Downtown plaza plan brought into question

Local News

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — A multi-million dollar renovation might happen downtown and, Tuesday night, city leaders met to talk about the plan. 

It would replace the parking lot at Neil and Washington. But some business owners in the area came to the meeting and expressed concerns about the potential project. 

The main issue people talked about was parking and walking accessibility. The plaza would completely overhaul the current lot in front of the businesses on Neil Street. City council members also had several questions about the plan and how it would work practically. 

City planner Lacey Lowe says, “There’s no really good place to hang out and just be in downtown without a cost element to it.”

For the past 18 months, the planning department has been designing the new space.

Lowe says, “We think this is a great way to reinforce the appeal of downtown and diversify who is coming to downtown and who might be interested in visiting.” 

The plaza would feature an outdoor entertainment space, an area for pop-up vendors, plus a huge grass lawn and water features. The entire project could cost anywhere from $6,835,313 – $15,627,596. 

Among the questions of how to pay for it, council members also questioned the issue of parking. Right now the lot has 140 spaces. The new plaza would consume almost 100. The planning department says they don’t think that’s a problem because they have a solution. 

Lowe says, “You’re taking away, I guess, from what the boundary or curb line is from the current parking lot, but you’re actually gaining a lot through that process.” 

The plan is to add parking along Washington and Neil. But one business owner is concerned this would restrict accessibility. 

Studio Helix owner Laura Kalman says, “This plaza is not inclusive. It’s inclusive for millennials who can walk, who can step over obstacles, and can walk over snow.” 

The people who have been planning this plaza don’t see it that way. 

Lowe says, “When you say, ‘I’m from Champaign,’ you can say, ‘Oh yes, we love to go downtown and hang out downtown.'” 

That’s the reaction the planning department anticipated from the community. While some business owners aren’t too thrilled, the council still has a long process before putting the concept up for a vote.

The next step is to figure out if and when this project could start. The city also isn’t sure yet how long it will take to complete. In October, they’ll have an open house to discuss the plans with the pubic. They hope to bring it to a council vote for approval by the end of the year.

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