Last week's Mailbag had a question about Joyland, a small amusement park that existed briefly both at the county fairgrounds and along North U.S. 45 more than 50 years ago. I lamented that neither The News-Gazette nor the old Urbana Courier files had any photos of the place, and I asked readers to share any they might have.
First came this alert to a website of Illinois history and its collection of Joyland photos ...
Next came images forwarded from Mike Moran, who has run the Facebook CU History group. Many of his photos came from Steve Townsend, Mike Luke and Kathy Mann Marshal. Thanks to all of you for these evocative photos.
Now, before Sunday night's potentially historic Stanley Cup-clinching St. Louis Blues game, here's this week's Mailbag: dogs at public swimming pools, a former Wendy's gets a makeover, Homer Soda, Savoy's population, a west Champaign railroad crossing, Urbana food truck rallies, a bike trail along South First Street, what's up at the site of a Champaign apartment complex fire, late property tax bills and the latest on Golden Corral.
Also information about an interesting program just beginning locally regarding food waste recycling and what to do about vegetation hanging over a pedestrian walk in southeast Urbana.
"Is there any word on the construction and completion date of the Golden Corral restaurant?"
"Is Golden Corral still coming to Champaign or did they change where they are going to be built at?"
"I am writing you to see if you can tell me what has happened with the Golden Corral."
"And the breaking ground for the new Golden Corral is ... uh, 2019, 2020, 2021."
"Was wondering if there is any update on the Golden Coral; still have not seen any movement on the construction at the site."
"re; Golden Corral do you know when it will be done? Waiting from Atwood."
There is nothing to report. I have sent several emails to Golden Corral's corporate headquarters in recent weeks and haven't heard back.
Larry Happ, who is Champaign's building safety supervisor, said the building permit for the Golden Corral at 1202 W. Anthony Drive is good only until July 8, although they could ask for an extension.
He said the city hasn't heard from Golden Corral since the permit was issued.
If you want to let the company know of your desire to see a restaurant in Champaign-Urbana, here's a link to their customer service site ... goldencorral.com/contact
"I see that there's a lot of work and activity at the old Wendy's site on South Neil Street in Champaign. What new fast food restaurant will we be getting there?
"The old Wendy's at 2035 S. Neil St. will become an OrangeTheory fitness center. OrangeTheory also has locations in Bloomington and Springfield.
Dog Day at pools?
"Have the Champaign or Urbana park districts ever considered having a 'dog day' at their respective pools on the last day of the season? Seems like it would be a great way to cap off the summer season and maybe raise some money for a good cause."
"We tried to host this type of event — as our staff was excited of the fun that could come from such an event — shortly after the Urbana Dog Park opened. We had a large number of folks that were very interested in this type of dog aquatics event," said Tim Bartlett, executive director of the Urbana Park District. "The Urbana Park District staff were aware that these types of events are held in other communities.
"My recollection from way back then is that we checked in with the Illinois Department of Public Health — they provide pool permits and regulate standards/uses for Illinois public pools. The IDPH would not allow us to hold a dog event at the outdoor pool after the last day of public swim operation. We would love to host an event like that but, are not permitted to do so in Urbana."
Joe DeLuce, the executive director of the Campaign Park District, said "we have been told the same information as the Urbana Park District."
"In a recent News-Gazette article regarding the census, Savoy's population was listed as 8,418, up 1,138 since 2010. In 2016 Savoy commissioned a special census. The News-Gazette reported in a 1/11/17 article that the result of that census showed Savoy's population at 8,607. Has Savoy really lost an estimated 200 people in the last three years?"
"Savoy definitely hasn't lost population," said Dick Helton, Savoy's village manager. "My guess is that the numbers were mined from 2010 actual census results without taking into consideration any special census numbers since."
This is a good time to remind readers that those occasional census updates from the Census Bureau are only estimates. They are not based on actual counts within a community or county.
Burnham nursing school transcripts
"I am a graduate of the Julia F. Burnham School of Nursing. I am trying to find my nursing school transcripts. Last written communication after school closed was to send request to Burnham City Hospital (Personnel Dept.) which I understand is also now closed. Any assistance you might have to offer would be greatly appreciated."
Champaign city officials say that they turned over all the Burnham nursing school records to the new owners of Burnham when the hospital was closed in 1989. That was Mercy Hospital, later Provena and even later Presence Health.
Libby Allison of OSF Healthcare in Peoria confirmed that those records now reside at Presence Health. She suggested contacting Presence Health at 844-255 8323 and choosing the HR option.
Property tax bills snafu
"Do you know if there is an updated date that we can expect to receive the Champaign County property tax bills? I thought I had heard they were mailing on May 20, then I heard May 28th."
"Do you have any idea when the property tax bills will be mailed?"
Champaign County Treasure Laurel Prussing said the last of the 74,289 property tax bills were mailed out a week ago today."I got my bill on Monday, but some people in rural areas as well as the cities, have not yet received them. We have a mailing service do the actual mailing, but the county does all the calculations. If someone does not get their bill by the end of the week they can contact us and we will get them a duplicate," she said.
The first installment of your property tax payment is due by July 1, a month later than normal.
"We had two sources of delay. First, the Illinois Department of Revenue was late getting us the 'multiplier' on assessments," she said. "Second, we are instituting a new billing system. As anyone who has done this knows, re-doing a large computerized system yields many unforeseen glitches which must be fixed one-by-one."
Prussing said she got calls from people worried that despite the delay in getting the bills that the deadline for the first payment would remain June 1.
"However, state law requires a 30-day period from the mailing to the due date. So we changed the due date to July 1," she explained. "I believe we will get them out on time next year. At least the good news this year is that most people's bills went down because tax rates were generally lower in most of the county, except for Allerton, which had a new levy."
Springfield Avenue railroad crossing
"What can you tell us about the West Springfield Avenue railroad crossing DOT # 291 050 East near Prairie Gardens? They are in horrible condition with steel rebar sticking out of the concrete. I've contacted the railroad, (U.S. Rep.) Rodney Davis, Chapin Rose, the city of Champaign and still no repairs."
The place to go if you have complaints about railroad crossings is the Illinois Commerce Commission. Here's a link to their form for railroad complaints ... icc.illinois.gov/Complaints/Railroad/ContactDetail
The ICC said that it has received several complaints about the crossing and has been pressing the Canadian National Railroad for repairs. Cold patch repairs on the pavement were completed earlier this spring and the railroad supposedly is looking to replace the broken concrete panel sections.
Champaign Public Works Department spokesman Kris Koester said he viewed the crossing Thursday and admitted it still needs work — I agree — and that the ICC would again contact the Montreal-based Canadian National about the situation.
Homer Soda Company
"I was wondering what happened to the Homer Soda Company. I was looking for information about this year's Soda Festival and saw a very brief notice on their website that they are 'no longer selling soda.' I loved their Maple Syrup Root Beer!"
Kate Boyer said that she sold Homer Soda (the beverage distribution part of the company) two years ago and that the new owners decided to shut down operations.
"The retail store in Homer is owned by a separate company/people and they are still going strong and are selling products, just sourced from another vendor," she explained.
The retail store is the Main Street Belly Deli at 118 S. Main St., which sells Homer Soda products, said owner Janie St. Pierre.
She said the store purchased the remaining inventory of Homer Soda products and will replenish its supply on an as-needed basis. At one time, she said, Homer Soda sold about 250 varieties of soft drinks.
The soda festival, which traditionally was held on the first weekend in June, "is on hiatus for the time being. It is a huge event and I loved doing it for five years, but I was really hoping to turn the event over to someone else who would be able to carry it on," Boyer said.
She said she holds hold out hope the event will resume someday.
"We will continue to reevaluate it yearly to see if we can make it happen. For now, I believe the owners of the Homer store are planning on setting up attachments to other events for a 'taste of Homer Soda Festival,' such as they did at JT Walker's Craft Beer Festival this spring," she said. "As far as the Maple Root Beer, be looking for it."
Food truck rallies
"I miss the food truck rallies in Urbana from May-October. Are there plans to do this again this year somewhere since the (Urbana) Civic Center is now closed?"
Here's your response from Brandon Boys, economic development manager for the city of Urbana: "While there are no plans for the city to reinstate the Urbana Food Truck Rally, private businesses would be welcome to organize a similar event.
"In the meantime, food trucks may still be found in downtown Urbana along with a diverse range of over 20 restaurants that are open for lunch."
"What happens to all of the food waste from restaurants in the community and (the University of Illinois)? Are there any type of composting programs in place that prevent this waste from ending up in landfills"
Rick Manner, executive director of the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District, noted that there are several food waste streams locally but that a new program starting this summer at the University of Illinois could divert food waste that ends up in a landfill to the sanitary district. There it could be used to help produce natural gas. How cool is that?
"Solid food scraps generally goes to the landfill as trash. The downside of this is that more trash is transported to and processed at the landfill, and the landfill space is filled faster," he said. "But there is some good from this too. Landfills do create and collect natural gas from the degradation of organic material, such as food. Many operate electric generators using the natural gas."The UI, he said, will begin operating a commercial "Grind2energy" unit at the Florida Avenue Residence Hall food service this summer.
Here's how Grind2Energy is described: "Through Grind2Energy's innovative process, food waste is ground on-site using a customized, industrial-strength foodservice grinder. Food waste is converted into energy-rich slurry and transported to an anaerobic digestion facility where methane is extracted for energy production. The remaining biosolids become nutrient-rich fertilizer.
"The food recycling system enables you to dispose of all types of unavoidable food waste — including fats, oils and grease — faster, cleaner and easier. Improve your operations, minimize avoidable food waste, and reduce odors, pests, emissions, and labor costs — all while protecting the environment."
Manner said that locally the food waste slurry will be taken to the sanitary district plants and injected into the anaerobic digesters to get the good of natural gas, electricity, and heat generation.
"A second (unit) will go into the (Illinois Street Residence Hall) remodel next year. And we expect their other major food service centers to also transition soon after that," he said. "Ultimately, we'll have a truckload of shredded food coming to our Northeast Plant every couple of days."
Manner pointed out that the Heinz Kraft plant in Champaign has several routes for its food wastes. Some is trucked to farmers, some is treated on-site, and some is trucked to the sanitary district.
Also, liquid grease from restaurant fryers already is trucked to the sanitary district.
"We add it directly to our anaerobic digesters to produce natural gas. We burn the gas in cogeneration equipment, which produces one-third of the electricity we use in our treatment operations and one-half of the heat we use," he said. "The sanitary district still has to charge haulers for disposal of the grease, because there are expenses associated with our processing. However, this processing does generate roughly $200,000 per year of energy."
South First Street bike path
"Have always wished there was a bike/walking path along South First Street between Curtis Road and Windsor Road. There is no way to go north unless crossing the railroad tracks and Dunlap Road (U.S. 45) at the traffic light on Curtis Road. I realize the (University of Illinois) owns the land to the west of South First Street but with all the students living just south of Curtis Road it would be a wonderful access to the campus as well as keeping pedestrians and bicyclers safe. I've had several close calls with joggers and bikers after dark running on South First. Any hope here?"
Gabe Lewis of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission said there are long-range plans to build a shared-use path on the west side of First Street between Windsor and Curtis Roads.
"This project is a high priority recommendation of the Savoy Bike & Pedestrian Plan, and is also recommended in several other local plans," he said. "In fact, (the regional planning commission), the village of Savoy, University of Illinois, and Champaign Township submitted an Illinois Transportation Enhancement Project (ITEP) grant application for this project in November 2017, but unfortunately IDOT did not select this project to fund.
"We have received many public comments over the years asking for a sidepath to be built here, and we hope that funding for this project will become available sooner rather than later to build this needed facility."
"The Atrium apartments at John and Randolph (in Champaign) burned over a year ago now. They've since demolished the site but have left the empty underground parking deck with a construction fence around it. My question is three-fold: when is Green Street Realty going to actually do something with the property? Can the city make them do something since it's an eyesore lot at the moment? Can the city make them put up some screening so that the headlights from their other building's parking lot don't shine into people's houses now that the building is gone?"
Chris Saunders of Green Street Realty said they "have plans of rebuilding in this location and are currently working on plans for a projected spring of 2020 start. The 70 underground parking spaces and original foundation was not damaged in the fire and we left those to rebuild on top of that foundation."
"Whose responsibility is it to maintain the property at the corner of Philo and Windsor roads (southwest corner)? The property seems abandoned and the paved path leading westward along Windsor to Meadowbrook Park always has overgrown brush and branches hanging over it. The recent storms have seen several small trees fall across the path that have been pushed aside by people using the path. Can't the town compel the owners to better maintain this property?"
That property, formerly owned by the University of Illinois and now owned by the Atsa Trust No. 1 (the Lo family), is actually outside the city of Urbana and in unincorporated Champaign County.
The problem, said Champaign County Zoning Administrator John Hall, is that the county has no regulations regarding vegetation overhanging a sidewalk.
"This vegetation could be managed (maintained) the same way that vegetation along any rural road is managed and that is by the relevant highway authority which at this location is the city of Urbana," Hall said.
He didn't say this — I'm saying it — users of the pedestrian/bike path could trim the overhanging vegetation themselves. Consider it an act of civil disobedience or neighborhood wellness.
Carle at the Fields
"The recent News-Gazette story (May 28) on revised population estimates for area towns made me wonder: What is the weekday-daytime population of Carleville (the new 'at the Fields' development in southwest Champaign)? It seems to be growing every week. And just for fun, where would its current headcount rank among the smaller towns listed in the article?"
It's nowhere near as big as your "Carleville" in Urbana.
"The Carle and Health Alliance 'daytime population' at the Carle at The Fields development varies as both patient-care and administrative staff complete their work there, as well as in a host of locations around the region," said Carle spokeswoman Laura Mabry. "Here are our working estimates:
"Champaign Surgery Center at The Fields, which opened in February: 85
"Next door at Carle Outpatient Services, which completed its moves in May: 200
"And the Administrative Center at The Fields, which opened in early 2018: 1,200."
There also is a Christie at the Fields facility: 150 employees.
Allowing for employees at other businesses in the neighborhood, that makes "the Fields" daytime population about the same size as Bement (population 1,681) and larger than dozens of area communities.