What is in the air? Literally. Questions this week about the tallest buildings in town, mysterious jet contrails and alleged TV signal interference from geese.
Meanwhile back on earth: Champaign Suites, Nasty Joe's, Huber's, Market Place parking lot, grain bags, pumpkin recycling, voter identification, a sculpture in Hessel Park, the term "visiting scholar," old businesses, new businesses and the enema bandit.
"Curious about Huber's turning 100 years old. Is it the oldest bar around?"
Actually, no. The oldest bar with the same name in Champaign-Urbana is the Brass Rail at 15. E. University Ave., C. According to city directories it's been at that address with that name since 1935.
It's important to note that while Huber's opened in 1918 — as the Royal C. Huber confectionary at 1312 W. Church St. — it was a candy shop, not a bar or tavern.
In fact there were no (legal) bars or taverns in Champaign-Urbana in 1918. The two cities had been voted "dry" in repeated referenda since 1907, although there were plenty of ways to get alcohol illegally.
By 1934 there were several "beer parlors" in Champaign — and one in Urbana. But none of those early businesses after national Prohibition are in business today — the Eureka at 115 N. Market (now Heartland Pathways), Ralph Flesher's at 114 N. First St., the Main Beer Parlor at 36 Main, the Oasis at 120 N. Walnut (now the Blind Pig), Roe Bros. at 118 N. Walnut, Earl Taynor's at 20 Taylor St. or The Utopia at 32 Chester, or Flesher's at 110 E. Main St., Urbana.
But the 1935 city directory lists the Brass Rail, along with 10 other "taverns" in Champaign and four in Urbana. The Brass Rail is the only one still operating at the same address with the same name. There were some pretty nifty names for a few of those places: Oh-Me's Place, the Twenty Taylor Tavern, the Blatz Tavern and the Wonder Tavern.
Out of town attorneys
"Why did the (Champaign) Unit 4 district hire attorneys from Chicago in collective bargaining with the Champaign Federation of Teachers when they have their own lawyer?"
It is common for districts across the state to use outside counsel in negotiating labor contracts, said Champaign school district spokeswoman Emily Schmit.
"For over 20 years, the law firm of Franczek Radelet has provided legal services to the Unit 4 board of education and attorneys from Franczek have been involved in negotiating a large number of the district’s collective bargaining agreements. There have been a few instances in which the Board used in-house counsel for negotiations, but this has been the exception rather than the norm," said Schmit.
Market Place parking lot
"Curious as to why the northeast parking lot at Market Place Shopping Center is roped off. Is there new construction happening that I haven't heard about?"
It's been used for the last several months as the weekend site for a motorcycle safety class offered through Illinois Central College in East Peoria, said Market Place General Manager Dennis Robertson.
ICC offered the classes through the Illinois Department of Transportation.
This apparently will be the last weekend for the classes as ICC's agreement with Market Place ran from March through October. It's not known if the classes will be back next year, Roberston said.
Tallest buildings in town
"What are the tallest buildings in Champaign-Urbana?"
Here's the current list, which is likely to change in the next few years. All the tall structures are in Champaign:
1. College Corner, 309 E. Green St., 268 feet (2009)
2. HERE Champaign, 308 E. Green St., 267 feet (2015)
3. Burnham310, 310 E. Springfield Ave., 224 feet (2008)
4. The Tower on Third, 302 E. John St., 205 feet (1972)
5. Illini Tower, 409 E. Chalmers St., 166 feet (1967)
6. Skyline Tower, 519 E. Green St., 153 feet (2014)
7. M2 on Neil, 301 N. Neil St., 143 feet (2009)
8. Sherman Hall, 909 S. Fifth St., 143 feet (1966)
9. Bromley Hall, 910 S. Third St., 140 feet (1963)
10. Huntington Towers, 201 W. Springfield Ave., 139.76 feet (1972)
Two more projects — one at the northwest corner of John and Fourth streets (known as Seven07) and another one planned for Sixth and Green streets — each are planned to be 175 feet tall, said Bruce Knight, Champaign's planning and development director. That's the maximum height allowed in Campustown under the city zoning ordinance.
At 175 feet tall, those projects would tie for fifth place on the city's top 10 list, and would bump Bromley Hall and Huntingtown Towers off the inventory.
"What's the story that led to the creation of Champaign Suites in south Champaign/near UI? Will this be a permanent change? Or something in transition to another hotel chain?"
Formerly the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, the hotel is preparing to become a Holiday Inn. But some construction and renovation has to occur first.
The hotel, however, already is listed on a Holiday Inn website, https://www.ihg.com/holidayinn/hotels/us/en/champaign/cmitc/hoteldetail
"What other properties does Nasty Joe's still own in the area?"
Now that the Timberline Valley South subdivision ponds and common areas have been purchased only two small parcels in the county are owned by "Nasty Joe," whose real name is Brian Nastruz. Nasty Joe's LLC paid the county just over $1,800 for the Timberline Valley properties, then refused the neighborhood residents access to them. A new homeowners association paid Nasty Joe's $11,000 to get the properties back, with the purchase funded in part by a $4,400 grant from the city of Champaign.
According to Champaign County Treasurer John Farney, the two properties still owned by Nasty Joe's and/or Brian Nastruz are a strip of land on Grant Place in Urbana and a fence row off of Smith Road and University Avenue, also in Urbana.
"I have noticed for quite some time that the Channel 3 (WCIA) picture breaks up into a colorful mess and the audio drops out for a word or two occasionally. When an ATT-Uverse technician was here on another matter last week I asked him about this. He said it's his understanding that some form of rare geese have a nest on a Channel 3 antenna or satellite dish, and this is what's causing the problem. I know nothing more, but apparently I'm not the only viewer having this experience."
"That certainly is a whimsical description," said Darren Martin, the chief engineer for WCIA-TV. "ATT U-Verse is fed directly from our studio over a fiber optic circuit, so there is zero possibility of the signal dropout occurring due to our equipment. If that were the case, we would see the signal problems everywhere, as that is the exact same signal fed to our transmitters, Comcast, etc. What the viewer describes is an AT&T problem. I have tried unsuccessfully to contact someone, anyone, at AT&T who could help troubleshoot this problem in the past, I will try again."
"Would you publish a complete list of the forms of I.D. that can be used to prove a voter's address? I'm particularly concerned about whether a voter registration card from the clerk's office or personal mail that is postmarked can be used on Election Day as proof of address. In the past, some election judges have rejected those as proof."
Recently delivered/postmarked mail has been on the list for acceptable address verification for years, said Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten.
But here's a list of some of the ways people can verify their home address when voting:
— current bank statement
— current utility bill
— government check or other government document (must show voter's name and current address)
— postmarked mail (recently delivered to the voter's residence)
— current pay check (must contain voter's name and current address)
— current lease or move-in notice
— personal check with imprinted name and current address— vehicle registration with name and current address
— rental receipt with name and current address
"The list there isn't exhaustive, because developing an exhaustive list is impossible. We do accept proof of address digitally (an Amazon shipping confirmation on someone's smartphone, for example)," said Hulten.
Bags of grain
"What are all the huge, white, plastic bags that now dot farm fields in central Illinois after the harvest? Is silage held in them?"
"There is actually grain inside those bags," said Brad Uken, manager at the Champaign County Farm Bureau. "It's another option for farmers to use in storing their grain. Though they are not widely used here in East Central Illinois they are popular options in other parts of the U.S. and Canada."
Here's part of a recent story on the bags from the publication Agricensus:
"Typically used by farmers as a currency hedge, the bags made from polyethylene are being sold in ever-bigger numbers to US farmers who are struggling to shift a rec
ord crop of soybean amid a sharp fall-off in export demand," reported Agricensus. "Argentine firm Ipesa Silo, which sells 300,000 bags a year in Argentina, has increased its sales to the U.S. market by 50 percent, the company's foreign trade director Alberto Mendiondo told Agricensus.
"The executive declined to provide a specific timeframe over which the increase of sales occurred, or the number of units sold in the U.S. market, but said it was a consequence of lower prices for soybean due to the ongoing trade war between the United States and China."
Hessel Park sculpture
"What happened to the sculpture in Hessel Park, 'Hole in My Heart?' It was in the northwest corner but has been gone for a couple of weeks."
"Hole In My Heart" sculptor Ben Pierce did not renew the lease for the sculpture at Hessel Park, said Andrew Weiss, director of planning for the Champaign Park District.
"The artist was very grateful to the lease sponsor, but cited other commitments for his sculpture. The park district works closely with the Public Art League on many of the various sculptures in the parks. The park district will continue to look for new options for Hessel Park and other parks throughout the community to add new sculptures," Weiss said.
"Hole in My Heart" had been at the park for two years.
Sales tax rates — and the nursing home
"I believe the state sales tax rate is still 6.25 percent. In Champaign, the total is 9 percent. I've lost track of all the local additions to the state rate. Could you break that down for us? Is the local rate even higher at restaurants?
"Also, I believe one of the local additions is for the county nursing home. How much is that, and will that go away if and when the nursing home is sold?"
There's a lot to unpack there, some of which is muddled up in different taxes.
First up: sales tax rates. You are correct that the state rate is 6.25 percent and the total Champaign rate is 9 percent. In addition to the state rate, there's a 1 percent countywide school facility tax and a quarter-cent countywide public safety tax. On top of that is a 1.5 percent home rule tax.
Next, yes there is a half-cent food and beverage tax in the city, so the total tax on food and bevereages sold for immediate consumption is 9.5 percent.
Finally the nursing home tax you refer to is a property tax, not a sales tax. And that tax will continue to be levied, even if the financially strapped nursing home is sold.
"The nursing home property tax rate is being reapplied next year to the (Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund), Social Security and tort immunity fund levies. This will be used to pay off what the nursing home owes for its share of FY 2018 IMRF and Social Security obligations," said Interim County Administrator Deb Busey. "The rest will go to the tort immunity fund to pay for the insurance premium and legal fees for self-funded property and liability insurance for the nursing home in 2018 which the nursing home could not pay. Right now the nursing home owes various county funds approximately $3 million, and it is anticipated this property tax will likely have to be collected for those other funds for at least a couple more years to repay those obligations.
"Can you please tell me why the sidewalk/bicycle lane at the corner of Windsor Road and Windsor Place has been blocked for a number of months? I can't see any evidence of progress on the project during this long time period. This is a major biking and walking route to the U of I but during construction both pedestrians and bicyclists are forced to walk in Windsor Road in the busy turning lane where cars are traveling in excess of 40 mph."
David Farrar of Illinois American Water Co. said the utility had a leaking hydrant that needed repairs. They were to start work this (Friday) morning, he said.
Corner of Prospect and Springfield
"I remember when the Skelton Pharmacy building that is now Framer's Market was built. I seem to recall Skelton's being in the building that is now Pekara, possibly in the basement. Also I believe my dad worked at a gas station in the same building owned by Elton Hill. Any record of all that?"
City directories show that, yes, 811 W. Springfield Ave. was the home of Skelton's Pharmacy in the late 1950s. It also was the home of a number of other businesses including the Simon & Rettberg architectural firm, Markland's Paints, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, Fallon's Cleaners and a dentist.
And, yes, there was a Texaco gas station at 813 W. Springfield (at the same corner) during that time.
Visiting scholar term
"Why does The News-Gazette always refer to Yingying Zhang as a 'visiting scholar?' Is this some kind of honorary title in U of I parlance, or is it a paid position? Does 'visiting' refer to the fact that she is from a foreign country? According to the Chicago Tribune, she was an entering first-year doctoral student expecting to pursue a Ph.D. and had just completed a master's degree in China. I have never seen this terminology used with other doctoral students."
University of Illinois spokeswoman Robin Kaler said "visiting scholar" is the title used for scholars who are visiting the university, often as employees, for a defined period of time.
"They are at Illinois to gain research experience in a specific area. Sometimes, like Ms. Zhang, they are planning to transition into a degree program, but that is not a requirement," said Kaler.
"Many years ago we lived in Champaign and then we moved away. In The News-Gazette, they talked about an enema bandit. He gave people enemas around the years 1970-1972. Was this person ever caught?"
I got this information from our 2002 book, "Hot Type."
The first local enema attack by a masked man occurred in May 1965. There were at least 10 more assaults between that time and May 1972. After the attacks slowed here there were reports of similar assaults in Norman, Okla.; Manhattan, Kan.; and Los Angeles. In all the attacks the man wore a ski mask, a gas mask or some other facial covering. He would spot young women on the street, follow them to their homes and break in, tie them up and administer an enema and often steal something.
The bandit returned to Champaign-Urbana on May 3, 1975, when he tied up four female University of Illinois students, administered an enema to one of them and took $120. A few weeks later Michael Kenyon, a 1969 UI graduate, was arrested in Palatine on a minor charge. He suggested that police there call Champaign police. Champaign detectives interviewed him when he mentioned the May 3 attacks and several other crimes, including assaults in Kansas, when he was in the army.
Kenyon, then 31, pleaded guilty to armed robbery charges (which carried more severe penalties than those related to the attacks) in December 1975, and was sentenced to six concurrent terms of six to 12 years in prison.
Frank Zappa wrote a song about Kenyon titled "The Illinois Enema Bandit."
Look, up in the sky
"I realize we are in flyover country, but was there something special going on west of Champaign around 6 o'clock Tuesday? I counted around 10 jets — all leaving a vapor trail and all seemingly headed in different directions. Any explanation?"
Gene Cossey, the executive director at the University of Illinois-Willard Airport, said he didn't see the display, but he believes it probably was military training flights, most likely from Scott Air Force Base near Belleville.
"That happens a lot. We have a lot of different National Guard and Air Force bases within 300 or 400 miles of here, and they'll take training flights in different areas and regions," he said. "Vapor trails are caused from the condensation of the aircraft freezing at high altitudes. Under the right conditions any jet aircraft will leave a vapor trail, especially and I hate to say it this way, some of the older military aircraft that don't have as efficient engines as the newer corporate aircraft.
"I'm sure it had nothing to do with our airport or even the Champaign region. It probably had something to do with some sort of training flight. It's airspace. They don't have to check with us."
Urbana pizza place
"What happened to Pizza M?"
Pizza M, originally at 208 W. Main St., Urbana, announced earlier this year that it planned to reopen a couple blocks north at the 25 O'Clock Brewery Company building at 208 Griggs St. But it hasn't, and Paris Baldarotta, executive director of the Urbana Business Association, said she's unaware of the status of the business.
West Champaign Starbucks
"Any word on the progress of the Starbucks on Mattis and Springfield?"
No building permit applications have been submitted for that site, said Champaign building safety supervisor Larry Happ. John Carson at Ramshaw Real Estate said there is interest in the property but that it hasn't been sold yet.
"We're not at a point where we can release any information," he said.
Updates from past Mailbags
— Construction of the Jimmy John's in Mahomet is being pushed back to next spring, said Village Administrator Patrick Brown.
— The Urbana Park District will offer free Halloween pumpkin recycling Nov. 3 at the Anita Purves Nature Center, 1505 N. Broadway Ave., U, as part of America Recycles Day. Participants also are urged to bring Halloween costumes (kids and adults) to swap with others, and create autumn-themed works of art using recycled materials.
— The new business behind the Aldi store in Savoy (the business that some people thought would be a Trader Joe's) will be called Industrial Doughnut. It will be a coffee shop/bistro with doughnuts and other items.