Got a question for Tom?
Pretty good mailbag for a short week. We answer 15 questions about Candlestick Lane, the planned Cronus fertilizer plant in Tuscola, local shooting incidents, the economic impact of no football games in town this weekend, how St. Joseph (maybe) got its name, concrete streets, asphalt streets, recycling Styrofoam, bomb threats, redevelopment incentives, construction projects, adoptions and euthanizations at the Champaign County Humane Society and where to sign Independent Map petitions.
'Lost' home football game
"What is the estimated loss to the local hotel-restaurant business community from having our home game versus Northwestern moved to Chicago?"
Jayne DeLuce, president and CEO of Visit Champaign County, said no formal study of the economic impact of a UI football game has been done, but she pointed to a 2014 study by the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau of the impact of University of Iowa football games.
That found that a seven-game Iowa Hawkeyes home football schedule amounted to $110 million, and that the average "travel party" (2.4 persons) that stayed at a local hotel on a football weekend spent $706 during their stay.
But DeLuce also said the local economy "has been more impacted by the loss of the IHSA State Football Finals on an annual basis, since the attendance in recent years is greater for those two days than an Illini football game that same weekend.
"We've estimated the IHSA State Football Finals economic impact at $3.1 million."
"Any update on the Cronus fertilizer plant in Tuscola: Has the pipeline of wastewater from Champaign started? Is there anything going on the property outside of Tuscola?"
Brian Moody, who is executive director of Tuscola Economic Development Inc., said things are starting to move.
Cronus has completed its engineering procurement and construction contract with Tecnimont, the plant's builder. A pre-financing engineering study required by lenders also is complete. Letters of intent have been completed with the power suppliers to the plant and pipeline easements to the plant are done, he said. A required EPA hearing for a wastewater permit was held last week.
"That has queued everything up to go to the final financing phase and it looks like that will start around the first of January and will be done at the latest by late spring. That should put us on for a summer start," Moody said.
Construction will begin at the plant site, he said, along with a road to the plant and the water pipeline, sometime next year.
"There will be three big pieces," he said. "The water line we most likely won't start until after harvest next fall."
Independent Map petitions
"Where locally can voters go to sign a petition aimed at getting the Independent Maps measure on the November 2016 ballot? Hoping somecivic-minded business or organization out there is collecting signatures. Thank you."
If there's still anyone left in Champaign County who hasn't been encouraged to sign the petition, I asked primo petition-passer Trent Shepard where they should go. There are a number of places in C-U where petitions can be signed.
"The (Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, 303 W. Kirby Ave., Champaign) is the place I normally tell people to go, but the Esquire is trying to host petitions, too," he said. "I've picked up 30 signatures from them and there are probably more pages waiting there for me."
Also try the Champaign County Farm Bureau (801 N. Country Fair Drive, Champaign). Blossom Basket Florist shops, Carters Furniture and Berns Clancy and Associates in Urbana, he said.
"I noticed in a recent story about the 'Don't Shoot' program, The News-Gazette quoted Urbana Police Chief Pat Connolly that there have been 94 shootings in Champaign-Urbana since February of 2015.
"What were the number of shootings in year 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010?"
The numbers Connolly cited are based on reports from Urbana, Champaign and the county sheriff's office and they were compiled only because Connolly started counting shooting incidents on his own.
He said there was a sudden rash of shootings in the community in February which prompted him to start tracking them by date, address, time, number of people in the house at the time, including children, plus other features. As of Wednesday he said there have been 96 verified shootings in C-U since Feb. 13.
He also compiled the number of "shots heard" calls in Urbana since 2009:
But Champaign and the county haven't come up with numbers, at least not yet.
Sheriff Dan Walsh said that he would have to go through every report filed during those five years to see whether a "shots fired" call actually was about a shooting or whether it was firecrackers, a car's backfire, the sound from a nearby police shooting range or an actual shooting.
"We just don't keep those statistics," he said.
Humane society stats
"Even though we're purportedly a nation of animal lovers, and despite a seeming increase in spay/neuter and rescue/adoption campaigns, millions of healthy but unwanted pets are euthanized in the United States each year.
"On average, how many cats and dogs are put to death each month (or each year) by the Champaign County Humane Society? By what method (and by whom, licensed vets? Shelter workers?) are they killed, and how are their bodies disposed?
"On perhaps a less sad note, on average each month, how many cats and dogs are taken in at the shelter and how many are adopted out? (I realize the numbers may get confusing as animals are often sent to other rescues, temporary foster homes, or are returned.)
"Finally, is the overall local homeless cat/dog situation getting better or worse than in previous years?"
According to the humane society's annual report, it took in 2,072 animals last year (more cats than dogs). There were 1,686 adoptions, 267 euthanizations, 119 that were transferred to another shelter or to a rescue organization and 62 that were returned to their owner.
The number of euthanizations has dropped each of the last three years, according to the humane society: from 408 in 2012-13 to 394 in 2013-14 to 267 in the most recent fiscal year.
The number of adoptions has varied, mostly because 2013-14 was a big year for intakes (2,358) There were 1,453 adoptions in 2012-13, 1,776 in 2013-14 and 1,686 in the last year.
Here's what Mary "Tief" Tiefenbrunn, executive director of the humane society had to say about your questions:
"Most importantly, if readers are interested in the 'overall local homeless cat/dog situation,' you'll also need to get data from Champaign County Animal Control. Animal Control handles all strays and impoundments. We take some of the unclaimed animals from Animal Control (The ones they offer us and that we agree are suitable for adoption) and place them up for adoption. Animal Control posts their numbers (intakes, returns-to-owner, transfers to rescues, euthanasia) on the county website, but I don't know how up-to-date the website is.
(The most recent Animal Control report is from August. It said there were 21 dogs and 24 cats euthanized that month.)
"My view is that the local homeless pet situation has improved in recent years. The biggest challenges that remain involve homeless/free-roaming cats and accessibility to veterinary care for pet owners on limited incomes or lacking in transportation and/or other resources.
"Our euthanasia numbers 'per month' vary drastically because we are an open admission shelter, and what we are presented with on a daily/weekly/monthly basis is unpredictable and varies quite a bit.
"If we were to look at a snapshot of just the months of August through October of this year, we euthanized only 10 or 11 animals per month. Average animal intakes for August-October were 175 animals/month.
"Intakes include: (1) animals surrendered by their owners, (2) animals transferred to us from Champaign County Animal Control, and (3) animals that we accept as transfers from surrounding agencies that are overcrowded and ask for our help.
"At our facility, euthanasia is performed by euthanasia technicians, licensed by the state of Illinois. The Humane Euthanasia in Animal Shelters Act (510 ILCS 72/) governs euthanasia in animal shelters and Euthanasia Technicians are licensed through the Illinois Department of Professional and Financial Regulations.
"Euthanasia is performed in a quiet room, outside the presence of other animals and distractions. Animal carcasses are kept in a freezer until picked up for cremation by a private local company."
Tiefenbrunn added that the humane society doesn't euthanize animals "due to lack of space or a 'time limit.' Animals are evaluated for suitability for adoption based on health and temperament. Animals are euthanized only due to severe/untreatable medical conditions or serious behavior problems. We look for any alternative before euthanasia, including placement with a rescue group that might give the animal a better chance for adoption."
"What is being built at the corner of Bradley Avenue Duncan Road in Champaign? The house that was there for years was recently torn down."
The city has a building permit application in process for a Dollar General store at Bradley and Duncan, said Champaign's planning director, Bruce Knight.
Concrete road thickness
"Are the bus lanes at Illinois Terminal built with stronger concrete than typical roads? For all the complaints made about buses destroying roads, the roads immediately surrounding the Terminal seem to hold up well despite having to put up with constant bus traffic."
"It's not the kind of concrete so much as the thickness of the concrete," said Kark Gnadt, managing director of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, which owns and operates the Illinois Terminal. "We specified the bus lanes to be 10 inches thick. Concrete roads can be anywhere between 8 inches to 12 inches, depending on what type of road it is and who is responsible for it. On some occasions, concrete roads in neighborhoods can be even thinner. And of course, if it's an asphalt road, all bets are off."
The really good news, Gnadt said, is that all of the roads being rehabilitated in the $35 million MCORE project (Green, Wright, White and parts of Armory streets) are being designed for transit use.
Champaign streets priority list
"Why were the streets such as Hamilton and LaSell resurfaced when so many other streets, such as the first few blocks of East Green Street, are like washboards?"
The city has funding allocated specifically for local neighborhood streets, said Assistant City Engineer Chris Sokolowski. He said the streets in the Hamilton/LaSell area were resurfaced using that funding and were actually some of the worst conditioned streets in the city with an average pavement condition rating of 14 (0 is completely failed, 100 is brand new), and included several blocks where the entire pavement was riddled with cracks and other defects.
"The city also has funding allocated for major streets," he said. "In 2015 the city resurfaced Church between Prospect and Mattis, which was in terrible shape. In addition, Green Street from Neil to Fourth Street is part of the MCORE project and will be completely reconstructed in 2017 so resurfacing this section of Green Street at this point would not be the best use of the city's limited asphalt street maintenance budget."
One-side parking for Champaign streets?
"Has Champaign considered alternate-side parking? Some residential streets get very narrow when parking is allowed on both sides, restricting two-way traffic despite there being enough room to fit all cars on one side. It would also facilitate better snow plowing."
The city does not generally alter parking in existing neighborhoods unless the residents and property owners affected by that change support the change, said Assistant City Engineer Chris Sokolowski.
"Parking can be a sensitive issue and different residents and property owners may view the parking differently," he said. "Parking in established residential areas can be altered if the property owners indicate their support for a change through a petition. For a change to occur, two-thirds of the property owners in a block must support it."
Origin of St. Joseph
"How did Saint Joseph gets its name?"
Champaign County's greatest historian, J.O. Cunningham, never addressed this question in his book, "The History of Champaign County." So all we are left is a good guess or a legend.
One theory is that it's named for Joseph Kelley, who owned Kelley's Tavern, an inn along the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River that was frequented by Abraham Lincoln as he rode the central Illinois judicial circuit. Kelley, who came to Champaign County from Virginia, held the business from 1849 to 1864.
In a 1972 St. Joseph centennial book, writer Donna Smalling offers the following theory for how St. Joseph got its name.
"The first post office in the township was established here, and the first to act as postmaster was Joseph Kelley. The post office was kept at theold tavern stand, and was called St. Joseph. The town was accordingly called by that name, and then the township," she wrote. "The reason the post office was called St. Joseph, is said by some of the old residents of the township, to have been as follows:
"'It appears that at one time a stranger came along and stopped with Joseph Kelley, the landlord, and the two became quite agreeable friends, and for several days had a jovial time together. When the stranger departed, Kelley, out of consideration for the good time they had had in company, refused to charge him anything, whereupon the mysterious stranger told the landlord that he would 'do something for him' for his kindness. Soon afterward, the stranger, who it seems, was some politician of more than ordinary influence, and in some way connected with the administration at Washington, secured the establishment of a post office, the need of which, during his stay at Kelley's he had perhaps learned; Kelley was appointed postmaster, and in his honor it was called 'St. Joseph,' from Kelley's first name."
Redevelopment incentives in downtown Champaign
"Is there anything Champaign can do about empty, dilapidated buildings in and around the downtown? They could be thriving businesses but instead just seem to deteriorate, invite vandalism, deter visitors and investment for nearby businesses, hurt property values, and generally detract from otherwise thriving areas."
Downtown Champaign has had a tax increment finance district that provides incentives for renovating property for many years and that has resulted in upgrades to many downtown properties, noted Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight. "For the properties that have not seen reinvestment, the city's vacant building ordinance only applies to residential properties so we have limited tools to address issues with vacant commercial structures until they get so bad they become a public nuisance," he said.
Styrofoam cartons recyclable?
"Is there a place that recycles Styrofoam egg cartons? We hate to just burn them with our trash."
I checked with Susan Monte, the sustainability coordinator with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.
There's no place to recycle those cartons, she said, and she noted that it's against the law to burn trash.
"Unfortunately, at present, Styrofoam containers are not recyclable locally," she said, adding that, "Open burning of garbage, construction/demolition debris, tires, and materials containing asbestos is always prohibited" in Illinois.
52nd or 53rd year of Candlestick Lane
"Is Candlestick Lane going to be open this year? If so do you know when?"
Yes, it is. The grand opening is 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, according to Carol Percival, a longtime of Grant Place in east Urbana, which for more than 50 years has been decorated as Candlestick Lane. It's unclear of the tradition began in 1962 or 1963, according to a column I wrote a couple years ago.
Fourth and University apartment building
"What is the building going up at 401 University Ave., C. on the southeast corner of University Avenue and 4th Street?"
That is a five-story, $3.8 million apartment/retail and parking structure being developed by G.T. Hardwick Architects. The approved site plan calls for 64 one-bedroom units. And I'm thankful you didn't ask what I thought of the design.
Ever a bomb threat at the UI?
"Has the University of Illinois ever had to evacuate due to threats similar to (last week's) Parkland scare?
I don't ever remember one that was acknowledged publicly, and UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said: "Other than fire call evacuations of individual buildings, the only thing anyone can remember is an evacuation of Levis Center sometime in the early 1990s for a threat there."