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Restaurants, rest stops, Rafter's and a roofer in this week's Mailbag. Plus an update on the big interstate interchange project, healthy school lunches, replacement library books, parking around Champaign Central, a playground in Mahomet, monitoring liquor sales, the Dr. Howard School demo cost, Carle at the Fields and, of course, Golden Corral.

Old Kirby Avenue Monical's building

"I noticed recently that there seems to be a decent amount of activity at the old Monical's (Pizza) at Kirby & Neil. Is a business moving in?"

Yes, the building is being remodeled and will become the Top Food Restaurant.

It will have Asian cuisine, said its new owners who hope to open as soon as February although that may be a bit optimistic.

I-57, I-74 interchange renovation

"When will the Interstate 57/74 rebuild start? Is it possible to do a feature article on it with the plan of what it will look like?"

The big construction work is still two or three years away.

Phase II (plans) for the project are 55 percent complete as a whole, said Kensil Garnett, the Region 3 engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"The first two contracts for the replacement of the U.S. 150 structure over I-57 and the structures carrying Mattis Avenue over I-57 and I-74 are nearing completion in advance of a letting later this year (2019)," he said. "Our consultant is continuing to advance the prefinal plans for contracts 3 and 4 for lettings in 2020 and 2021 for the reconstruction of the interchange ramps, interstate roadway pavements and structures.

"Our consultant is currently finalizing ROW (right of way) plats so land acquisition can be started for the entire project. We have been working with the utility companies so relocations affected by the interchange reconstruction will be as painless as possible."

No rest stop

"Any timeline on the reopening of the rest stop on I-57 around Monee (mile marker 332)? The sign by the rest stop indicates that it should have opened months ago, but I've never once driven by and seen anyone actually doing any work and both sides remain closed."

Guy Tridgell, director of communications for IDOT, said that repairs "to a water treatment system were more extensive than initially anticipated and we have needed to do some added work."

He said IDOT is awaiting new equipment and now looks to reopen the rest area nearly 100 miles north of Champaign this spring.

Rafters vouchers

"Will The Got Spot vouchers for Rafter's also be honored at The Illini Inn?"

Yes, the vouchers are good until the end of the month, said Josh Pearson of Rafter's.

St. Joseph school lunches

"The Dec. 30 News-Gazette print issue included an article about upcoming changes to laws governing school lunches. It included a quote from the person who oversees the lunch menus for the SJO school district, saying 'We don't serve junk food.' Then the article continued onto a second page, and the page jump included a large picture of SJO lunch trays. The trays were loaded with iceberg lettuce, what looked to be pineapple chunks, a brownie, and a bag of Frito-Lay chips. I was amused, because I would consider both the brownie and the Frito-Lays to be junk food, and I found myself wondering where the protein was. I'm curious to hear what their lunch menu planner has to say about this discrepancy between her quote and the photo."

Brenda Collenberger, the food service director at St. Joseph Elementary School who was quoted in the story, explained that the brownie "is a whole grain brownie, the lettuce counts as their vegetable, pineapple as their fruit, corn chips as their grain and taco meat & shredded cheese as their protein (which is in the bag). "This is one of the students favorite lunches, which on the menu is called Taco-in-a-Bag."

Urbana library book buy policy

"I recently had to pay the Urbana Free Library $35 for a book that I had damaged. I said that I would bring them a new copy that I could purchase at Sam's for $25. That was not acceptable. Since they pay retail for books I had to pay them. My question would be why is the UFL paying retail when nobody else does. Why are they paying almost 30 percent more for a book than they have to? Why are they so carelessly spending my tax dollars?"

Celeste Choate, the executive director of the Urbana Free Library, said the library's board has a policy that does not allow for patrons to purchase replacement copies.

"As a tax-funded institution, the Library always seeks to spend funds responsibly. The Library purchases materials from multiple library vendors, often at a discount. However, when items are entered into our online catalog, the list price is entered into the record to account for some of the costs associated with staff time and processing supplies in addition to the price actually paid," she said. "That way if the item needs to be replaced, the Library will get back its initial investment. Some libraries charge for staff time and supplies with a separate processing fee, but we do not.

"The Library Board has approved a circulation policy which does not accept replacement copies from patrons for a couple of reasons. One, there often are different editions or versions of an item for sale, and the replacement item offered to us may not be the same edition or version that was lost or damaged. Further, librarians evaluate whether or not to purchase replacement items for the collection. For example, in doing research, they may find there is a newer version that could be purchased instead and would be a better choice for the collection going forward."There are a number of factors involved in such a decision, and we are extremely careful to spend tax dollars in a way that will provide greatest benefit to the community. We encourage patrons with questions about their account to contact or call us at 217-367-4057."

Gire sentencing

"What ever happened with the Ed Gire Roofing case? Last I heard he was going to be sentenced in November but I don't think he was and never saw anything about a postponement. There has not been anything in the news about it unless I missed it."

You didn't miss it. Gire's sentencing for visa fraud and harboring people who were living in the U.S. illegally has been postponed several times and is now on the docket for Jan. 30 in Springfield.

Guilty verdicts against Gire and Grayson Enterprises were returned last January by U.S. District Court Judge Sue Myerscough.

One of the issues that apparently has delayed the sentencing is the government's motion for a "General Order of Forfeiture" — the forfeiture to the government of "any conveyance, including any vessel or vehicle used in the commission of the offense of which the person is convicted and any property, real or personal, that constitutes or is derived from or traceable to the proceeds obtained directly or indirectly from the commission of the offense of which the person is convicted, or that is used to facilitate or intended to be used to facilitate, the commission of the offense of which the person is convicted."

In the Gire/Grayson Enterprises case that is a large building at 309 W. Hensley Road, Champaign. The court found that the Hensley Road property was used to facilitate the harboring of illegal aliens.

But Gire argued that before he was indicted the Hensley Road property was sold for $3.1 million to Quick Leasing, Inc.

The government, however, noted Kimberly Young — who was identified at the trial as Gire's fiancee and the mother of his child — was the president of Quick Leasing.

"Indeed the lease between Quick Leasing and Grayson Enterprises was signed by Young for both the landlord and tenant," the government noted in a Dec. 27 motion. "Gire was also an agent of Quick Leasing and signed checks on its behalf. In addition to Young's close personal relationship with Gire and her testimony that Gire was the real decision maker, this Court recognized in its verdict that Young knew of the aliens' presence at the Hensley Road property but did not tell Gire to make them leave."

Uber driver sexual assault?

"What happened to the Uber driver who supposedly assaulted a passenger back at the start of the U of I school year in 2018? That story just vanished, curious if there was any resolution or even a charge filed."

The alleged assault occurred in October and no charges have been filed. Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz said today that she is still waiting for a report from University of Illinois Police about the alleged attack.

University of Illinois Police spokesman Pat Waded added, "What I can say is that we do not believe there is any remaining public safety threat at this time, but anyone with concerns should feel free to reach out to us."

Central neighborhood parking

"I live across from Central High School and have just learned that they plan on eliminating 25 street parking spots that are used by residents and students on both New and Lynn Streets. They have torn down a good part of our neighborhood for a parking lot that is only to be used by staff. Aside from drawing the community's attention to this I wanted to see if you can find out how a decision like this gets approved by the city of Champaign without input from the people it affects the most?"

The parking restrictions to support the Champaign school district's expansion of Central High School were spelled out in the intergovernmental agreement between the city and the school district, which was approved by the city council at its Oct. 2, 2018, meeting, said Champaign Planning and Development Director Bruce Knight.

Here's a link to the intergovernmental agreement ...

"The bottom line is that the community voted to keep Central High School central, and without tearing down additional single family homes in the neighborhood there will need to be a reliance on on-street parking and the agreement spells that out," he said.

Sam's Club liquor sales

"A friend of mine was at Sam's Club in Champaign and was in the checkout line to purchase alcohol, actually for a restaurant he works at. My friend is 22 years old, but my daughter, who is 19, was standing behind him in the checkout line. My friend presented his valid ID, but the clerk asked to see my daughter's ID — she told them she is not 21. My friend protested, saying that he was purchasing, not my daughter, but the clerk denied selling them the alcohol since she was present with him. And that the 22-year-old could not return to the store to purchase alcohol for 24 hours.

"To me, the clerk, who cited 'company policy' was out of line. In my eyes, it becomes the problem/responsibility of the person purchasing the liquor if they provide the liquor to a minor. What about a parent purchasing when their child is present with them in the checkout line? I was somewhat baffled by the policy that the clerk referenced. Does the store have the discretion to make such a judgment?"

Yes, under Champaign's liquor ordinance.

"The liquor ordinance, of course, prohibits the sale of alcohol to minors as well as the sale of alcohol to intoxicated individuals. Within those parameters, under city ordinance licensed sellers of alcohol are generally free to establish their own policies concerning the sale of alcohol to customers, including dealing more conservatively with potential sales to minors than required by local ordinance," said Matt Roeschley, the city's deputy city manager and deputy liquor commissioner.

Carle at the Fields businesses

"Any new updates on the Carle Fields activities? I noted Christie Clinic now has some outpatient services underway. What's the financial/service arrangement between Christie and Carle? Does Carle own the entire or majority of Carle Fields property?

"Is there a website that allows us to see what businesses have signed lease(s) within the Carle Fields parameters? It would be nice to see a coffee or/and full service breakfast place situated there."

Carle spokeswoman Laura Mabry responded: "Southwest Champaign is seeing more and more activity at Carle at The Fields. Christie Clinic's medical offices opened in December. The Champaign Surgery Center owned jointly by Christie and Carle is scheduled to open in a matter of weeks. Carle Outpatient Services at The Fields is scheduled for a spring opening. And Health Alliance Connections now offers a regular schedule of wellness, fitness and social activities for members and future members.

"As property owner, Carle works with other businesses at Carle at The Fields to announce tenants and openings as they are ready."

She said that there is a Betsy's Bistro at the development, operated by Hendrick House.

Sangamon School playground

"Who is maintaining the Sangamon School (Mahomet) playground now that the school has been sold?"

The Mahomet-Seymour School District sold Sangamon Elementary in August 2018 to private developers, said Superintendent Lindsey Hall.

"The new owners are responsible for the playground area," she said.

The owner of Sangamon on Main — a building with individual small office suites — is Sangamon on Main LLC, whose manager is listed as Chris Hartman.

Real estate agent Jill Guth said the playground equipment eventually will come down.

"We have not made a decision on the playground equipment but the general thought is it will come down at some point to provide more surface parking for the tenants of the building," she said.

School demolition cost

"With the demolition taking place of apartments that were damaged by two different fires in Champaign, I was wondering what the cost for a large building demolition would be. The demolition of the apartment on the corner of State and John has taken over two weeks and looks like a very complex and slow process. What was the cost of the demolition of Dr. Howard?"

The base bid cost for Dr. Howard School demolition and site grading was $680,000, said Emily Schmit, a spokeswoman for the Champaign school district.

"About half of the cost was for site grading, including removal and replacement of the unsuitable soils, and work required to prepare the site for new construction," she said.

Champaign Velvets

"I have another possibility to your answer to where the Velvets might have played. I have a 1913 Champaign County Atlas and it lists I.P.L. Park, also known as West End Park (now Eisner Park). It is just south of where you suggested. According to, West End Park was used to host commercial baseball leagues."

This is in response to last week's Mailbag question about where the Champaign Velvets, a minor league team that was briefly in Champaign-Urbana, played their games. It's possible that the Velvets played at West End Park but the city directories specifically mentioned League Park and gave its address as 1400 W. Hill St., which is a block or two north of West End Park.

Golden Corral

"Why do you think so many people cannot wait for Golden Corral to open in Champaign and what is it with people's love of lukewarm food from a buffet?"


"I'm disgusted by the number of people clamoring for a Golden Corral, a frequent topic of discussion in the Mailbag. I worked behind a buffet line in high school, and know first-hand what really goes on at a buffet. C-U doesn't need another all-you-can-eat feeding trough serving slop of questionable quality. I would love to see C-U have a BGood (farm-to-table chain restaurant) or a gourmet, upscale sandwich shop along the likes of Hannah's Bretzel, a downtown Chicago chain. What say you?"


"Does the city of Champaign plan to add lanes to West Anthony Drive to handle all the traffic headed to the new Golden Corral restaurant?"

Last question first: Champaign Planning and Development Director Bruce Knight said no lanes are being added to Anthony Drive to accommodate the Golden Corral.

"Because the property was unplatted they were required to build sidewalk along Anthony Drive, add streetlights and street trees as part of the process of getting a final plat approved," he said.

Middle question: I'm no fan of all-you-can-eat restaurants or chain eateries. I think there are a lot of great, locally owned restaurants in East Central Illinois that we'd be better off supporting — including one that was damaged by an alleged drunk driver Thursday morning. We had just eaten at Manzella's Italian Patio last Friday night.

First question: Maybe it won't be lukewarm food.

The new franchisee for the restaurant — replacing Michael Petroline, whom I would characterize as difficult — is Ahmed El-Hawary, a Florida businessman who Franchise Update Media described five years ago as a businessman not a restaurateur."I'm a businessman. And once you understand the fundamentals of business, it doesn't matter if you're selling food, appliances, or widgets. It's all the same: You take care of your customers, pay your bills, and hope to make a little money at the end of the day," he said.

He was born in Cincinnati to Egyptian parents and grew up in Merritt Island, Fla. He has a degree in business management from the University of Central Florida.

As an aside I found the estimated cost of investing in a single Golden Corral: $6.6 million to $2.1 million.


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).