Listen to this article

Several of this week's questions are more than a month old and we're glad we finally got an opportunity to find the answers. Among them: the largest property tax bills in Champaign County, the cost of President Trump's travel, work needed on South First Street, a safer crosswalk on Kirby Avenue, odd devices scattered on the edges of farm fields, the Tang Dynasty turned out to be less than a dynasty and Avanti's in C-U.

***

One more thing: Candlestick Lane opens at 5 p.m. Saturday in east Urbana for the 55th year. Sadly, this will be the first one without Helen Halpin, who passed away about three weeks ago.

Helen was a fine woman and along with her late husband, Charlie, they were great fun and wonderful storytellers. One time I talked to her and another Candlestick Lane pioneer, Bev Harney, about the early years of the tradition. It began in 1963 when a group of young families decided to compete in an Illinois Power-sponsored contest.

"When we first started this long ago," said Helen, "we used to go from house to house and we partied. Oh, it's a good thing we were walking, because by the time we got to your house ..." she said to Harney.

"... the houses were lit, and we were lit!" Harney finished.

Party on, ladies.

"What parcels do the top 5 or 10 property tax bills belong to? Who owns them?"

You didn't mention a geographical area so we'll give the top five in Champaign County, Champaign and Urbana (as of June 30, 2017). Many of the properties are student housing. Thanks to help from the county treasurer's office, we also obtained a more recent estimated amount in property taxes that each of these developers paid this year:

Champaign County

1. Campus Property Management ($1.99 million)

2. Champaign Market Place LLC ($2.289 million)

3. Bankier Family ($1.469 million)

4. Kraft Heinz Foods Co. ($1.328 million)

5. American Water ($988,979)

Champaign

1. Campus Property Management

2. Champaign Market Place LLC

3. Bankier Family

4. Kraft Heinz Foods

5. American Water

Urbana

1. The Scion Group LLC (One apartments) ($1.194 million)

2. MIMG XLV (Town and County Apartments) ($1 million)

3. Bainbridge CC Urbana Apartment (Campus Circle) ($967,131)

4. Tekton Group (Melrose Apartments) ($126,220)5. Campus Property Management

Restaurant needs

"Why doesn't C-U have an Avanti's or La Gondola restaurant? When I am in Bloomington I always stop and pick one of them up since we can't get it over here. Decatur has La Gondola, too."

Stefan Zeller, owner/operator of Avanti's Ristorante in Peoria, said, "We have plans to eventually be down there. Just nothing specific yet."

We haven't had much luck contacting someone from LaGondola, but we'll stay on it.

Trump travel

"We used to hear what it cost government (taxpayers) for Trump's weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago. What does it cost for his campaign rally trips — transportation, Secret Service protection, etc. — and who pays for it?"

According to Fortune magazine your question may be answered in 2019.

Answers may be revealed in two reports from the Government Accountability Office that haven't been made public. (How's that for accountability?)

"The watchdog agency has completed a 21-month review of security issues raised by Trump's visits to the private club that his administration has called 'the winter White House,'" said Fortune. "But public release of the report titled 'Presidential Security: Vetting of Individuals and Secure Areas at Mar-a-Lago' has been blocked at least temporarily because it included information deemed sensitive by the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, according to the GAO.

"A public version will be completed 'in the next few months,' GAO spokesman Chuck Young said in a statement. Next month, the agency is set to release a separate report on travel costs, including trips to Mar-a-Lago, he said."

Meanwhile, NBC is keeping a running tally of President Trump's days in office and the days he has spent at his various properties ... https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/how-much-time-trump-spends...

At last count he had spent 218 days at Trump properties, almost one-third of all his days in office.

Champaign public housing

"What is about to be built along Interstate Drive in Champaign? According to the addresses listed, it looks like it will be across the street from Aldi between Prospect Avenue and Toalson Drive. The building permits listed on Sunday in The News-Gazette for this multifamily residence total a whopping $14.8 million. Is there any other information about what is going to be built?"

501, 503 and 505 Interstate Drive will become the Champaign County Housing Authority's The Haven project. Documents show that its overall cost will be about $26.5 million.

The Haven is proposed to serve mainly senior citizens and people with disabilities. Some of the residents of Skelton Place in mid-town Champaign, which the Housing Authority sold for $5 million, will be relocated to The Havens when it opens in June 2020.

Promotional materials for the development say that it will have 122 units, including a 98-unit, three-story senior elevator building, offering a mix of 92 one-bedrooms and six two-bedrooms, and a second building, Haven Flats, with a 24-unit, one-story building designed for special needs residents.

According to Brinshore Development LLC, which is developing the project, "The Haven will offer gazebos, picnic shelter with grills and tables, dog park, pickleball court, community gardens and patios at Haven Flats. Indoor amenities include on-site management and maintenance, community room and kitchen, card room, computer room, fitness center, TV room, bike storage, resident storage, social service offices, and in-unit washers, dryers and dishwashers."

The housing authority, Brinshore said, will provide van service several times daily to a nearby bus stop on Prospect Avenue.

Hybrid buses (continued)

We had a question last week about whether the Champaign and Urbana school districts are considering purchasing low-pollution "hybrid" school buses. Champaign said it didn't plan to do so.

Now Urbana has commented: "We currently do not have any requirements in our bus specifications requiring hybrid buses. If we were interested in pursuing this, we would need to include it in our next bid," said Carol Baker, the district's chief financial officer.

First Street work

"When are they going to upgrade First Street from Church to the Lake Falls subdivision? I am told it belongs to Tolono, but all the residents belong to Savoy. It remains unsafe and under poor maintenance. All roads connecting to it have been upgraded."

That segment of First Street belongs to Philo Township, said Brian Meharry, the township road commissioner. And he said it was damaged by tandem trucks hauling dirt to and from the subdivision and other construction projects.

He said he is willing to work with the village of Savoy on improving the road but isn't willing to pay the entire bill.

"I agree that the road needs to be improved," he said. "But what if Savoy, which is expanding, decides to annex that property in two or three or four years? How is that going to look to the other residents of Philo Township, to pay for a road for Savoy?

"I just have a bit of a problem spending the Philo Township taxpayers' money for all of that."

Farm field mystery

"I keep seeing tall, thin poles with a small device near the top next to farm fields. What are they and what do they do? There's one on East Curtis Road in rural Urbana."

Those are cameras that are part of a University of Illinois crop science research project, said Philo area farmer Dirk Rice.

He said he has "several" of the cameras that look over the fields and take 10 photos a day that are then matched up with satellite images of the fields in what he called "ground-truthing."

Rice said the cameras are active from the time the crop emerges to harvest. Then they are dismantled and taken down for the winter.

The project has gone on the last two seasons, he said. "I have no idea if it will continue next year," Rice said.

Jimmy John's parking

"How are the Jimmy John's delivery vehicles still allowed to park on the striped curb on Lincoln Avenue? Several times a week I need to swerve into the oncoming lane to avoid hitting a JJ vehicle that just opened its door into traffic. I'm amazed this hasn't become a bigger safety issue than it already is."

Elizabeth Beaty, the administrative services manager for Urbana's Finance Department, noted that there is a 20-minute loading zone in front of the store.

"Also, our Public Works Department will be putting up LED flashing pedestrian signs at this location sometime soon," she said. "It's the last part of a Traffic Commission work order involving the 20 mph speed zone reduction. Jimmy John's vehicles can park in the loading zone when they are loading and unloading for deliveries."

Crosswalk on Kirby Avenue?

"There is a pedestrian crosswalk on Kirby Avenue at the south end of Hessel Park that is largely ignored by drivers. Even when people are standing there trying to cross, most cars don't even slow down as they go by. I have noticed that there are flashing yellow lights that a pedestrian can activate at Clark and Randolph, as well as near Grainger Library on Springfield Avenue. Is it possible to get similar lights on Kirby to help motorists recognize the pedestrian crosswalk there?"

If it happens it won't be for a while, said Kris Koester of Champaign's public works department.

"There are many highly utilized pedestrian crosswalks throughout the community where flashing lights and/or other enhancements could be considered," he said. "In order to provide those upgrades, there would need to be a Capital Improvement Project created. Projects in the CIP budget often compete with other infrastructure needs, depending on priority. The current 10-year CIP budget does not have this crosswalk programmed into it."

Tang Dynasty

"Tang Dynasty, the Chinese restaurant at Lincoln Square, has a handwritten sign in the window that says it is closed for the summer of 2018. Summer has been history for a few months, but the restaurant remains closed. Do you know what is going on with it?"

Tang Dynasty closed permanently on Aug. 1, said Marty Smith, the listing broker for Lincoln Square.

"There's a lot of interest in the space. We've had a number of showings," he said. "We're hopeful of getting another restaurant in the space as soon as possible."

Stained streets

"The last week or two I have noticed all kinds of what stains on Bradley Avenue, Lincoln Avenue and I-74 east of Urbana, extending for many miles.

"Today I saw a tandem dump truck being loaded with some kind of white sludge from the Illinois American Water storage lagoons along Bradley Avenue, west of Lincoln. What is this product or chemical being removed, and are there any hazards associated with it? Does the city of Urbana Stormwater Pollution Prevention requirements apply to whatever this is, at least in the city streets?"

The product being hauled out is "lime residuals from our storage lagoons at Bradley Avenue and Goodwin Avenue," said water company spokeswoman Karen Cotton.

"We have a contractor removing the remaining lime solids from these locations which were used by our Lincoln Avenue Plant. Since that plant has been decommissioned, it is necessary to completely deplete the lime storage at these locations," she said. "The lime isn't leaking from the trucks but normal transportation is causing some tracking on the roadway due to the transfer process, etc.

"We are working with the contractor to minimize impact to the roadway including washing the trucks more often and sweeping the roads. The lime is not toxic. It is being hauled away to be used by a farming company and will be land applied. The lime helps to condition the fields and this process helps to reduce waste at landfills."

State Farm acts

"We don't seem to get as many blockbuster concerts coming through the State Farm Center as we used to. Have things changed in the industry that make us less attractive to big name artists? We get a lot of country acts, but we have hosted some of the biggest names in pop and rock over the years, but they all seem to bypass us now."

Julie Wurth had better luck getting State Farm Center director Kevin Ullestad to answer that question in her Campus Conversation this week ... http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2018-12-05/campus-conversation-ke...

Regarding your question, Ullestad told Wurth: "Well, we have to follow the trends that are going on nationally. Where are the bands that are selling tickets? Country music is dominating right now, in terms of selling tickets and touring, over other music genres.

"Classic rock is out there and selling well, but if you look at who's dominantly selling tickets, it's country, and it's some of the real hot pop — the Drakes, the Jay-Zs, the Beyonces — and they're only major-market players. ... It's all about the 'GP' — the gross potential of the show."

Columnist

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