely manner (144 as it turns out). ID'ing everyone in all 144 would take way more time than our photo staff of three has in order to keep our print and website products on schedule.

"At the banquet, emcee Mike Haile even said as much, promising that photo editor Robin Scholz would try her best to include everyone in attendance (500-plus) in the gallery — but without IDs. I think she did.

"Either way, every photo in our galleries can be yours. Simply click on 'Purchase a Print' underneath the caption."

Humane society sale

"Is there any more current news (after the article in late February 2019) regarding the (Champaign County) Humane Society Garage Sale for 2019? Always donate to them ..."

They're still looking for a location for what has been a May event, said Mary Tiefenbrunn, executive director of the humane society. Last year's site at 312 W. Kirby Ave., Champaign, is being refurbished as a plasma center.

Reimagining high schools

"Google tells me that the 'That's a School Board Thing' billboards are most likely from xqsuperschool. I definitely agree with the thrust of the message, I am just curious why we have a couple of them around town. Is XQ coming to Champaign? Did they sponsor the signs?"

"We're running a national campaign to show people how important, and powerful, their local public school boards are. Our hope is to inspire people to get involved — at whatever level works for them — and make it easy for them to do so with online materials and tools that can be found here," said Stephanie Germeraad, communications director for the XQ Institute.

"The ads are appearing across the country, on television and billboards and in print media, thanks to our partnership with Entertainment Industry Foundation. We are very grateful to them, and all their media partners, who are generously helping us get the word out that school boards are important."

There's no indication that XQ, which bills itself as a platform to "rethink and redesign the American high school," is coming to Champaign-Urbana.

Partisan hiring at UI unit?

"I understand that the University of Illinois had several politicians on the paid staff of the Institute of Governmental and Public Affairs, with a retired Republican governor, a retired Republican state senator, and a retired Republican state representative and candidate for lieutenant governor. I do not recall hearing about any Democrats. How about taking a 10-year period 2005-2015 and telling how much money was paid to whom and how much was paid to Republicans and how much to Democrats?"

Of the three people cited, only former Gov. Jim Edgar remains connected to IGPA, said Jim Paul, associate director of the department.

"He is employed by the university in a part-time capacity to lead the Edgar Fellows Program, which he founded in 2012 and is administered at IGPA. That program, as you know, is designed to bring current and future political leaders from across Illinois together to learn from each other with the goal of finding common ground and a better way forward for the state," Paul said. "Many prominent Democrats have been part of the program over its seven-year history, including Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton, Treasurer Mike Frerichs, Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell, and others.

"I should also say that the list of Republicans among Edgar Fellows Program alumni is equally strong and includes State Sen. Chapin Rose, state Sen. Jason Barickman, Congressman Darrin LaHood, state Rep. Tim Butler, and state Sen. Dale Fowler."

There are no other "former politicians" on the IGPA staff, Paul said.

"Former Sen. Rick Winkel left IGPA in 2017. He is still employed by the university and is at the Prairie Research Institute. Jim Nowlan retired from the university in 2012," he added.

Another parking complaint

"I drive by the Kohinoor restaurant every day and notice that they park their van on the city sidewalk to unload all the time. They could park on the street and walk the extra two feet that they save by parking on the sidewalk. Is this legal? I have been ticketed in the past for my car extending over the sidewalk from a drive."

"If you believe a car is illegally parked, especially if you think it is creating an unsafe atmosphere, it is recommended to call the Champaign Police Department's non-emergency number at 217-333-8911 with the vehicle information," Champaign Police spokesman Tom Yelich said. "An officer will be dispatched to the location to investigate the matter more to determine if a violation has occurred."


Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).