Tom's #Mailbag, Dec. 16, 2016


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What's the future of Illini Inn?

A Champaign Zoning Board of Appeals case involves a proposed new use for the site of the Illini Inn, a small tavern of some renown, at 901 S. Fourth St.

The ZBA voted Thursday to approve two major and one minor variations, all regarding setbacks, to permit construction of a six-floor, mixed-used development at the site, according to Champaign Planning and Development Director Bruce Knight.

The city council has the last word on whether the development is built. It is scheduled to review it on Jan. 17.

The old Illini Inn would be demolished but reincorporated into the new development as a ground floor bar/tavern.

According to research by the Champaign Planning Department, the original commercial use of the building was the Midway Confectionary. Later it became a restaurant.

The first liquor license for the property was issued in 1960 as the Midway Cafe. The Class C license allowed only for the consumption of beer.

Chris Saunders is the owner of the property and his Prime Housing LLC is the developer of the commercial/residential plan.

"We are proud to keep the Illini Inn as a functioning element on campus," he wrote to the ZBA. "While the physical portion of the Illini Inn may be new, the traditions and the history that make it special will remain."


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).